AUBURN, Ala. — Of all the developments in Washington State’s 31-24 loss to Auburn here Saturday night, the emergence of a running game by the Cougars against an SEC defense might have been the most surprising element.
WSU rushed for 120 yards, which is hardly the stuff of, say, Alabama. But it tops their high of a year ago (108 against Eastern Washington), and 101 of it came during the second half on 11 carries against the Tigers.
“Marcus and Teondray played great,” said WSU quarterback Connor Halliday, referring to running backs Marcus Mason and Teondray Caldwell. The O-line played real good. To be able to run the ball, that’s great.”
WSU coach Mike Leach said it was a combination of called runs and audibles by Halliday.
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“I thought he did a really good job checking at the line of scrimmage,” Leach said.
Center Elliott Bosch said the Auburn defensive line “was doing some shifting and stuff. We were able to block it correctly. They’ve got some big guys, bigger than we’re used to seeing.”
Said receiver Gabe Marks: “It’s good to be balanced. It’s good to see a team think about the run as well as the pass.”
Compared to Auburn, WSU substituted precious little. It appeared the offensive line went all the way, totaling 88 snaps, while the Cougars’ defensive front was almost as spartan, but it defended 23 fewer plays.
“It was definitely hot, but we were hydrated,” Bosch said. “There was no cramping or anything.”
Bucannon’s mixed bag
Deone Bucannon, WSU’s second-team All-Pac-12 safety, had a mixed evening. He was a runaway leader in tackles with 14, but he was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and, as the outside contain man on the left side on the kickoff team, appeared to take a bad angle inside that aided a 100-yard return by Tre Mason.
Bucannon made a hard, high tackle of Auburn back Corey Grant in the third quarter and then drew a penalty. Leach said it wasn’t explained as a helmet-to-helmet hit — which are resulting in automatic ejection this year — and Bucannon called it a flag for “extracurricular“ after the play.
• Leach lamented “missed tackles we’d like to have back.” Many came in the second half as the Cougars overpursued in some situations.
• WSU substituted at cornerback as much as anywhere. Fifth-year senior Nolan Washington came out on the second play of the second quarter and was consoled by teammates on the sideline. In the second half, true freshman Daquawn Brown contributed a couple of key plays as a replacement.
• The Cougars outgained Auburn, 464-396. The Tigers ground out 297 yards with the run.
• WSU wasn’t able to throw downfield much, as Halliday explained: “Their safeties played real deep, deeper than any safeties I’ve played against. The one big play we had (a 53-yard strike to slot Bobby Ratliff) was a vertical underneath the safety.”
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org