Winning the trenches: Rookie tackle steps up

IF ANY OF A half-dozen plays had gone differently, if the Cougars would have pulled out a win out against Utah, we'd be reading a bakers' dozen stories about his play, about his work in the snow-covered trenches Saturday. But WSU lost a 30-27 heartbreaker against Utah. So a little-used freshman right tackle won't get his proper due. His performance from this viewpoint, however, can't be ignored.

Yes, it was a loss. And it feels brutal right now. But good lord, Jake Rodgers played a great game.


The 6-6, 295-pound redshirt freshman from Spokane, the Cougars' third-string offensive right tackle, was pressed into duty because Dan Spitz, who had been subbing for injured starter Wade Jacobson, went down in practice this week. Rodgers came up big against Utah.

Third string.

And that says an awful lot about the depth that has been built, and is being built, at Washington State.

BECAUSE ON PAPER, it looked like it would be a bloodbath.

Utah has a helluva defense. They had already logged 28 sacks this season, placing them in the top 20 in all of the FBS. With a great game, they could conceivably jump into the top five.

But Rodgers was having none of it.

Neither was the rest of the WSU o-line. They allowed zero sacks.


Connor Halliday was unconscious against ASU last week in the Cougs' thrilling victory. This week, against the top rated scoring defense in all the Pac-12, he looked like the redshirt freshman that he is. Ahead of the curve, no doubt, after engineering not one, but two, fourth quarter comebacks from 10-point deficits. But for three quarters before that, he was still a redshirt frosh who was hit or miss -- sometimes on, sometimes a little bit off.

And yes, he got hit. Late reports this evening had him making a trip to Pullman General. But that spoke more the Halliday's build than it did to the pressure. Rodgers, and the rest of the o-line saw to that, affording Halliday a pocket that resembled a horseshoe forged in iron for the bulk of the game.

OFTENTIMES, THE MEDIA goes the simplistic route, they're far too eager to assign blame and credit to a win or loss through the quarterback -- without giving equal accolades, or animadversion, to the protection afforded him. There was no such question in play on Saturday.

Rodgers, a redshirt freshman, turned in a rock- solid performance. Utah attacked him at various points throughout the game. He repelled those attempts, so much so that Utah went away from him late in the game, trying to test other points across the WSU front.

They found little success. The Utah secondary picked up the slack for the most part. And they ultimately won the game played on a hardscrabble surface born of a Palouse storm.

But over the long haul, games are win and lost in trenches.

WSU looks to have found their stride there in this season's final quarter. The future looks bright in that regard, and so goes the Cougar fortunes as a whole. The d-line was, for the second straight week, stout, even though they tired in the second half after being saddled with a time of possession deficit. But in crunch time in regulation, they played tough. And they clamped down even more in the overtime. And the o-line?

They showed that even with a third string right tackle, they're on the rise. That's depth. That's quality depth. The Cougs are now proving that in the twilight of this 2011 campaign. And Rodgers, on Saturday, was Example A.

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