Sorensen: What a difference year makes on OL

HERE'S A TELLING difference between this year's Washington State football team and last year's: The 2013 Cougars have sent out the same starting offensive line in each of their first three games. A year ago after three games, they had yet to start the same five players in the same positions from one week to the next.

Barring the unforeseen, the Cougar offensive line tonight against Idaho will stack up as it has since the opener at Auburn:

Gunnar Eklund – left tackle
Joe Dahl – left guard
Elliott Bosch – center
John Fullington – right guard
Rico Forbes – right tackle

The same five guys in the same five positions.

We're talking about a far cry of consistency from where the Cougar OL stood last season at this point, when two different players had started at left tackle, three at left guard, two at right guard and two at right tackle. Bosch, at center, was the one and only constant.

That adds up to 10 unique player-position starts versus just five this year.

Now, it wasn't a cast of thousands in those spots a year ago. Just six. But five of them were hopping around like jumping beans, between left and right, guard and tackle.

Some of that movement was dictated by dings and some by a first-year coaching staff searching to find the best combination.

You always want versatility in your linemen, but in the ideal world you have the same guys in the same spots. It promotes the Three Cs of hoss play: cohesion, chemistry and confidence.

In other words, no confusion and no hesitation.

It's not a coincidence that the best Cougar team of the last 50 years -- the 1998 Rose Bowl club -- featured a starting offensive line that didn't miss a start. Jason McEndoo, Ryan McShane, Lee Harrison, Rob Rainville and Cory Withrow were true ironmen. And if you look at those outstanding Cougar teams of the early 2000s you'll find Big Uglies like Tyler Hunt, Derrick Roche, Calvin Armstrong and Josh Parrish with 30-plus starts each on their resumes.

Cougs vs Vandals

The kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Martin Stadium

TV: Pac-12 Networks

The line: Cougs by 31

The series: WSU leads 70-17-3

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It spells cohesion, chemistry and confidence. And it's a huge step toward winning consistently.

Of course, the law of averages suggests that the Cougars this season won't make it all the way to Thanksgiving without some missed starts by their top five offensive linemen.

Which makes the presence of senior Matt Goetz on the bench a true luxury. He has 14 career starts to his name at WSU, nine at center and five at guard. He may be undersized at 270, but he's a seasoned veteran who knows what to do.

Then there are the youngsters, Riley Sorenson and Eduardo Middleton. A true freshman and second-year freshman, respectively, they each got their feet wet last week against Southern Utah. Coaches are high on both and you can bet they'll see the field early tonight if everything goes as planned against the Vandals. Sorenson, just four months removed from high school, has really turned heads in the early going with his development. It's not often a true freshman plays on the OL, and at the rate he's progressing, the bet here is that Sorenson will push for major playing time by mid-October.

THE COUGS ARE OFF TO a promising start this season. My gut tell me that if the O-line stays healthy or mostly healthy, the Three Cs of cohesion, chemistry and confidence will grow stronger. And the Cougs will go bowling in December for the first time in a decade.


  • Being a Spokane resident for the last three decades, and an assistant coach in the Greater Spokane League for many of those years, I can't tell you how gratifying it is to see three Spokane guys in the starting lineup for the Cougs: Bosch and Dahl, plus quarterback Connor Halliday. Bosch is a former walk on who is an honors candidate, and Dahl remains a walk on, though I can't imagine for very much longer.

    Halliday is doing a fabulous job of spreading the ball around. He's not only hitting a ton of different guys – 10 each against Auburn and Southern Utah, nine against USC – but he's distributing it nicely within the group. Gabe Marks and Kristoff Williams lead the way with 20 and 15 catches, respectively, but then you have three guys with nine catches each, two with eight, two with seven and so on down the list. That's not just good Air Raid, that's good football, period.

  • Jim Mastro, WSU's running backs coach, said in Spokane the other day that Marcus Mason, Teondray Caldwell and Jeremiah Laufasa have done a great job this year picking up blitzes. Is there anything better than skill players who like to knock heads? "You look at Carl Winston last year," Mastro said. "The reason we won that last game (Apple Cup) had a lot to do with the way he handled (Washington's blitzing) linebackers. We've faced quite a few blitzes this year, but you haven't heard that much about them because of the way our backs have handled them. They haven't gotten to the quarterback."

  • I will be at the Husky game today rather than the Cougar game. Why, you ask? Because I'm the proud dad of Idaho State Bengal safety Cody Sorensen, and I'll be in Seattle cheering him on. Cody has eight tackles so far this season but is a little dinged up right now so it's uncertain how much he's going to play. And that may just be a good thing given the size of Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. Go Bengals! Go Cougs!

    Paul Sorensen played safety for the Cougars from 1980-81, earning first-team All-American honors as a senior. He later played in the NFL and USFL. From 1985-98 he was the color commentator on radio broadcasts of Cougar football and later served as the color analysts for Eastern Washington University broadcasts for many years. He also was a long-time assistant coach in the Greater Spokane League. Paul has been writing periodically for CF.C since 1999. His columns here are labeled SLAP! The acronym stands for Sorensen Looks At the Program. The word also aptly describes the way Paul played safety and the way he does color commentary: in-your-face, nothing held back.

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