Nevada coach lauds unprecedented Coug talent

SEATTLE -- WSU coaches, players and fans -- despite the crimson-sided 31-7 score -- expected more in their season opener Saturday. Nevada's head coach, however, assures that greatness is just a matter of time with this Cougar team.

Brown celebrates after tackling Nevada QB. (AP/Kevin German)

J. Smith led WSU with 50 yards running vs. Nevada. (AP/Elaine Thompson)

Riley catches a 45-yard pass vs. Nevada. (AP/Kevin German)

Gesser yells out a play against Nevada. (AP/Elaine Thompson)

Bush comes down hard on Nevada. (AP/Kevin German)

Sperry moves in from left against Nevada QB. (AP/Elaine Thompson)

Trufant gets flagged for pass interference. (AP/Elaine Thompson)

"By far, this is the best WSU team I've ever competed against," Nevada coach Chris Tormey told after the game. "And this was my 22nd game against them as either as a player or coach."

No small praise, considering that Tormey, as a University of Washington assistant, squared off against four Cougar bowl teams, including the Drew Bledsoe-led 1992 Copper Bowl squad and the fabled Palouse Posse Cougar defense of 1994.

"Their defensive front is the most talented they've ever had," Tormey continued. "Their skill players are outstanding and Jason Gesser is very effective."


WSU offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller wasn't as charitable with his post-game observations but still sees a bright season for the Cougs.

"Obviously I'm not pleased. We were off balance and they (Nevada) did a great job. We never hit our stride," he said. "But I know we'll be a helluva lot better a month from now and next week and the week after next."

Levenseller said the Cougars' first offensive play of the day - - a quick hitch from Gesser to Mike Bush - - could have swayed the tenor of what turned out to be a forgettable first half of football. "We had a chance to turn that into a big play. The ball was low and he didn't get it. But it's the first game and we haven't been real healthy (all August)."

Similarly, head coach Mike Price was pleased that his No. 11-ranked team put up a W but he was succinct in his summation of how it was earned: "Nobody's got a big head after this one."


What no one was disappointed in, however, was the play of Cougar outside linebacker Will Derting. The former high school running back looked all the world like the second coming of Larry Csonka.

Derting, a redshirt freshman from Okanogan, came off the bench and thrilled the Seahawk Stadium crowd of 63,588 by intercepting three Zack Threadgill passes, returning one 98-yards for six-points and a school-record. He surpassed Cougar great Lionel Thomas, who took a pick 93-yards to paydirt against UCLA in 1969. Derting also eclipsed the WSU single game record for total interception return yards. Crimson Soldier Frank Miyaki set the previous record of 96-yards in 1945 against Idaho.

"Wow! He was great, what a debut," Price said of Derting's dream day. "A star is born. But the neat thing is he's just a regular guy, not cocky at all."

Derting's actual debut was as a true freshman against Idaho in the Cougar season opener last season. But Derting, who was projected to see a good deal of action last year, suffered a season ending knee injury against the Vandals.

The media throng on hand Saturday couldn't get enough of Derting afterward, turning Price's post-game press conference into a Derting feeding frenzy.

He was peppered with questions about just how remote the family home in Okanogan County really is. Answer: The phone lines stop two miles short of his house. He was asked if he knew of any other notable linebackers who happened to wear his same No. 51. Answer: "Dick Butkus!" He was asked if he'd ever been in a city as big as Seattle before. Answer: "Yeah, I've been to Seattle a couple of times before."


The Cougar offense, led by Heisman hopeful Gesser, had its moments, but never appeared to find their rhythm against the Wolf Pack. In fact, Nevada opened the scoring with an 8-yard run by Chance Kretschmer in the first quarter, while a sputtering WSU offense was held scoreless through the first fifteen.

Nevada, sporting a double-eagle 4-6 defense, also shut out the Cougs in the third quarter.

"We were just rusty," Cougar center Tyler Hunt said. "It was just a matter of execution."

But the offense was able to execute just enough, such as eight seconds into the second quarter, when Cougar receiver Jerome Riley took a Gesser pass 44-yards to start the Wazzu run of 31 unanswered points.

Riley also appeared on pace to threaten some Cougar records, catching four passes for over 100 yards in the first half. But the senior was held to just one catch in the final 30. He was credited with 117 yards on the day.

Cougar receiver Mike Bush was unusually silent, catching the first Gesser pass for a one-yard gain and coming up empty the rest of the way.

Gesser finished the day connecting on 17 of 29 for 242 yards. He was not intercepted or sacked.

"We weren't too impressive," Price said. "We wanted 400 yards in passing and didn't get it (261). But we won."

The placekicking unit was perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the day, falling short of a first down on fake field goal attempt early on. First-team Pac-10 kicker Drew Dunning also missed on two attempts before connecting on a 40-yarder in the fourth quarter. The Issaquah native connected on all four of his extra-point tries.


Derting wasn't the only "rookie" to enjoy his coming out party for the Cougs: Receiver Devard Darling was solid, catching six for 31 yards, freshman punter Kyle Basler showed flashes of why Price thinks he'll be the best bootman he's ever coached, Sammy Moore looked fine on a sweet 42-yard kick return, speedy Jevon Miller took a reverse for 16, Troy Bienemann was sharp with his long snapping duties and at the TE position, and JC transfers Kevin Sperry and Donnie Jackson played well at their linebacker spots.

Another JC transfer, running back Jonathan Smith, led all Cougar rushers with 50 yards on 10 carries and scored twice, both from two yards out. Smith, the Cougar first team back in goal-line situations, was thrilled to play his Division 1-A game in a professional football stadium.

"Playing in front of 67,000 was amazing," Smith said. "In JC ball you typically play in front of 75 people and this level is much faster than JC, it took some getting used to."


Aside from an occasional missed assignment and/or tackle, the Cougar defense received good marks for their performance today, especially in the second half. Not only did they match Nevada's lone score with one of their own, they also held Kretschmer, the nation's leading rusher in 2001, to 67 yard on 26 carries.

The Crimson Defenders also harassed Threadgill much of the day. The Cougs offered a steady pass-rush, registered three sacks, deflected several throws, and at least one interception was called back questionably.

"I was disappointed in the slow start," Price commented. "But I knew the way we were banging the heck out of their quarterback, it was just a matter of time."


The best - - and most surreal - - sight today took place not in Seahawk Stadium, but in and around the Seattle downtown: a virtual sea of Crimson clad pedestrians.

But the truest sign of just where the Cougar football program is today came from the mouth of Seattle Times sports writer Craig Smith. Upon entering the stadium's post-game media room and encountering a battalion of journalists, Smith uttered, "Is this Nevada or a bowl game?"


Nevada ran 81 offensive plays to WSU's 60. The 'Pack also had an edge in first down, 19 to 18.


NEV: Kretschmer 8-yard run (Fine kick)

WSU: Riley 44-yard pass from Gesser (Dunning kick)
WSU: J. Smith 2-yard run (Dunning kick)


WSU: J. Smith 2-yard run (Dunning kick)
WSU: Dunning 40-yard FG
WSU: Derting 98-yard interception return


Kretschmer 26-67, Milton 9-28, Burleson 3-12, Threadgill 4-5, Rowe 4-(-)4.
WSU: J. Smith 10-50, Tippins 5-21, Miller 1-16, Kegel 1-6, Green 6-5, Gesser 1-4, L. Anderson 2-4, Dunning 1-2.

Threadgill 17-30-155- 3, Rowe 3-5-19- 0.
WSU: Gesser 17-29-242- 0.
Kegel 2-4-19- 0.

Burleson 7-72, Fleming 8-58, Bythwood 2-14, Mann 1-12, Milton 1-9, Streelman 1-9.
WSU: Riley 5-117, Lunde 1-45, Harvey 2-35, Henderson 3-32, Darling 6-31, Bush 1-1, J. Smith 1-0.

NEV: Keenan 5, Morscheck 5, Towns 5.
: Trufant 7, Coleman 7, I. Brown 7, Sperry 7.

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