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Mailbag: WSU's defensive woes

Welcome to the mailbag, where all questions are answered except the meaning of life. I’m keeping that one to myself.

Cougar Brian in Scappoose, Oregon, writes: With the probable loss to Oregon this week, we're staring at 1-3 in Pullman, and once we're past the two most winnable games on our schedule following that in Cal and Utah, it's hard to see a W again this season. Given how things are going, at what point do you see the seat under Mike Leach and his staff, especially defensive coordinator Mike Breske, heating up?

Kevin Gemmell: For Leach, there might be a slight, warm tingling sensation, but that’s about it. He’s already received an extension and he’s locked in. And I know WSU fans tend to take the pint-glass-half-empty approach to their team. But let’s not forget: It’s only his third season and he’s taken you to a bowl game. Things are better, relatively speaking.

What makes this start to the season so frustrating is that there was momentum coming out of 2013. Despite the bowl loss, the Cougars were moving in a good direction. Heck, you won at the Coliseum … with defense!

I like Breske. I like his schemes. The Pac-12 blog isn’t in the business of speculating about hot seats – because for as much as we know, we don’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes.

The defense didn’t play great against Rutgers, but it played well enough to win. And had it not been for a special-teams gaffe, Washington State probably would have. Against Nevada, a Connor Halliday interception gave Nevada a short field on its first score and the offense only produced one touchdown. It was a team loss.

Keep in mind when Breske & Co. came in, they were installing an entirely new defensive scheme. It takes time to recruit the genetics to fit that system. This coaching staff hasn’t even been through a full recruiting cycle.

I’m inclined to give this group another full season after this one – assuming things don’t get markedly worse on either side of the ball. But I don’t have fans or boosters to answer to.


James in Alameda, California, writes: (Question edited for length) Multiple outlets are reporting different recovery times for Taylor Kelly’s injury. Any chance we'll know the truth about the injury or do you think ASU will just continue to say Kelly's status is "uncertain" until he actually returns?

Kevin Gemmell: Having talked with sources at ASU, I can only relay what I know. And what I know is that he will miss the UCLA game (barring an amazing recovery), and anything beyond that is up in the air. It depends how quickly his body heals. How much physical therapy is required? Did he drink a lot of milk as a kid? Some guys are more resilient than others. There is no blanket statement that can be made about an individual’s broken bone. Only generalities.

The UCLA game is the first of three straight games against teams currently ranked in the AP top 20, followed by No. 17 USC and No. 16 Stanford. There’s a chance Washington will also be ranked by their Oct. 25 meeting. There's never a good time for an injured quarterback. But some stretches are worse than others. This is a bad one.

But remember, a lot of the Arizona State faithful were banking on Mike Bercovici to win the starting job when Todd Graham came in. And the Sun Devils do have the league’s leading rusher in D.J. Foster. All is not lost if Kelly can’t play for several games. But his accuracy and running ability certainly gave the ASU offense a little something extra.


JJ in Tumalo, Oregon, writes: Lady and gentlemen, in your respective opinion, do the Ducks have a chance to make it to the playoff with the injuries at tackle? Asking a LOT for a true freshman at right tackle and a walk-on at left tackle to hold up for the entire season. At this rate, Puddles might have to line up at tackle. Thanks for the great blog.

Kevin Gemmell: This is one of those crystal-ball questions to which the best answer is time will tell.

For all we know, Tyrell Crosby and Matt Pierson might be the next coming of Jonathan Ogden and Dan Dierdorf. Or they could simply be placeholders until others return from injury. I don’t know. Of course it’s a lot to ask. But I’m guessing they wouldn’t be wearing one of 783,360 possible uniform combinations for Oregon if they didn’t have the talent.

You obviously look ahead to some of the games against A-list defensive lines, such as UCLA and Stanford, and wonder. But those guys also have a couple of games to get acclimated.

A lot needs to happen for a team to win a conference. You have to stay healthy. But no one ever really does, so you need to have depth. And you need a little luck. A lot of that is unpredictable. But, for what it’s worth, I think Oregon is still in the best position of any Pac-12 team to reach the playoffs.