Skid marks and all, Cougs look reborn

IT FIGURES. NOT THE blowout, although that figured, too. Consider this. Washington State's first football coach was a guy named Goodyear. William Goodyear. History makes no mention of Goodyear as a blimp, nor is it clear if William was in any way tied into the family that would strike it rich in the tire business. It's just that Goodyear and rubber go together, like Brink and unstoppable.

Well, Brink and unstoppable in The Battle of the Palouse, which was renewed Saturday for the 89th time. Like the 87th and 86th Battles, and scores of Battles before, it was all Coug. However, this was the first one -- at least since the Cougs' 84-27 victory in 1975 -- where the victim was left with skid marks.


What's with that new Martin Stadium turf? The Cougars laid more rubber than the Little Old Lady From Pasadena. Quarterback Alex Brink and five different running backs kicked up small clouds of sandy rubber specks as they darted over the strange green amalgam that the game was played on.

The only difference between the turf in Pullman and a landfill in New Jersey is at least here the tires aren't burning. Did they put one too many used 175x15s in the field mix? Make it easier to bounce back? Sorry. The Cougar express rode high. The highway surface didn't matter.

Coach Bill Doba not only has a couple of quarterbacks who can play, but at least six running backs as well. And let's spread credit here. The Cougar line threw up a protective bubble that not only insulated Brink but made Heisman candidates out of ball carriers who were lucky to get into the spring game.

Washington State's secondary was shredded by injury. Who could tell? Point to a backup nickel back and nominate him for Pac-10 player of the week.

There was one defender who really stood out when it mattered. Aaron Johnson, Washington State's inside warrior. The Vandals just don't have anybody like him, certainly nobody to contain him. He's not the pass rusher that Rien Long was when Long was here, waiting to cash in with the NFL, but A.J. looks like more of load. Behind him you can pick a Coug, any Coug. Doba and his staff coached every one of them up for this game.

As I scan the tape I can't see anybody who wasn't ready to play. OK, the kicker was woeful but for once it didn't matter. The Dennis Menace has been set aside for the moment. Who'd have thought after last week's close call at Michigan State that Vandal fans would look back at the Nick Holt era as the Golden Years?

The whispered notion that Dennis Erickson will eventually abandon his Idaho post and resume control of WSU football was muted. If you judge the state of the Coug on just the Idaho game, the only flaw is Doba's weary post-game remarks. He took his trademark understated class to unprecedented blandness. I thought we played better today than we played at Auburn. Quick, write that down. Yeah, I know what you're thinking. If Doba's Chuck Knox-like commentary is the worst we can dig up, let's concede that it was a pretty good day.

Chuck Knox, incidentally, was a helluva football coach and so, it seems, is Doba. Before we get too giddy, though, let's confront the obvious. The Cougs raked The ‘Ho. Brink is a Vandal Killer. Outside the cozy confines of Spokane and Lewiston, I'm not sure that's front-page news.

Idaho is usually the balm for whatever ails the Cougars.

Brink was unstoppable. So was backup QB Gary Rogers. I'm still not convinced that Rogers isn't the best gamer on the team but, like a couple of botched field goals, it didn't matter. Not Saturday.

There is talk that both Palouse coaching staffs would prefer to schedule The Battle maybe every other year or so.

Are you crazy?

WSU A.D. Jim Sterk can't let opportunity go cold. The Cougs need a patsy. It's the reality of the food chain. The Floridas have the Florida Internationals. Lance Armstrong had the French. Washington State has Idaho. If it means rival coaches can't compare notes over a cold one in the summer, I'm sorry. A Coug takes anything it can get.

Like Baylor.

Next come the Baylor Bears in Seattle. Air Bear. That's the Baylor buzz. The Baylors like to pass. Sounds like more target practice for Eric Frampton. If I were Air Bear I'd throw someplace else. Run someplace else. Avoid Frampton. And throw a double team on Aaron Johnson. Of course that would only make Mkristo Bruce mad, and who wants to get him riled up?

A week is a lifetime in college football. One week after the meltdown at Auburn the Cougs look like a different animal. Flexible. Durable. Fire and ice. Sand and rubber.

Thank you Idaho.

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

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