Seen & Heard 11/19

I'M NO FOOTBALL EXPERT, but I do like numbers and I do recognize quarterbacks who are better at running than throwing. And what it all tells me about this Saturday's game between Washington and Washington State is that the Cougars' road to Apple Cup redemption will be found on the ground, not in the air.

Statistically speaking, the Husky D is pitiful against the run, surrendering 187 yards per game – 87th worst among the 117 schools playing in Division 1-A. Their pass defense, however, is most respectable, ranking No. 13 in the land. Of course, part of that has to do with the fact teams don't need to air it out to beat them, but the discrepancy between their air and ground defenses would seem tailor-made for a Cougar victory.

I say that for two reasons.

First, because the Cougar ground game – behind senior tackles Calvin Armstrong and Sam Lightbody – has rounded into fine form. Jerome Harrison has rushed for 365 yards in the last two weeks and was near or over 100 yards in three of the four games before that. Moreover, the Dawgs' most tenacious defender, middle linebacker Joe Lobendahn, will be on the sidelines with a broken wrist, as will starting DE Mike Mapuolesega who tweaked an ankle Wednesday.

Second, because if there's one thing I've come to love about second-year freshman quarterback Alex Brink over this past month it's his feet. This kid causes problems for defenses when he's moving. He doesn't cause problems for them when he's dropping back. Bootlegs, roll outs, options, whatever. If this young man is on the go early and often Saturday, the Dawgs will be backpedaling -- especially if some two-back schemes are thrown into the mix.

By going to Brink's greatest strength -- his mobility -- I think more opportunities will be created on the ground -- and in the air, with mismatches downfield as Jason Hill, Michael Bumpus and Troy Bienemann get in isolated situations in the open spaces. In other words, Brink's good feet can help set up the pass in a way that negates a big benefit of the 3-4 defense: four linebackers obstructing the lanes used in slant routes and hot reads.

The big wild card here, though, is Brink. He's a rookie and rookies make mistakes. Granted, the Huskies aren't the same as USC or Arizona State, but the pressure will be on him simply because it's the Apple Cup and the stadium will be super-charged. If he doesn't get flustered battling the Dawgs' 3-4 -- and if gets the critical support he needs from his linemen and receivers -- all will be well. If not, look for another game that goes down to the wire.

My prediction: Cougs will have a 34-26 advantage in time of possession and win 21-13.

DON'T LOOK NOW, but Josh Swogger's season-ending foot injury looks like it will have Bill Doba entering spring practices in the same place he found himself entering workouts this past August: With a potential quarterback controversy. The coach cringed at the thought of it the other day. "It sets up to be a real headache, to be honest with you. It'll be interesting. They'll have to share some reps. But I think Josh would probably start as our No.1 But we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. We'll leave that for a press conference in the spring."

Indeed, it figures to be a neck-and-neck battle between Swogger, a junior next season, and Brink, who will be a sophomore. While dramatically different in style and physique, statistically they're about even this year. Assuming a standard passing game this Saturday, both QBs will conclude the season having completed just less than 50 percent of their tosses for about 1,200 yards each. Swogger has 13 TD passes vs. 7 INTs, while Brink is currently at 5 and 5.

NOBODY ASKED, BUT for my money one of the most entertaining Cougars to watch this season has been kickoff specialist Graham Siderius. This guy is an absolute head-hunter. I'm used to seeing 160-pound kickers hanging out at midfield praying that they don't have to get involved. Not Siderius. He's 6-feet-2, 210-pounds of punishment. He made a spectacular stop against UCLA two weeks ago that the TV guys drooled over. But the thing is, Siderius has been crackin' heads like a linebacker this entire season. So if Paul Sorensen is out there reading this, I say Siderius gets the kicking spot the next time you update your Cougar All-Time Scrapper Team.

I WAS AT THE GAME in Tempe last week, but our executive editor tells me the TBS color commentator for the Cougar-Devil matchup, Charles Davis, was the most insightful analyst he's heard in years. That reminds me of something I've been meaning to mention all season long: Mark Rypien, in his first season as the color guy on Fox Sports' Cougar broadcasts, has been downright outstanding.

MILTON RILEY, THE 6-foot-8 shot-blocking wunderkind on the Cougar basketball team from 2000-2003, is in the Idaho National Guard and preparing to ship out to Iraq in the next few weeks. The Lewiston Tribune did a wonderful feature story on Riley this week. He says the motto that guided him through his youth in South Central Los Angeles -- where both his brother and cousin were gunned down -- is now with him again. "Stay alert, stay alive," he told the Tribune. "You have to prepare for (battle). If you don't prepare for it you become complacent, and when you become complacent, that's when things happen." Godspeed, Milton.

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