Cougar D is proving it's for real

PULLMAN -- The woes of the WSU offense, which has produced a collective six points in its last five trips inside the red zone (three times Saturday in the 21-3 loss to Cal and twice a week ago at OSU), has the naybobs chattering. But the Cougar defense, which stymied high-octane Cal for all of the second half and gave up only two legitimate first-half scores, served notice that it's for real.

The Cougar D, much maligned a year ago, came into the weekend leading the nation in sacks. And despite only one sack against Cal, the Cougs left the same way, No. 1 with 29 sacks and averaging 4-per-game. But you can now add to the list of bonafides the fact they haven't allowed a TD in six of the last eight quarters of play. They gave up two long scoring drives in the first-half to Cal -- a Cal team averaging more than 40 points per game over the last five weeks -- and then put up the no trespassing sign.

Cal's other first-half TD really can't be pinned on the Cougar defense, because the Bears started the drive on the WSU 5-yard-line following a botched punt attempt.

From their last series of the first half through to game's end, the Bears' drive chart looked like something from the Chad Davis era of Cougar football, not the work of the most prolific scoring team on the West Coast. Indeed, Cal's last seven possessions ended like this: punt, punt, fumble, punt, interception, punt, game clock ran down.

WSU senior safety Eric Frampton, who quietly has become one of the conference's best secondary men, tallied 12 tackles and had one of two Cougar interceptions, going over the head of a Cal receiver and pulling down a Nate Longshore pass early in the third quarter.

"I think we (the defense) played well," Frampton said. "They're averaging what, 40-some points a game? We got (them) running a little slower in the second half, held them to zero points, which was awesome."

The Cougar D was aggressive and hard-hitting from the opening whistle. There were several downright jolting hits, including one in which a Cal punt returner was hit so hard his helmet flew about thee feet behind him.

Although happy with the overall play of the D, Frampton was also quick to point out there is always room for improvement.

The Cougar offense, though, was another story. Although effective at moving the ball between the 20s, they managed only three points in three trips inside the California 22.

"It's a balance, defensively and offensively," Frampton said. "The defense played good but at the same time there were times we could have kept them from getting in the end zone."

Echoing that sentiment was defensive end Mkristo Bruce, who, for the most, was held to a quiet afternoon, garnering 6 tackles and 3 quarterback hurries.

"You can think about it -- they don?t score 21 points they don't win the game," Bruce said. "So I can never see defensive guys saying, 'well I wish the offense would have done this,' you know, because they wish we hadn't given them 21 points.

"Defensively the way we're thinking, the way Coach Akey teaches us to play is a perfect game is two-zero," Bruce continued. "So I can never sit here and say I wish they (the offense) would have done this. I mean they kicked a field goal, that's good for us, that's a cushion for us, we can't come out there and let them score 21 points (early in the game) -- that's not like us, that's not Cougar football."

Head Coach Bill Doba praised his defense, saying the fact that the Cougs held such an impressive California offense at bay for most of the game was a testament of sorts to the overall character and ability of the squad.

"I can't ask any more of our defense," Doba said. "They're battered, they played as tough as they could, they fought it out through injuries and everything else they had, and you know they shut them out in the second half when the other teams averaging 41 points a game and more."

THE COUGAR OFFENSE held its own statistically with Cal. The Bears had 353 yards of total offense -- about 100 yards less than their weekly average -- while the Cougars clocked 350. But there was a telling difference in how those yards were won. Cal converted 7 of 15 third downs. The Cougars were 0-for-11 on third down and 2-of-6 on fourth down conversions.


The Cougars' leading tacklers were Frampton with 12 stops, Husain Abdullah with 10, Steve Dildine 9 and Ropati Pitoitua 8, including a sack. Frampton and Abdullah each picked off Nate Longshore passes. Frampton also forced and recovered a fumble.

Until leaving the game with an ankle injury, WSU sophomore receiver Brandon Gibson of Puyallup had his best-ever day as a Cougar, grabbing eight balls for 130 yards. Michael Bumpus, he Pac-10 receptions leader coming into the game, had four catches for 38 yards.

The Cougar offense has scored just one touchdown in the last eight quarters of play.

Cougar backup quarterback Gary Rogers, who played the first two series of the second half, suffered a sprain on his non-throwing shoulder. His status for next week's game with Oregon is uncertain. He completed 2-of-6 passes for 38 yards and an interception. It was not immediately clear if the Cougars had intended to leave Rogers in the game for the duration. Starter Alex Brink completed 19 of 35 passes for 227 yards and one INT.

Because some teams play more games than others, official NCAA stats for Team and Individual pass sacks are compiled on average per game. The Cougars, who play 12 games this season, lead the nation in both categories. In team stats, Washington State averages four sacks per and is also tops in total number of sacks with 28. Cougar defensive end Bruce, who was tantalizingly close on a few occasions but did not log a sack against Cal, still continues to lead all comers with 10 pass sacks. The country's Top Five in both categories through Week Seven:

Rank  Name              Gm    Total    Yds         PG
1     Washington State   7    28.0     163         4.00
2     Oregon State       6    23.0     171         3.83
3     Syracuse           7    26.0     140         3.71
4     Oklahoma State     6    22.0     138         3.67
5-t   Clemson            7    25.0     140         3.57
5-t   Texas              7    25.0     187         3.57

Rank Player                 Gm Solo Ast Yds Total  PG
1    Mkristo Bruce, WSU     7   10    0  58  10    1.43
2    Abraham Wright, Col.   7    9    0  77   9    1.29
3    Justin Hickman, UCLA   6    7    1  52   7.5  1.25
4    Antwain Robinson, Ark. 5    5    1  42   5.5  1.10
5-t  Anthony Spencer, Pur.  7    7    1  56   7.5  1.07
5-t  Ian Campbell, KSU      7    7    1  40   7.5  1.07
5-t  Brian Smith, Missou    7    7    1  60   7.5  1.07

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