The Crimson Soldiers learned on Monday that their starting quarterback Josh Swogger will miss the rest of the season due to a right ankle injury. Gone are 1,283 yards, 13 touchdowns and a player getting comfortable with the offense. The season is on the Brink for the Cougars as redshirt freshman Alex Brink takes over the quarterbacking slot.
All is not lost though as Brink has taken snaps in two games this season completing 13 of 25 passes for 278 yards, one touchdown and one interception versus Colorado and Idaho. The Eugene, Or. native is green and still developing to the speed of the college game though and the coaches are concerned about his decision making process. When to throw the ball away or slip out of bounds and most importantly when to stop fighting for yards are three areas the coaches hope Brink can improve on against OSU.
The one part of Brink's game that the coaches love is his ability to scramble and make plays. In fact, they think highly enough of him to compare him with former Cougar standout and playmaker Jason Gesser.
The game plan against Brink is simple – get to him early and often. Knock him to the ground, make his life miserable, and get into his head. Knock him out of the game and the Cougs become one dimensional and easier to stop.
"All I guess I can say is 'You've got to believe'," Brink told CougFan.com. "I've had some playing time and I've made some mistakes, and I feel like I've done some good things too.
"I know I'm going to learn from my mistakes and I can only get better. My coaches and my teammates around me are going to prepare, and prepare me, to play these next five games and with the team we've got, I feel like we can win those games."
Knock Brink out of the game and WSU's quarterback situation gets ugly. Punter Kyle Basler and kicker Graham Siderius will both take snaps this week as each played quarterback in high school. Freshman Gary Rogers is number two on the depth chart, but the coaches hope not to use the young and inexperienced player.
A team doesn't have back-to-back-to-back 10 win seasons without a talented offensive line. This year three seniors anchor an offense that is averaging 270 yards through the air (third in the conference) and 113 yards on the ground. Three starters are at least 6-foot-7 and each tip the scales at 320 or more pounds.
The unit struggled early yielding 13 sacks in the first two games, but has started to jell as they have allowed just two sacks in the last four games. Left tackle Calvin Armstrong (6-8, 322) and right tackle Sam Lightbody (6-9, 320) led the group as they have combined for over 145 games and over 75 starts.
Armstrong earned first team All-Pac-10 honors in 2002 and was an honorable mention selection in 2003. This year the Lombardi Award candidate is on pace for All-Pac-10 honors once again. He will be making his 40th career start on Saturday. Despite being an offensive lineman Lightbody is one of the more aggressive players on the team and is one of the team's co-captains.
Shoring up the middle of the offensive line is junior Nick Mihlhauser (6-3, 286) who head coach Bill Doba calls tough, quick, and intelligent. Redshirt freshman Bobby Byrd (6-7, 294) and senior Patrick Afif (6-7, 328) fill the left and right guard positions respectively.
Senior Chris Bruhn (6-3, 220) and junior college transfer Jerome Harrison (5-9, 192) share the majority of the carries for the crimson and gray. Bruhn starts, but is receiving less and less playing time with the emergence of Harrison.
Bruhn is the team's second leading rusher with 259 yards on 68 carries and zero touchdowns. He has the team's longest run with a 65-yard jaunt against Idaho. Harrison leads the team with 272 yards (5.1 ypc) and four touchdowns on 53 carries. In the last two games he has gained 201 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries.
Harrison is the full package as he has great lateral movement and good hands. Bruhn is a bruising back who prefers to stay in between the tackles and knock people over. Junior Allen Thompson (5-10, 209) also sees plenty of playing time as he has gained 192 yards (5.6 ypc) and two touchdowns on 34 carries.
Oregon State fans are used to seeing talented tight ends take the field on Saturdays and the Cougars have a good one in Troy Bienemann (6-4, 245). Bienemann is fast, athletic and causes headaches for defensive coordinators. But he has been hampered by a leg injury this year and sat out against Oregon. He returned for the Stanford game catching three passes for 25 yards. The junior is the team's second leading receiver with 19 catches for 201 yards and one touchdown.
Sophomore Jesse Taylor (6-3, 242) splits time with Bienemann, but is used primarily for blocking situations.
Sophomore Jason Hill is big, physical, and a playmaker. In just his first season he leads the team in receptions (22), receiving yards (598), and touchdowns (nine). Hill is just two touchdowns short of the school's season touchdown record and has been on fire the last four games catching 14 passes with eight of them going for scores. He caught five passes for 115 yards and one touchdown against Stanford and is on pace for 1,000 yards receiving for the season.
Complementing Hill is Chris Jordan another sophomore who has solid hands and runs clean routes. Jordan has 14 catches for 245 yards (17.5 ypc) and one touchdown. Junior Trandon Harvey 13 catches for 154 yards (11.8 ypc) and two touchdowns and the explosive freshman Michael Bumpus (10 catches for 93 yards) also see plenty of playing time in the Cougars spread set.
Notes of the offense:
- Bill Doba has been WSU's head coach for 19 games, winning 13 of them.
- The outcome of three of WSU's last five games this year have been decided in the final 15 minutes.
- At least six different players have caught a pass in all of the Cougars' games this year.
- WSU has outscored opponents 38-20 in the first quarter.