COMMENTARY: No cheers for D or special teams

LOOK AT IT THIS WAY. At least you're not Michigan fans. You didn't lose by two to Appalachian State on Saturday. You probably could have, but it was the No. 5 Michigan Wolverines who were dumb enough to schedule their opener with Appalachian, a two-time defending national champion that stunned the football world in Michigan's Big House.

I don't care if Appalachian State is the reigning monarch of football's lesser realm. Why schedule it when there are plenty of Washington States to go around?

COMMENTARY

Find an opponent with enough class to give the season opener a whiff of respectability, but make it a gimme just the same.

Washington State is perfect.

You don't lose on the field or at the bank. The Wisconsin Badgers have it all figured out. Football is better than basketball. Cheese is better than anything.

And huge bodies on offense are too much for Washington State's undersized linebackers. Greg Trent is Washington State's middle linebacker. Before I talk about his ordeal Saturday, I must first go on record as saying Trent looks like a great kid who plays with passion and a strong heart.

Singling him out for Wazzu's first, second and fourth-quarter defensive meltdowns in Madison is to ignore the obvious -- that the secondary lining up behind him was consensus All-Soft and the guys in front of him were no match for wooly mammoths disguised as Wisconsin tackles.

The flow of the Cougar pass rush was reduced to a backwater -- sort of a tamed Lake Roosevelt trying to get over the hump of Grand Coulee.

That didn't make Trent's job any easier.

His challenge coming into the game was, well, a tall one. You want guys who look up to their coach, only not literally. Trent is 5-foot-11. His replacement tiptoes in at 5-10. If you've got inside linebackers who are at eye-level with the coach, you've got problems.

Trent, a junior co-captain who has been starting since that dark day when Will Derting blew his knee, has improved. But he was hammered Saturday.

When the Badgers sent their linebackers after WSU quarterback Alex Brink, they brought the house. When the Cougs sprung their blitz they didn't have a house. They brought the one-room flat.

They're just not big and roomy enough. Pound-for-pound, sure, Greg Trent is prime Roy Jones Jr., once boxing's undisputed pound-for-pound cash king.

But there was no room for middleweights in Madison on Saturday.

That wasn't the only issue for the Cougars, of course.

Renewed emphasis on the kicking teams didn't come to much. Punt formation looked like something from the Mid-America Conference. And the kicker, while a hard-working walk on, reduced the post-game host on the Cougar Radio Network to dream about the Cougs one day offering a scholarship to a jim-dandy specialist. Hang out the Help Wanted sign. Kicker needed. Range a must. Accuracy negotiable. Preference to candidates whose last name fits in a headline.

This was only one game and it was one the Cougars were expected to lose. But in view of what happened in the heartland, the Cougs, with their mistake-prone secondary and those undersized linebackers, better take on San Diego State and Idaho knowing that the rest of the way is going to be one nail-biting roller-coaster ride.

The good news?

The offensive line and the running game came through. Brink threw nary an interception in 27 passes. And Brandon Gibson appears nicely recovered from his sprained knee. Whether they're up for scoring 49 points a week from here on out to keep pace with what the Cougar D is doing is another question.

Any good news, you ask, on the defensive side?

Well, the 5-10 and 5-11 linebackers and the rest of the team did some nice work in the classroom this summer. So no probation for a poor APR.

Losing and getting slapped by NCAA enforcement would be an insult -- something like doing the Michigan Two-Step -- paying Appalachian State half-a-million to wreck your season.


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