Role reversal for D and OL?

BACK IN MARCH, at Bill Doba's annual Pierce County Cougar Club dinner, consensus opinion among WSU coaches was that the offense, behind a veteran line, would have to carry the 2004 Cougars in the early games until the youthful defense found its stride. In the wake of Friday's season-opening win over New Mexico, it appears the crystal ball may have been clouded.

The defense, minus the surrender of three big plays to the Lobos and some bouts of arm-tackling, appears to have hit its stride already. They held New Mexico scoreless in the first half, got burned a bit in the third quarter, and then came up with one huge play after another in the fourth period to pull out the come-from-behind victory.

The offense, save for that picturesque 82-yard drive in the fourth, didn't look ready to carry anyone anywhere anytime soon. While sophomore QB Josh Swogger looked every bit the man to carry on the proud legacy of Quarterback U, he got inconsistent support. He was pressured and sacked five times, and his receivers had an early case of the dropsies. The rushing attack mustered just 31 net yards on 31 carries.

The hand-wringing over the performance of the offensive line was palpable throughout the Cougar Nation on Friday night. And Saturday morning didn't offer much more clarity, as the Spokesman-Review ran a story with quotes from Cougar hosses who were at a loss to explain their ineffectiveness beyond the fact the Lobo defensive line was much bigger than the advertised 240-pound per man average.

Before the flop sweats threaten to drown your enjoyment of the victory, consider the learned comments of Doba on Sunday, after digesting game film and the Lobos' unconventional and chaotic D, which often times put eight men in the box against the Cougars. That move, for ye unwashed, is pretty much aimed at forcing you to the air.

"That is a difficult defense to run against. They really attack well. They fill gaps and come hard. They are very physical … We simplified the package. If you see that defense a lot, you need a two-back offense. We thought we would be good enough to get some push but we didn't. We didn't want to make a wholesale change for one game."

Despite the OL's woes, Doba did single out senior tackle Sam Lightbody for grading out well against the Lobos.

This week's opponent, Colorado, is a little more conventional on D. But they will bring a different look to this game than to the one in Boulder a year ago that the Cougars won 47-26. New defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, last year's interim head coach at Arizona, has replaced the Buffaloes' 4-2-5 scheme with a 4-3-4 base that figures to prompt more zone/man disguises.

ON DEFENSE, the Cougars will be facing another running back on the watch list for the Doak Walker Award. Last week it was DonTrell Moore, who piled up 167 hashes. This week it's 215-pound senior Bobby Purify. He was granted a medical redshirt after going down for the season with an ankle injury in the game against WSU a year ago. In 34 career games he's racked up more than 2,000 yards, including 189 in Saturday's 27-24 nail-biter over Colorado State.

A FAMILIAR FACE to Cougar fans will be on the Colorado sideline this Saturday. Craig Bray, a WSU assistant from 1987-88 and 1994-99, is in his first year with the Buffs. He spent last season at Arizona following three as defensive coordinator under Dennis Erickson at Oregon State.

Kickoff Saturday is 12:35 pm at Seattle's Qwest Field. The game also will be televised live by ABC, with Gary Thorne and Ed Cunningham, the former Husky center, calling the action.

NOTABLE NOTE: WSU's defensive co-captains, Will Derting and Hamza Abdullah, were wearing matching, jumbo-sized casts on Friday. While the armor may have limited their grabbing abilities, it certainly didn't show up in the box score. Abdullah led the Cougars with eight tackles and Derting was right behind with seven.


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