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QB Payton Bender finds a familiar face at center in Sam Flor

PULLMAN – The story line at the outset of Saturday's game against Colorado was yet another new wrinkle with the offensive line, something the No. 24 Cougars had been prepping all week with during practice.

Sam Flor and Andre Dillard made their first starts of the season, and they looked ready. All three days of practice, Flor (center) and Dillard (left tackle) were running with the 1s and making it look like they were veterans at their positions. Flor was inserted in the lineup for regular center Riley Sorenson.

We don't know the reason for Sorenson's absence, but it became a best-case scenario for the Cougars when Peyton Bender was forced into action after Luke Falk went down with a third-quarter injury. Throughout the season, Flor was working with the 2s with Bender as the QB. The chemistry between the two would not be noticeable to those unfamiliar with the team, but I knew it would be a huge deal once Bender stepped into action.

After the game, Bender admitted having Flor out there helped his confidence because the two have worked together since summer camp. He said that Sorenson and Flor snap a little differently and it would have required some adjustments for Bender had Sorenson been the center.

On other side of the ball, the defense showed a new look with Shalom Luani, Isaac Dotson and Taylor Taliulu.

Early in the season, it was the norm to have Dotson at nickel back and Luani and Taliulu at safety. Against Colorado, there were a number of snaps where Taliulu and Dotson went to safety, and Luani moved to nickel to replace Parker Henry. On several occasions, Dotson came up to save a Colorado play from going to the house, doing so from the safety spot. Luani also had a few key stops in the middle of the field that came after lining up at nickel.

When the Cougars lost Dotson for a stretch of games earlier in the season, it looked like they may not get him back. Henry developed into a great nickel back, so they didn’t need Dotson to rush. However, once Dotson was back and ready for action, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch knew he wanted Dotson on the field, making plays.

With the new Taliulu, Dotson and Luani set up, that just might happen more and more this season. With only the Apple Cup and a bowl game remaining, it will be interesting to see if Grinch plays Dotson and Luani at safety to see if they can play together deep for next season after Taliulu graduates.

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