'Armored Truck' Mihlhauser is a speedy throwback

DAN LYNCH. I'M INTO THE third or fourth replay of the Cougars' win over Idaho, remembering the last time I saw an O-lineman go the extra mile like that. Then it was Dan Lynch. Now it's center Nick Mihlhauser who I see wiping out not only his primary target, but secondary Idaho Vandals as well. Play after play, Mihlhauser sustains his block and still finds another helmet to crack.

It's not the effort of a senior running on cruise control because it's only Idaho. Like Dan Lynch, 21 years ago --- about the time Mihlhauser was still learning to roll over in his crib --- here comes a Cougar big guy with a running back's balance, pushing himself to make the lineman's double-single.

That would be two effective blocks on the same snap. Mihlhauser put that personal stamp on the Idaho defense nearly as often as his playbook assignments allowed.

The effort was impressive, more so since Lynch was a guard --- first-team AP All-American, I should note --- who didn't have to handle the football. Mihlhauser does. Every play. It's not unusual for a strong center to take out a linebacker, or pull to help lead a sweep. But on a night when first-game incompetence jumped all over the screen, there was Mihlhauser serving notice.

I hit rewind and there he is, early second quarter, throwing a block on a counter sweep that takes the legs out from under an Idaho DB. It is an open-field shakedown that springs Jerome Harrison for a couple of extra yards. It's also a statement that with Mihlhauser there is at least a foundation to build on.

The line is lucky to have a place to start. It's not yet a serviceable unit. Here's a guess from the comfort of the living room: Alex Brink is taking all snaps from Mihlhauser in part because with his nimbleness Brink can scramble up an extra second or two, to cover breakdowns.

For now this is an offense that is better triggered by a quarterback who can function on the move. Not that Brink should resort to premature flights of panic before the pocket has time to form but it's apparent after the anything-but-unanimous decision over Idaho that the Cougar O-wall is a work in progress.

The exception is Brink's 6-3, 292-pound armored truck from Arryo Grande, Calif., named Nick Mihlhauser.

The strength of the offense, at least in this one, when star receiver Jason Hill was winning the uncoveted Koren Robinson Drop One for the Gipper contest, was Jerome Harrison and the single constant up front, Mihlhauser.

I watch the defense wisely shading off to either side, leaving Mihlhauser uncovered, taking away some of his effectiveness as a pass blocker but allowing him to sail into the uncharted waters of the secondary. For a guy usually stuck in the middle of the mayhem, this is a center with a nose not only for the football, but for the big screen.

When Harrison started, and essentially ended, the game with a tackle-breaking 80-yard TD sprint on the season's first play, you see Hill, out front, sealing off the last Vandal with a shot. And holding his own in the race for face time, the third Coug to get that far that fast, behind only the two H-bombs, Harrison and Hill, is …

The center?

Yes, of all people, the center. Sure, Michael Bumpus overtook Mihlhauser very late in the chase but there is a clear picture here, with a clearer message.

Nick Mihlhauser will be where it matters, when it matters.

That, and a 12-point win over a team that may be good enough to beat Washington in two weeks, ain't a bad place to build on.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Weaver has been following and/or covering the Cougars for the better part of 30 years. The former Spokesman-Review sports editor and columnist will be bringing his unique insights to Cougfan.com readers every week this season.

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