How to beat UCLA

LET'S JUST CUT TO the chase: The Cougar offensive line is going to have to stop <b>DeShaun Foster</b> if WSU is going to be on the right side of the current when the logjam atop the Pac-10 gets a big-time jolt this weekend. You read it right. The burden of stopping the nation's best running back resides with the OL, not the DL.

If the Cougars want to keep Foster from doing to them what Onterrio Smith did last weekend, the offense and the hosses up front need to control the clock to keep the Heisman Trophy contender off the field. But above all else, they need to score early and often so the No. 9-ranked Bruins are forced to put the ball in the air with a second-string quarterback who has a gimpy ankle.

That's what Stanford did last weekend and it's why UCLA is coming to Pullman at 7-1 rather than as a BCS juggernaut. Foster carried the ball only 21 times for 77 yards against the Card – that's 10 carries and 224 fewer yards than he racked up against Larry Triplett & Co. two weeks ago.

The No. 16-ranked Cougars, on the other hand, didn't seem to have a strategic clue in their closer-than-it-really-was loss to Oregon. The lone setback of this crimson season was as much an indictment of the offensive line as it was the team's tackle-challenged run defense. The Ducks never had to put the ball in the air because the Cougar offense – especially the line -- played for three quarters like something out of the Tom Holmoe Story.

Indeed, the most damning stat of the game was not Smith's record-setting rushing total, but the fact the Cougars produced exactly one net yard in the 11 rushing attempts they made on first-down plays in the game's first three quarters.

Perhaps more damning, though, is that the Cougs called for the run 11 times in 16 of those first-and-ten situations. Talk about predictable. It reminded me of that old saying about the definition of insanity: Doing something over and over again and expecting the outcome to be different.

Bottom line, the Ducks had no pressure on them to score. They had free reign to keep things on the ground, thus exposing the soft underbelly of this Cougar team.

The mark of great teams is the ability to cover for their mistakes and their weaknesses. Like my favorite dinosaur, the Ankylosaurus of the late Cretaceous period, these 2001 Cougars are tougher than nails when playing their game. But if they get knocked to the ground, watch out because their underside – unlike the armor-glad backside, is downy soft. Just ask Onterrio Smith.

The Cougars have a real shot at UCLA on Saturday. The game's at home. The weather should be vintage autumn in the Northwest. And the Bruins are hurting, with QB Cory Paus, star receiver Brian Poli-Dixon starting center Troy Danoff and starting safety Jason Stephens all shelved with injuries.

Presuming the standard hand-maidens of victory – limited penalties, few or no turnovers and solid special teams play -- are in the Cougars' corner on Saturday, then the weight of glory will sit squarely on the shoulders of the WSU offensive line. If they can muster enough push and pick up enough blitzes, they'll have Glenn Johnson singing "that's another Cougarrr first down" long into the afternoon.

And if that happens, DeShaun Foster will not run wild and the Cougars will be back on the road to their date with destiny.

NOTABLE NOTES:

SOMETHING SHOEY GOING ON: Was it just me, or did it seem like the Cougars had more trouble keeping their feet on the rain-soaked Field Turf than the Ducks? Since I couldn't help but notice the presence of Phil Knight in the Field House before the game I can only presume that he outfitted his alma mater in some sort of super-duper new shoe that doesn't slip. And I'm serious about that. Really, I am.

KICKING KUDOS: Hat's off to sophomore Cougar kicker Drew Dunning. The Pac-10's most prolific kick scorer has been named a semi-finalist for the Lou Groza Award – the Heisman Trophy for kickers. Five more points and he'll supplant legendary receiver Hugh Campbell for the No. 10 spot on WSU's single-season scoring list. And speaking of great kicking, you just can't say enough good things about Adam Holiday and his booming kickoffs. The guy is amazing, plain and simple.

TV TIME: WSU's next two football games, this week at home against UCLA and Nov. 10 at Arizona State will kick off at 3:30 p.m. PT and both will be televised by FOX Sports Net as part of their syndicated network package.

NOVEMBER WOES: The Cougars have dropped 26 losses in 36 tries in the Price era.

GESSER THE GREAT: The junior QB needs just 55 more yards to pass Mark Rypien for the No. 5 spot on WSU's career passing list. On the single-season list, he needs 193 more yards to move past Chad Davis into the No. 10 spot. In case you're wondering, Ryan Leaf hold the WSU record for most passing yards in a single season and Jack Thompson, who toiled long before the spread offense and trips rights made their way to Pullman, is still high atop the career list.


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