LINK: PHOTO GALLERY: Idaho @ WSU
|Senior return specialist Antwaun Sherman loses the handle on Idaho's first kick return.|
OK, take a deep breath.
The Cougs kicked off again, and this time it was DeAngelo Ramsey back deep to receive the kick. The shifty big man brought the ball up to the 27 and Idaho's offense took the field with senior Michael Harrington under center. There was nothing flashy to Idaho's first series, just a few plays to calm the nerves and move the ball. Bird ran hard on Idaho's firsts two plays, traveling 12 yards and gaining an Idaho first down. A couple short completions and a Bird rush for no gain forced Idaho to punt.
Idaho's youth and inexperience was now going to be on full display. Grayshirt freshman T.J. Conley lined up deep to take the snap from redshirt freshman Joel Jones. The snap was crisp and T.J. unloaded a 50 yard punt (that's 50 yards in the AIR) that elicited a chorus of "OOOHHHS" from the giddy Cougar crowd.
So too did the roughing the kicker personal foul Conley absorbed.
With the ball back in their possession, Idaho went back to work meticulously driving deep into Cougar territory. On second down and 4 from the Coug 9, Harrington rolled right and hit true freshman H-Back Eddie Williams in stride. The burly freshman crossed the endzone stripe in front of a boisterous Vandal crowd and Idaho found themselves back in the ballgame. Inexplicably Idaho missed the PAT, but the tone was set. This young, rebuilding Vandal team realized that they could play with the Cougs.
The rest of the first quarter saw both defenses flex. Idaho forced a Coug punt, then stopped the Cougs deep in Vandal territory to force a WSU field goal. Harrington's next two drives began deep in Vandal territory and resulted in no significant gain as Idaho was forced to punt twice after going 3 and out on both possessions.
In the second quarter JC transfer QB Steve Wichman made his Vandal debut by taking over on his own 10 yard line. The strong armed junior led the Vandals on the march, driving Idaho to the Coug 6 yard line before the drive stalled. Junior place kicker Mike Barrow converted the kick, cutting the Wazzu lead to 17-9.
Later in the second quarter, Cole Snyder picked an Alex Brink pass deep in WSU territory and Wichman took over at the Coug 11 yard line. Battling a relentless Cougar rush the drive stalled at the WSU 7 yard line, but Barrow was again able to connect on the field goal attempt to cut the Cougar lead to 17-12 going into intermission.
A game billed as a sure Cougar "blowout", complete with a 27 point spread in Vegas, was anything but as Idaho showed some growth since the last time these two teams had met.
As the second half began Harrington again took over on Idaho's first 2 drives of the third quarter, but the Vandal offense was held in check. Some hard running by Bird and Rolly Lumbala netted one first down in the two series, but the Coug D answered everything the Vandals threw at them.
After a big Wazzu punt return and a short scoring drive to give the Cougs a 24-12 lead, Holt made the choice to put Wichman back in the game. Wichman led Idaho on a 9 play scoring drive which included a 15 yard Tracy Ford reverse for a first down and two 15 yard completions to Daniel Smith, capped off by hitting Smith in the endzone for a 4 yard touchdown. The TD revived Vandal confidence, and cut the Cougar lead to 24-19 with 4 minutes left in the third quarter.
The Vandal D did a solid job on Washington State's next possession, clogging running lanes but giving up a couple first downs through the air. Then, after a Coug personal foul gave WSU first and 25 from the Coug 28, Brink connected with star wideout Jason Hill for a 72-yard bomb over sophomore cornerback Reggie Jones to extend Washington State's lead to 31-19 to end the third quarter.
Washington State scored once again on a 12 play, 50 yard drive to start the fourth quarter, giving them a 38-19 lead with 13:19 left. Idaho's next drive stalled deep in their own end of the field and the Vandals were forced to punt. But WSU's punt returner never fully gained possession of the ball as backup linebacker David Vobora forced the fumble and pounced on the loose ball to give Idaho another opportunity at the Cougar 48 yard line. Wichman, injured on the play just before the punt, stayed on the sideline on the first play after the fumble recovery. Harrington handed off to Bird for a 3 yard gain, then handed over the reigns to Wichman. The Coug defense flexed and forced Idaho to punt 2 plays later.
Alex Brink's next possession went 3 and out, and Idaho took over at their own 25 with just over 7 minutes remaining in the game. For the first time, Washington State began substituting defenders liberally, and Wichman was able to lead Idaho one more time to paydirt with completions to Smith and Matt Askew, another 8 yard rush by Ford, and some strong running by Lumbala and Bird. Jayson rumbled the last 6 yards for the score, cutting the Coug margin to 38-26.
The game ended with WSU's Brink taking a knee on the Coug's next possession.
Idaho showed some nice development in this game across the board. Although Idaho did not record a sack in the game, the Vandal defensive line applied steady pressure. Idaho's offensive line held off a seriously talented Cougar front seven, and the skill positions on both sides of the line showed significant improvement. There was no "moral victory" to take from this game, but Idaho should take solace in the fact that they kept Washington State's first string offensive and defensive units on the field virtually the entire game, and were within striking distance until the mid-way point of the fourth quarter. A fact that marks a substantial improvement in this rivalry game.