Strange new world for Kegel

SEATTLE --- Matt Kegel,finally the man after five years in the shadows, found himself in a peculiar situation for a Cougar quarterback on Saturday night. Not since the days of Mark Rypien and Ed Blount nearly two decades ago has a WSU signal caller been at the helm of an offense looking to run more than pass.

To put the Cougars' 339 rushing versus 127 air yards against Idaho into cultural perspective, consider that it marked only the second time in the last 26 games that WSU's ground attack outpaced its aerial assault. And by a nearly 3-to-1 margin, to boot.

The result was impressive, too. The Cougs won 25-0.

Bill Doba clearly wasn't kidding this off-season when he said he wanted the offense to be built around ball control rather than the quick-strike that so defined the Gesser years.

With more than 50,000 partisans looking on Saturday, the Cougars' famed one-back offense was augmented at times by a two-back set, and two-tight end formations were common place.

Jonathan Smith racked up 160 yards, Chris Bruhn 118 and Jermaine Green 48. The Cougars had a six-minute advantage in time of possession.

Jim Walden, up in the broadcast booth, must have thought he was in a time machine. For all the world this looked like the second coming of Rueben Mayes, Kerry Porter and Junior Tautalatasi.

In those days, the passing attack was effective, but limited --- both in numbers and style. Lots of short stuff and rarely a true field stretcher.

Kegel was 12 of 21 for 108 yards. His leading receiver was a tight end (Troy Bienemann) with three catches, and his longest attempt of the night, to Devard Darling, couldn't have covered more than 30 yards.

Ricky Turner, Pat Beach and Kitrick Taylor would have been proud.

And so, actually, was Kegel himself.

"It's my team now and I'm very confident in what I have to do. I don't care if I throw for 100 yards or 400," Kegel said afterward. "The goal is to win the game.

"Anytime you have an offensive line dominating a game like that it's a great feeling. The run was working, so we continued going with it. I'm real proud of our offensive line. They're just studs. I didn't really get to throw the ball that much, but that's OK."

Doba was matter-of-fact about the conservative approach: "We were ahead and they (Idaho) are our neighbors. We just wanted to get out of here with a win and start preparing for next week (against Notre Dame)."

Doba liked what he saw in Kegel, giving him a big smile, a heartfelt "nice job" and a pat on the shoulder as Kegel joined him at the podium during the post-game press conferences. "He's got a good command of this offense," Doba said, noting that he was especially impressed with the audibles Kegel called at the line of scrimmage, effectively "turning bad plays into good ones."

But both he and Kegel assured that the best is yet to come, with the passing numbers held down by drops and several balls thrown behind receivers.

Kegel, much maligned for his role in the Cougars' loss to Washington last season, left no doubt about his mental toughness after an ill-advised first quarter toss into coverage --- intercepted by Darryl Murphy in the end zone --- halted a first quarter drive that had devoured nearly nine minutes.

"I just put it (the interception) behind me and moved on," he said.

Murphy, Kegel's lone interceptor on the night, confirmed that assessment. "Kegel didn't try to push us deep, and on the short passes he was right on the money." Kegel reserved most of his post-game commentary for the offensive line and running backs. They're both stout, he said repeatedly, and it makes his job much easier.

The line, which averages some 302 pounds per man, wore down the Vandals. Calvin Armstrong and Josh Parrish led the way, with Sam Lightbody, Riley Fitt-Chappell, Nick Mihlhauser and Mike Shelford, starting at center for the first time, turning in admirable performances. Fitt-Chappell, normally a tackle, shared time at guard with Mihlhauser in place of injured Billy Knotts. His stellar work against the Vandals may have earned him a starting nod next week at Notre Dame, Doba said.

NOTABLE NOTES: Linebacker Will Derting, the star of last season's opener in Seattle against Nevada, was the Cougars' leading tackler with eight stops.

Strong safety Virgil Williams of Tacoma, a sixth-year senior courtesy of a medical redshirt, made his 14th career start a memorable by picking off two Idaho passes. They're the first two INTs of his career.

Rookie running back Chris Bruhn's 13.1 yards per carry (118 yards on nine attempts) is the second-highest one-game average in Cougar history. He moved past Bernard Jackson (12.4 vs. Oregon in 1971) into the No. 2 slot behind Don Paul (14.0 vs. Oregon in 1948). Jonathan Smith's 10-yards-per carry average (160 hashes on 16 attempts) ties him for tenth with Frank Madu (vs. Nebraska in 1995) on the single-game list. Any guess who's just ahead of him at No. 9 on the list at 10.1? None other than Jonathan Smith against these same Idaho Vandals last season.

Speculation that receiver Jason Hill would be the one true freshman who might see action this season proved accurate. He was on the field several times Saturday.

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