God bless the Irish?

<b>JOHN HUSBY</b> KNOWS football. During a stellar career as a Cougar offensive tackle he played for Jim Walden, Dennis Erickson and Mike Price. And after a brief stint in pro ball under Dan Reeves and Mike Riley he moved into coaching, where he worked alongside the likes of Jim Sweeney, John L. Smith, Ted Tollner and Keith Gilbertson.

From Pullman to Denver, San Antonio to Moscow, San Diego to Berkeley and Frenso too, Husby learned football from some of the college game's best minds.

He hung up the cleats and whistle a few years ago to spend more time with his family and nowadays is a rising star at Alaska Airlines, where he oversees the carrier's cargo operations at Sea-Tac.

But facts are facts: You can take the hoss out of football, but you can't take football out of the hoss.

So when you ask him for his learned opinion of the 2003 Cougars, he's quick to tell you the tough loss at Notre Dame is shaping up as a difference maker.

But not in the 6-0 should be vs. 5-1 actually is way you probably think.

Nope. That heartbreaking overtime setback in South Bend looks like it may have been a blessing, Husby says.

"The Cougars learned a valuable lesson back there. It's a lesson, if taken to heart at that early stage of the season, that can really prove beneficial over the course of a season," Husby says.

"And the Cougars look to me like they're on a mission," says the former first-team All-Pac-10 performer. "It's almost as if the leaders on this team have pledged themselves to prevent another Notre Dame from happening -- to never let up no matter what the score. They crushed Colorado on the road, went into high-energy Autzen and absolutely drove a dagger through the heart of the Ducks, and came through late to dispatch Arizona despite the obvious emotional fall off from the week before.

"I think these guys left South Bend with a wake-up call blaring in their heads. This is a game of 60 minutes, you can't slow down for even one play. So many teams go into halftime with a lead and come out flat in the third quarter. When you do that -- especially in front of a large, hostile crowd -- and lose focus with penalties and poor execution, then you're asking for trouble," he says.

"That's what happened at Notre Dame. I don't see it happening again. And if this season plays out for the Cougars the way I think it can, I'm going to point to Notre Dame as the turning point."

His comments are echoed by another old Cougar from the Walden era: Paul Sorensen.

"Remember Guy Williams?" Sorensen asks rhetorically.

Every self-respecting WSU student from the early 80s remembers Guy Williams, the uber-talented wing-man who was leading George Raveling's 1982-83 Cougar hoop team to glorious new heights. And then be blew out his knee midway through the campaign.

"That team still went on to a fantastic season even though Williams was gone," Sorensen said. "His loss was devastating, but the team rallied together. Everyone stepped it up a notch. In some respects, I think what happened at Notre Dame has had the same effect on the Cougar football team."

"The maturity these kids have shown this season is impressive. They've really come of age. I can't say enough about the senior leadership -- guys like Erik Coleman, who I just love to watch, Jeremey Williams, D.D. Acholonu and others.

"Those guys were freshmen in 2000 when the Cougars went 4-7 and easily could have been 7-4 if a handful of plays had gone the other way. They know first-hand that the distance in this league between the outhouse and the penthouse isn't all that far," says the 1981 All-American free safety.

"That knowledge and their leadership -- coupled with a coaching staff that I rank as nothing less than tremendous -- is why this team regrouped after Notre Dame and got after business."

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