|Cougar partisans, whose Pollyannic ways are never higher than in August, are cautiously optimistic that this third scrap with their country cousins will turn out the way they confidently figured the last two would.
And, on paper at least, this looks to be a match up that is distinctly on the Cougars' side. WSU returns 16 starters, whereas Idaho is scrambling to replace 12 of the guys who dumped all over Mike Price a year ago.
Of course, that kind of disparity doesn't account for heart or inexperienced talent rising to the occasion or even Tom Cable's excellent play calling. But facts are facts: These are not the same two teams that battled in 1999 and 2000.
The most telling difference is in the trenches. The Vandals returns but one starter on the offensive line, Jake Scott. That means unproven youngsters and JC transfers will be squaring off with a Cougar defensive line that is quick, deep and experienced. With Rien Long, Tai Tupai, Jeremey Williams and Nate Mallory taking turns clogging up the middle, swifties Tupo Tuppo, D.D. Acholunu and Issac Brown could make life from the ends one long flash dance for hard-throwing Vandal QB John Welsh.
Alas, though, Idaho is deep at receiver and figures to use as many as seven against the Cougars. So if Welsh can get rid of the ball quickly we could be in store for another donnybrook of a night. Four of Idaho's wideouts -- Chris Lacy, Josh Jelmberg, Chris Belser and Ethan Jones --- had at least 15 catches in Y2K. There's also Rossi Martin, Idaho's top grab-master of '99, who's back in action after sitting out last year with grade woes. And youngster Orlando Winston is considered a rising star out of the slot.
IDAHO DEFENSE KEY
Defense, however, is where Idaho will sink or swim against the Cougars. The Vandals' stop-corps has proven opportunistic against the Cougars, and many of the key components of the last two upsets are back. The line returns three starters, including Big West co-defensive player of the year Wil Beck, as well as 1999 starting end Dennis Taeatafa who sat out last season. Hard-hitting Jordan Kramer and Brad Rice are also back but not at safety. They're going to line up at linebacker this season, leaving the secondary to a largely untested group.
"I expect this to be a hard-hitting, hard-fought game," says Paul Sorensen, who will be Fox Sports Northwest's sideline reporter for the game.
"Idaho has some great athletes, good size and a wide-open offense led by an experienced quarterback. They also have no doubt they can win. The Cougars on the other hand have something to prove and I expect Mike Levenseller (the new offensive coordinator) will have a few new wrinkles up his sleeve. This should be a good one."
Bring on the Vandals!
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