Sorensen: These Cougars can run the table

WHILE HISTORY IS NOT on my side --- neither the contemporary variety nor the older stuff --- I have confidence our 3-5 Cougars can pull it together over the next three weeks and secure the requisite six Ws required to go bowling in December. I know, call me Pollyanna. I'm an incurable optimist. I actually thought the Cougs would hang tough with USC for a half.

Still, in looking at the next three opponents --- Arizona State this weekend, Oregon next and Washington on Nov. 19 --- I have to tell you I like what I see. In fact, if Will Derting were at full strength and if the secondary were more Cougar Gold than Alpine Swiss, I'd actually be licking my chops in anticipation.

Arizona State has struggled the second-half of this season and is only a three-point favorite Saturday. Oregon has a good record but hasn't been overly impressive and now has untested Dennis Dixon at quarterback. Both of those games, importantly, will be played in Pullman, which is no small advantage for the Cougars. Lastly, there's Washington. In the Dawgs' past 19 games they've been mostly hopeless, managing only to knock off San Jose State and Idaho –- two teams with some of the worst records in all of Division I-AA.

Of course, history doesn't support my rosy (er, Las Vegas Bowl-esque) outlook for the Cougs.

The recent past tells us that the lads have no clue in the fourth quarter, and therefore can't -- or don't know how to -- win.

Cougs (3-5) vs. Sun Devils (4-4)
2 pm Pacific Time

Martin Stadium


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Devils by 3

ASU leads 17-12-2. The Devils won 45-28 last year in Tempe. The year before in Pullman it was WSU 34-19.

Cougars 41, Arizona State 38

History of a longer term tells us that the chances of a Cougar team -– any Cougar team -– closing the season with three straight regular-season wins is about as likely as Tyrone Willingham cracking a smile sometime in this decade.

Indeed, in the last 47 years only five Cougar teams have closed the regular season by running the table with three or more triumphs.

The 1958 Cougars won four straight at the end and earned a Sugar Bowl invitation (that was turned down, fergawdsakes!). Jim Sweeney's 1973 Cougs won their final four to finish 5-6. The 1983 club under Jim Walden closed with five consecutive victories to finish 7-4 and earn Don James' admiration as "the best team in the Pac-10." Dennis Erickson's 1988 Cougars won their final four plus the Aloha Bowl. And the fabled 1997 team led by Ryan Leaf prevailed in its last three regular-season games.

Other than that, it's slim pickins to find a crimson win streak in the stretch run. Not even the 10-win teams of 2001, 2002 and 2003 did it.

A tall order for this year's Cougars, no doubt, given the frustrating way the season has unfolded. However, if these guys can shake off the bad taste of the USC debacle, there is no reason why they can't join the pantheon of pleasant statistical aberrations.

One reason I say that with a fair amount of confidence is this: Except for USC, no opponent has defeated Washington State this year.

It's true. The Cougars cost themselves four victories --- in breathtaking fashion, I might add --- but they have not truly been beaten by anyone the entire year save the No. 1-ranked Trojans.

It's not too late for the Cougs to put it together. They have the heart -- these guys never stop fighting. And, yes, they have ability. They're not going to dominate anybody due to the porous defense, but they have the playmakers on offense to reclaim this season and beat the Devils, Ducks and Dawgs.

Call me Pollyanna if you will, but I firmly believe these Cougars are headed to the post season.

TIME TO MOVE ON TO one of my favorite topics, the Pride of Kalamazoo, Mich. How ‘bout that Jerome Harrison? Until now, I'd have been hard-pressed to envision any better running backs than Bernard Jackson, Rueben Mayes and Steve Broussard ever lining up for the Cougars. Harrison, though, is really something else. His breakaway ability, as demonstrated so nicely in the first quarter against USC, is nothing less than eye-popping. He has more moves than Earth, Wind and Fire. He should be doing ads for swivel chairs.

With 147 yards against the Trojans, he now leads the nation in rushing with 1,310 total hashes. He needs just 21 more this weekend to move past Shaumbe Wright-Fair into the No. 2 spot on WSU's single-season list. He's also just 327 yards behind Mayes' all-time record --- a record that will fall sometime in the second-half of the Oregon game given Harrison's current pace.

And this little factoid is a true head turner: He's one 100-yard game away from tying the Pac-10 record for most consecutive games at or over the century mark. With 11, Jerome's tied at No. 2 with Marcus Allen and needs a typical day vs. ASU to match J.J. Arrington at the top with 12.


The other thing I like about Harrison is that he's a team player. The first words out of his mouth after every game are in praise of his offensive line. Without them, he says, none of his exploits would be possible. Bill Doba singled out tackle Charles Harris for special praise following the USC game. It was well deserved. The entire unit has gelled far beyond what I expected -– and not just with the rushing game. They're also stingy about surrendering sacks (though Brink's agility certainly helps the cause).

Harris will be back next season, as will tackle Bobby Byrd and guard Sean O'Connor. Given the progress of the young hosses backing up senior center Nick Mihlhauser and senior guard Norvell Holmes, look for the good trench work to continue in 2006.

About the author: Paul Sorensen was a first-team All-America safety for Jim Walden's Cougars in the early 1980s. He played professionally in the USFL and NFL before becoming a long-time color commentator on Cougar radio broadcasts.

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