Commentary: Like old days, hopes ride on O

YOU'LL SEE MORE defense in a bar brawl. More discipline, too, and maybe even closer teamwork, depending on the intensity of the bar and the quality of the neighborhood. The Cougars are what they are. The Grand Canyon of defense. Layer upon layer of wide open space.

There's a reason Bill Doba wasn't flush with victory in his post-game comments. For too much of the first half Saturday that yawning chasm of a middle was exploited by a freshman quarterback from Idaho who wasn't supposed to be any good and a sophomore receiver named Max, who played more like Max McGee of Green Bay Packer fame than the Max Komar he is.

He and others roamed the short middle. The mid-middle. The deep middle. It's there, in the vulnerable zones beyond the D-line, beyond the linebackers, where Wazzu's defensive game plan implodes, where crossing patterns flourish. Where three weeks into this 2-1 season the verdict remains unchanged: the Cougs can't line up in a base defense and stuff a turkey.


They'e worse when they try to blitz, or, in their terminology, try to pressure. It leads us to the only certainty. Bet the over. Every week. Even this one, with USC the next stop on what is now a demanding schedule.

In that, today's Cougars honor their tradition. Historically, Washington State football is an orgy of big plays. Bobby Newman, Hugh Campbell and Clarence Williams. Jack Thompson, Mark Rypien, Rueben Mayes and Drew Bledsoe.

Move the chains, air it out, damn the defenses.

Theirs and yours.

The reputation ain't always accurate but over the decades Washington State football is the program of entertainment, success sometimes optional.

Now, this team that out-playgrounds the Idahos and San Diego States threatens to stretch its legacy. New dimensions beckon. More points, another record, yards tacked on to yet another first down. Maybe not next time out but soon.

I'm hooked.

I admire a pass rush as much as the next guy but, since we're stuck with this highlight-reel season, we might as well follow Bobby Knight's stark advice. Relax and enjoy it.

Alex Brink is playing add-on with the WSU record book. That in itself is compelling enough to watch week after week. There's a certain justice in that. Once, a very long time ago, Brink was the quarterback we'd most like to bench. He wasn't as good as Gary Rogers. Now he's better than Jason Gesser. It's right there, in the stark black and white of the WSU record book.

Gradually he worms his way into our good graces, this time with another 300-yards-plus and four TD strikes. In Washington State's 45-28 win in this 90th Battle of the Palouse, Brink flashed a Manning-like grasp of Mike Levenseller's offense. Win or lose, Alex Brink deserves our attention.

He makes his team better. His receivers do the same for him, bailing him out with comeback catches and sell-out dives. It's that mutually beneficial tradeoff that allows this team to win despite a defense and a kicking game that -- charitably put -- are at the mercy of the competence of the opposition

Since Saturday's opponent is No. 1 USC, look for an opponent who'll resemble not so much a football team as a U.S. Army deuce and a half -- a troop truck rumbling down the autobahn with no speed limit, on the way to a weekend pass in Dusseldorf.

Defensive adjustments? How 'bout hitch-hiking. There's no rule in college football specifically banning it so If I were a WSU linebacker I'd forget the pressure and just stick out a thumb, hitch a ride on the back of a Trojan tailback and stay put until the pile collapses under the weight of the pursuit.

If nothing else, the USC game should be a litmus test for a Cougar offense that has convinced itself nothing can stop it. We'll see.

There is hope, however flimsy. A productive ground game behind promising young Dwight Tardy supports a WSU passing attack that for two weeks has been nothing less than record-setting.

The Cougs will be in it next week as long and as often as they stick points on the board. So what else is new? Well, there was progress of a sort made on another front. At last the coaches put out an all-points bulletin for a kicker. They used three in this one and seemed to have found in the rotation a walk-on kid who at least boots it deep.

The defense has enough to do without inheriting poor field position from feeble kickoffs. Let's hope the new guy – Wade Penner of Corvallis -- is the answer. It's been a three-year ordeal, finding a strong and accurate leg. They don't have to work that hard to find a kicker in Washtucna.


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