A win is a win as sluggish Cougs get by Vandals

PULLMAN --- For the first 69 seconds of the Cougars' season opener Thursday night, it looked like the glory of old was making a comeback at Ol' Wazzu. Fueled by senior running back Jerome Harrison, the Cougars streaked to a 14-0 advantage on Idaho's seemingly hapless Vandals before Bob Robertson had cleared his throat. But then it was off to the Twilight Zone. The Cougars looked lost in a bad dream.

Sure, they won 38-26 in front of a nearly full house under a picture perfect sky, but they did it in the ugliest of ways against an opponent widely considered one of the worst in all of Division I-A over the last three years.

The offensive and defensive lines seemed to be stuck in quicksand. Quarterback Alex Brink had a great start and finished with a flourish, but in between did everything he could to reignite the Great Swogger vs. Brink Debate. To be fair, though, his struggles were exasperated by his inconsistent offensive line and star receiver Jason Hill's four drops.

Meanwhile, Idaho back up QB Steve Wichman lit a fire under the scrappy Vandals, bewitching and bothering the Cougar D with sustained drives crafted together with an array of sweeps, play-actions, screens and clutch passes over the middle. And even when Idaho's offense wasn't doing all that much, the Cougar D found themselves in repeated holes thanks to miscues by the WSU offense.

Whoa Nellie, suddenly the Mismatch of the Palouse --- the Cougars were favored by 25 --- became a good old fashioned Battle of the Palouse. If the student bodies of the two schools still agreed that the losers would walk the eight miles to the other's campus like they used to way back when, you can bet there would have been some tight sphincters on the WSU side of the stadium when the Vandals narrowed matters to 24-19 in the third quarter.

In the end, WSU's superior size and athleticism reigned supreme --- despite three turnovers, nine penalties and just four of 14 on third down conversions. The offensive line kept Brink protected, Hill found his old form to the tune of two second-half TD catches, and the defense kept the pressure on.

"We made some really foolish mistakes," head coach Bill Doba told the Cougar Radio Network afterward. "But I liked the way our kids finished."

Perhaps as surprising as the closer-than-expected score was the way the points were piled up. In a season where the Cougars have stated their commitment to more ball control --- and have worked on more two-back offensive sets --- they lost the time of possession battle by a whopping 10 minutes.

The Cougars scored the way they used to in Jason Gesser's heyday. Two scoring drives took all of one play each -- Harrison going 80-yards around the right side to start the game and Brink hitting Michael Bumpus on a 26-yard pass in the third period. Another scoring drive spanned five plays --- but the final 72 of its 86 yards came a pass connection between Brink and Hill.

Idaho dominated time of possession 35 minutes to 25.

But that's where the statistical battle ended. The Cougars racked up 435 yards to Idaho's 266.

Harrison finished with 163 yards on 24 carries, marking the fourth straight game he's eclipsed the century mark.

Brink was 17 of 29 for 230 yards, three TDs and two INTs. Hill caught five balls for 96 yards and two TDs and Bumpus grabbed eight passes for 87 yards and one TD.

Will Derting paced the Cougar defense, totaling 11 tackles. Junior safety Eric Frampton, making his first-ever start, was No. 2 with seven tackles.

Cougar offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller and quarterback coach Timm Rosenbach switched places to open the season. Last year, Levenseller was moved to the booth and Rosie took up residence on the sidelines. This year they're back to what they did in 2003.

DeWayne Patterson showed why he'd been receiving so many kudos during fall camp. The junior started at free safety in place of Husain Abdullah (ankle) and made his presence felt in the defensive backfield and also on special teams, including his strip on the kickoff with WSU already up 7-0. The ensuing fumble recovery led to Jerome Harrison's second TD of the night and a 14-0 lead before Idaho's offense had a chance to take the field.

The Cougars travel to Reno next Friday for a nationally televised ESPN game against the Nevada Wolfpack.

With his 80-yard TD run on the first play from scrimmage, Jerome Harrison became just the 12th player in Washington State history to go 80 yards or more on one play. Ironically, the man at the top of the list, 1950s star Chuck Morrell, took a ball 87 yards against Pacific but didn't score --- inexplicably falling down inside the 10.

Idaho's starting tight end was senior Keith Grier, who broke his leg against the Cougars in Seattle in 2003 and nearly died from the complications.

WSU true freshman linebacker Cory Evans and defensive back Courtney Williams made quick impressions, working like seasoned vets on the kickoff teams.

The Cougars were sporting new uniforms for the first time in five years. The jerseys are similar to what they wore through the 1990s and silver pants have been adorned with red and white stripes --- something not seen on the Palouse since Jim Walden departed after the 1986 season.

Cougar kicker Loren Langley, who won the PAT and field goal battle with Graham Siderius just a few days ago, nailed his one trey attempt, from 26 yards out, and all of his extra points. A year ago he was 5 of 11 on field goals and 30 of 32 on PATs.

The Cougars have won five straight season openers. Prior to the current streak, the last time WSU won five straight opening games was from 1986-90.


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