In wake of Oregon romp, the future is now

THE TRAIN WRECK that is Washington State's football season continued chugging toward Sweeney-era depths in Eugene on Saturday. In the process, given the underwhelming performance of senior quarterback Alex Brink and the doomed fate of this campaign, one question looms.

When do you start playing with an eye toward the future? More specifically, when does Brink, the starter for four seasons, take a seat on the bench, allowing junior Gary Rogers to get the experience that will ease his move into the starting lineup next season?

CRIMSON COMMENTARY

The Cougars are 2-5, with the victories coming against lowly Idaho and San Diego State. In the five losses, the offense has averaged just 16 points per game. Offense was supposed to be the strength of this team.

Brink is a fine quarterback and an upstanding individual. If he'd had the benefit over these last four years of being complemented by some semblance of a defense his prolific yardage numbers would likely have elevated him to a special place in the minds of the crimson faithful.

But he hasn't been helped by defense.

And against the Ducks, he didn't help himself. He was, in fact, his own worst enemy. During the first-half meltdown, WSU color commentator Jim Walden was moved to say, "I hope he's not confused about which team he's playing on today."

Three of the Cougars' first four possessions ended in turnovers committed by Brink. Twice the Cougars were in the red zone and twice he fired passes into thick coverage. And then he fumbled one away, caught from behind inside his own 40.

Those three miscues were turned into 17 Oregon points. Those three miscues knocked the wind out of the Cougars.

Those three miscues were committed by a fifth-year senior –- a four-year-starter -– who was coming into his hometown looking to make a statement, looking to carry a team with little in the way of defense on his back.

"I made some bad reads," Brink said honestly, matter-of-factly, afterward. "It was frustrating because my play wasn't good early on."

Compounding matters, Brink was sacked six times -- one of them a safety, though neither of his energy-draining INTs was the result of intense pressure.

"When it goes bad, everything seems to go bad," head coach Bill Doba told the Cougar Radio Network. "It wasn't our day, but hats off to them (Oregon)."

Brink completed 7 of 20 passes in the first half for 115 yards. The halftime score was 40-0. The chasm between WSU and much of the rest of the Pac-10 is beyond lopsided. The Cougs lost to USC 47-14, to Arizona 48-20 and now to Oregon 53-7. Last week's 23-20 nailbiter with Arizona State looks more aberration than revelation.

With Brink at the helm, the Cougs have lost seven straight conference games. Most of that carnage is due to the porous defense. But the fact is, the Cougars aren't winning with him at the controls and the future of this program rests with Rogers, Kevin Lopina, Cole Morgan and Marshall Lobbestael.

Doba and his staff have been huge Brink fans since that September day in 2004 when they pulled Josh Swogger in the first half against Colorado. Saturday at Oregon the commitment to Brink remained steadfast. Despite the blowout, Rogers only got in for one series, throwing three meaningless passes against Mike Bellotti's deep bench.

This season, like the Cougars' performance at Oregon, is lost. Finished. Over.

Brink said after the game that it's time for the team to regroup.

Indeed.

Alex is a great Cougar who has had his time at center stage. But now it's time to look toward getting the Cougs ready for a rebound in 2008. And the place to start is with Gary Rogers behind center.

NOTABLE NOTES:
- Freshman receiver Jeshua Anderson caught four passes for 127 yards and returned two kickoffs for 33 yards.

- Sophomore linebacker Andy Mattingly,who had monster day last week in his debut as a starter, continued to shine, turning in 10 total tackles, including a sack. The Cougs went to a 3-4 defense this week to make sure Mattingly was on the field.

- With five catches on the day, including the Cougs' lone TD, Michael Bumpus needs just 11 receptions to pass Hugh Campbell atop WSU's career receptions list.

- The Cougars have a bye next week and then take on UCLA at home. With the bye, the Cougar coaching staff will hit the recruiting trail through Wednesday.

- Cougar offensive tackle Micah Hannam left the game in the first half with what is believed to be a broken right leg. To fill the void, the Cougs moved right guard Dan Rowlands over to Hannam's right tackle spot and then inserted true freshman Andrew Roxas at Rowland's guard spot.

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