Commentary: Time to scrap punting completely?

THEY COULDN'T AFFORD to lose this one. Now they're not even toast. They're chipped beef on top of toast. We knew going in Saturday that if the Arizona-Washington State loser could be reduced to a menu item they'd be Crud On A Shingle. The Cougs did send out an internal S.O.S. to all units this week, to the effect that we need an effort without the usual lapses in execution.

The effort was there but another couple of dopey mistakes by the kick and punt teams and here we are, facing the bleak prospect of playing out the string.

This might be the first season in Cougar history when hope ended before September did. Just who can the Cougars beat now, if they can't beat an Arizona team that lost to non-descript BYU and even non-descripter New Mexico?

This 48-20 loss began to take shape when the Cougs' latest punter, Ephrata's Reid ``Run Forrest Run!" Forrest, let a good snap bounce off his hands, as the previous punter did the week before. It was about that time that a reasonably close game began to sour.

The Coug offense that shoulders all responsibility for hanging in there is decent, but not decent enough to overcome feeble defense and comical special teams play.

Now, we should point out a few things that went right. Coug tight end Jed Collins, the human packhorse, has worked himself into an inviting target over the middle. The blitz worked. Once. The Coug defense forced a punt. Once. It was the first enemy punt, incidentally, since late in the WSU-Idaho game about 50 years ago.

Forcing a punt every 100 minutes of playing time is no way to execute a defensive game plan. That's how long it dragged on, incidentally, between defensive stops.

Just over 100 minutes. And when the Cougs did force their one punt of the night the offense did nothing with it -- another mark of a team on a spiral to nowhere.

One suggestion in the bleakness of what lies ahead -- field position is irrelevant.

We know the kicking game has more needs than an Army recruiter. So coach, because you can't punt, don't. I know a junior high team wouldn't play it that way but wouldn't you rather have Alex Brink taking the snap out of shotgun on fourth down -- with a chance to pick up yardage in the right direction?

Almost anything is better than trusting the football to any of our platoon of punters and kickers, who somehow end up on the team charter every week. Either we've got a lot of empty seats on the team plane or there's a backup punter with a lot of built-up frequent flyer miles.

It was a strange start, even before the Cougs blew an extra-point kick and flubbed a deep snap. The new-look Arizona Wildcats are committed to the pass this year, right? Spread the field, share the ball, move it Dennis Erickson-style dinking and dumping all the way to the Sun Bowl.

So how come Arizona came out looking like the 1974 Ohio State Buckeyes? Even with the usual verbal sandbagging among coaches that passes for pre-game information, this week was something of a classic creation of disinformation.

Wazzu's Bill Doba hazarded the guess that the Cougars' planned arrival in Pullman Sunday morning might be delayed by a full day. It's all those passes you understand. Look for us back in Pullman, oh, sometime Monday. Arizona's Mike Stoops didn't do much to alter the perception. Throw after throw. Guys getting out of bounds to stop the clock. Drops. Touchdowns. Time dragging.

We should have known that Arizona wouldn't ignore the obvious, which is this: the Coug defense is soft in the middle. Charlie Weis soft in the middle. Roll as much film as a college football coach does and you notice a few things.

Like steamroll right might be a good idea against Washington State, followed by steamroll left. Saturday it was an Arizona freshman named Grigsby, in his first start, who ran up the real estate like some kind of modern Archie Griffin-LaDanian Tomlinson clone.

Stoops got too cute for a spell, trying to force the pass, when all he had to do was keep it on the ground. Eventually their passing game weighed in heavily but not before the Wildcats became the latest to leave the tread marks of their running back all over the Coug D.

I know this will come off as extreme but Doba might be wise to find another linebackers coach. He's the head coach and the linebackers coach, right? He could go down as the first head coach to fire himself. It would be coaching immortality of a sort.

Still, it could be worse for the guy who might be the most decent man in college coaching today. He could have made himself the special teams coach this year. Then he'd have no choice. He'd fire himself tomorrow.

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