WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch acknowledged earlier this week that it was “really hard to find positives” from the Cougars’ season-opening loss to Portland State. But the team is determined to learn from its mistakes and move on.

Share story

When asked to evaluate his debut performance as Washington State’s defensive coordinator, Alex Grinch defers to the stat the Cougars and their fans alike have been fixated on this week: the “L” in the win-loss column.

“We get judged on results. That’s the reality in this business, and I know that. We didn’t get the win,” Grinch said.

Grinch acknowledged earlier this week that it was “really hard to find positives” from the Cougars’ season-opening 24-17 loss to Portland State. But the team is determined to learn from its mistakes and move on.

Saturday

WSU @ Rutgers, 12:30 p.m., ESPNU

As the Cougars (0-1) gear up for their contest at Rutgers (1-0) this Saturday, Grinch’s main objective is to clean up his defense’s errors and refocus on the fundamentals.

The litany of missed tackles, for instance, was “inexcusable,” Grinch said. “Us coaches have to do a better job of preparing the guys.”

Like their offense, the Cougars’ defense also struggled with communication in the first game.

“Some calls out there didn’t get down the chain or just weren’t communicated well,” said WSU safety Taylor Taliuliu. “As the free safety, I have to make sure everyone is doing what they need to do. We’ll get it done this week.”

But the other dimension of WSU’s defensive communication problems stemmed from players incorrectly diagnosing what they were seeing on the field.

For strategic reasons, no one on the Cougars’ defense is going to spell out exactly what diagnostic mistakes they made, but Grinch volunteered this: “When the lights come on, we’ve got to make sure we are singing the same song and that we’re seeing things appropriately and only communicating things if we are 100 percent sure they are accurate.”

So, coupled with comments from several players about how the Cougars have to “get their eyes in the right spot” and you can extrapolate that WSU’s defense misread some cues and misdiagnosed some plays.

Knowing where to focus your eyes is “a huge part of defensive football,” Grinch said. “Making sure you don’t see ghosts and making sure you see exactly what you need to see on every play.”

That’s been a point of emphasis for the Cougars this week as they studied Rutgers’ pro-style attack. If WSU can’t do a better job of containing the Scarlet Knights’ running backs than it did Portland State’s mobile quarterbacks, it’ll be a long afternoon for the Cougars at High Point Solutions Stadium.

Senior running back Paul James rushed for 173 yards and three touchdowns against WSU in 2014, and he’ll likely feature prominently in the Scarlet Knights’ attack again this Saturday.

“He’s a big, physical back and he can do a lot of things on the ground,” Taliuliu said. “We’ve just got to be able to rally, bring our feet and take an extra step and wrap him up.”

WSU will also have to deal with sophomore tailback Josh Hicks, who is coming off a 118-yard, two-touchdown performance against Norfolk State, and receiver Leonte Carroo, who scored a touchdown every time he touched the ball last weekend.

“They do a great job running the football. They really commit to it,” Grinch said. “We have to be stout against the run and have disciplined eyes and make sure we’re sound in the back end as well.”

The Cougars’ defense has practiced well this week, Grinch said. He’s highlighted the importance of using last week’s game as fuel instead of discouragement, and he’s optimistic that his squad will rise to the challenge.

“Coach Grinch did a good job of refocusing us,” linebacker Jeremiah Allison said. “He alluded to what we worked for over the summer and spring. Sixty minutes is not going to define us as a defense. Last week’s game, in my opinion, is a motivational game as opposed to ‘Ahhhhh, we lost.’ It’s a motivational game to help us recollect our thoughts.”