The fact Stanford munched WSU that season, 54-17, didn't help the Cougar cause any either. And Johnson, who prepped in Everett before moving down to San Diego for his senior year of high school, ultimately decided to play both football and basketball for the Card.
After WSU turned the tide yesterday, for the second straight season, against a Stanford team that glimpsed of talent but committed too many mistakes, Johnson wasn¹t rethinking his choice of schools. But the 36-11 Cougar victory reaffirmed to him just why the Conference of Champions is called just that.
"This is a fun league, because anybody can beat anybody. It¹s not like having Florida State win every year and Duke losing. I¹m glad I¹m not a coach in this league and make all those adjustments. All I have to do is catch passes," Johnson said.
Well, sort of. Johnson also dropped a few passes on Saturday amid the unremitting coverage of a Cougar secondary led by Marcus Trufant.
In the broader context, though, Johnson's miscues were minimal compared to the silly penalties (13 for 85 yards) and costly turnovers the rest of the Cardinal committed.
Two series in the first quarter offered the perfect illustration of just how far part these two teams are. With a third-and-eight on their own 44, Stanford QB Chris Lewis dropped back to pass and proceeded to telegraph his throw for all the world to see, including WSU's Jason David, who intercepted and returned the ball to the Stanford 18.
On the subsequent Cougar possession, Jason Gesser brought his team to the line for a third-and-15 play. Gesser dropped back, scanned the field and then fired a perfect bullet into the arms of Jerome Riley, giving WSU first-and-goal at the five.
Stanford's mistakes and the ability of these Cougars to take advantage, as well as the ability to overcome their own transgressions, enabled them to take a 23-0 lead 18 minutes into the game despite holding the ball for just 5:19.
A brilliant 42-yard touchdown run by Jermaine Green who ran through ( a gapping whole created by the offensive line) and around (the end and two arm tackles) and over (Stanford's Colin Branch) gave the Cougars a 7-0 lead.
David's interception, the first of two for him on the day, then set up the Cougars second TD: a 3-yard pass from Gesser to Riley.
The Cougars struck again on their next possession --- a possession set up when WSU's Mawuli Davis sacked Stanford¹s Lewis on a fourth down play. A leaping 39-yard pass play from Gesser to Riley in double coverage set up a two-yard TD strike from Gesser to Jonathan Smith.
Stanford would then botch their next drive by overthrowing an open receiver and then having the long snapper underthrow punter Eric Johnson, which WSU's Jeremey Bohannan turned into a safety.
Indeed, the team that WSU coach Mike Price has so often called the most intelligent and the most disciplined in the Pac-10 was clearly tripping over themselves as much as the Cougars were taking them to the woodshed.
"We hurt ourselves," Johnson said. "We made drive-killing mistakes that were just undisciplined. When that happens it takes the wind out of your sails. We had chances to score and mental mistakes would stop us. We¹ve got to stop beating ourselves. Washington State is a great team and they put points on the board, but I really felt if we limited our mistakes it could have been a closer game."
Price, who's traditionally had a tough time of it against Stanford, said he hasn¹t seen a Cardinal team so error- or foul-prone, but speculated that it might be plain old frustration from having dropped four of their last five games.
Stanford head man Buddy Teevens stood tall -- at least as tall as the 5-foot-5 coach could -- after the game, but clearly was frustrated with the way his team has played of late. He was also less-than-pleased with the officiating.
"We wanted to try to use the clock, and we did that, but we couldn¹t cap off drives," Teevens said. "We were in the red zone and we would have a penalty or miss a field goal and were just not getting it in. From a discipline standpoint, you¹ve got to hold back. It was chippy out there, a lot of pushing and shoving and we seemed to get the bulk of the calls (against us). Usually it is a two-way street, but from my point of view it was all one way as far as the how the calls went."
In contrast, WSU would make its share of mistakes in the third quarter, opening the door for a wee bit of a Stanford rally, but the poised Cougars picked each other up to overcome their miscues and keep Stanford at bay. For instance, when Gesser fumbled, Billy Knotts valiantly held off a defender and snatched up the loose ball. Later, Oshiomogho Atogwe stripped Riley and gave the Cardinal first-and-goal on the WSU 12, only to have the Cardinal O gain one yard on three tries and settle for a field goal.
On the ensuing series Gesser would be intercepted, only to have it nullified by a Stanford personal foul, eventually setting up a WSU field goal.
Such is the life of the more mature Gesser, who continued his California candidacy for the Heisman, following his 431 yards and four TDs against Cal and 315 yards and two TDs against USC with 297 yards and three TDs against Stanford.
"I fell like we are winning games and that is the bottom line. That¹s all I care about," Gesser said.
Next stop will be the Arizona swing of his candidacy, but first a well-needed bye for his sore ribs and the rest of the Cougars to heal.