Tackles Tark and Eich 'played guts out'

PULLMAN – Matt Eichelberger and Bryan Tarkington, rarely used backups, were thrust into prime time in Washington State's resounding victory over No. 14-ranked Oregon and "played their guts out," Cougar head coach Bill Doba gushed in the afterglow of his team's 34-23 win under sunny Palouse skies.

Eichelberger, a third-year sophomore from Bellingham, and Tarkington, a JC transfer who missed most of fall camp with transcript delays, figured prominently in the Cougars' plans when starting defensive tackles Aaron Johnson (elbow bone chip) and Ropati Pitoitua (knee sprain) were sidelined early on with injuries.

Like Doba, WSU defensive coordinator Robb Akey was singing the praises of both players. He said Tarkington's progress has been especially noticeable of late "He's been learning the packages, and he had a real nice week of practices, and we felt coming onto this game he was going to be able to do more things for us," Akey said. "He came in for us and did a damn good job. I am proud, real proud of the way the kids played today. I think they played their tails off."

The 6-3, 314-pound Eichelberger was succinct when asked if he was ready to play as much as he did. "I just got in the football mode," he said.

Tarkington said, "When adversity strikes, you have to be the one to answer. That's what he (Coach Akey) has been telling us if someone goes down. They are a good team …. If we attack the line of scrimmage and get in our gap we win the game, we win our battle."

Those comments were echoed by defensive captain and All-America candidate Mkristo Bruce. "To come out here and get this win was amazing. The biggest thing was a couple of starting tackles went down and we preached all week, all year, about when the phone rings, answer it," Bruce said. "You never know when you are going to be able to go in. Tarkington went in there and played his butt off and so did Eichelberger. My hats off to those guys. We came out here and played as a team. It was fun."

Doba was pleased with his entire defense, which didn't allow Oregon an offensive touchdown until midway through the fourth quarter. The Ducks gained 370 yards of total offense -- nearly 100 hashes less than their weekly average.

"I can't say enough about our defense," Doba said. "We lost Ropati Pitoitua, and we lost Aaron Johnson, and those are your two guys in the middle -- and in the three-man front, they're still the one guy."

He said the Cougars made no adjustments to their game plan to accommodate Tarkington and Eichelberger, but did make some changes to keep them fresh.

"We just threw them in where the other guys were. We played … a lot more three-man front so we could spell those two guys because none of them have ever played a whole game. Tarkington came in and his transcripts weren't here and he sat for the whole preseason. He didn't get any of it (fall camp). He couldn't practice but he could eat. It took a while to get him back in shape again."

Tarkington, from Woodland Hills, Calif., is listed as 6-4, 320 pounds.

"The other guy (Eichelberger) is just a different person than he was a year ago. Eichelberger a year ago could hardly get through a practice. He stayed this summer, he worked his tail off, he was here for the whole preseason and he has really made giant strides."

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