Idaho wide receiver Cedric Thompson straight-arms Washington State punter Kyle Basler as he runs for a 55-yard punt return in the first half. (AP/Kevin German)
Outside linebacker Will Derting, the star of last week's win over Nevada, set up WSU's first score against Idaho with a fumble recovery but then left the game not long after with what appeared to be a severely sprained ankle. Middle 'backer Don Jackson followed him to the sidelines with the same injury, while big-play receiver Jerome Riley went out early with a bum hamstring.
"It's not good -- not in terms of season-ending type injuries -- but for next week," said Cougar head coach Mike Price. His tone made it clear that the injuries took the shimmer off his team's 49-14 victory.
Next week, of course, means the much-anticipated showdown in Columbus with No. 8 Ohio State.
Losing the two linebackers is especially nettlesome because the position is one where the Cougars are low on experience and depth. Three gamers --- Al Genatone, rokie Kevin Sperry and Ira Davis --- will line up against the Buckeyes with touted sophomore Pat Bennett early off the bench, but the depth chart gets fuzzy from there on.
Compounding matters is that the Cougars have some serious work to do with their pass coverages. Several times Saturday Idaho receivers were left completely unchecked. In fact, a puzzling succession of such crimson miscues allowed the Vandals to creep within striking distance in the second quarter when they narrowed the score to 21-7 on a seven-yard strike from Brian Lindgren to Josh Jelmberg.
And penalties, the bugaboo of the Mike Price era, continue to rear their head. The Cougars were flagged ten times for 68 yards -- one of them a pass interference call that ultimately allowed Idaho to close with 28-14 in the third quarter. Against Nevada, the Cougars were whistled nine times for 80 yards.
Such mistakes won't haunt you against Idaho when Derrick Roche and the offensive line are bulldozing massive holes while Rien Long and the defensive line are wreaking havoc on the quarterback. But on the road against Ohio State --- a team with tremendous talent at the skill positions --- penalties and blown coverages are likely to make those high-paid executives at ABC wish they'd picked another match up for its national game of the week.
STILL, FOR ALL this seeming woe, let's not lose sight of the fact the Cougars scored seven touchdowns, rang up 517 yards of total offense and sacked Lindgren six times -- three by Long.
Moreover, two Cougar rookies -- Florida State transfer Devard Darling and record-breaking JC All-American running back Jonathan Smith --- served notice that they're here to stay.
Darling caught five balls for 86 yards and two TDs -- one on a 41-yard fourth-down pass from Jason Gesser -- and also hit paydirt with a 15-yard reverse to give the Cougars a 7-0 lead just one play after Derting recovered an Idaho fumble on the second snap of the day.
Smith carried the ball 12 times for 112 yards and three TDs to lead a ground attack that chalked up 250 yards. Senior John Tippins rumbled for 81 first-half hashes and finished with 85.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"My grandma could have run through those holes," said Jonathan Smith.
MISLEADING STAT OF THE DAY
Idaho had a whopping advantage in time possession, 35:46 to 24:14. Alas, the Cougars were all about big plays. Their first four TDs came on drives of 1, 3, 4 and 7 plays.
Gesser had a rock-solid day, completing 12 of his 16 passes for 220 yards, three TDs and one INT.
The Cougars take on Ohio State next Saturday. The Buckeyes are 2-0, downing Kent State 51-17 Saturday and Texas Tech two weeks ago.