Sir yes sir: RoXas is Cougs' x-factor

THERE'S AN X-FACTOR in every upset but usually the X doesn't come in as a matter of literal fact. Note the X here. Stands for RoXas. Andrew Roxas. The 18-year-old Roxas passed from an unknown to a staple in his first 60 minutes of A-grade performance. The question going in was how could Roxas possibly fill in for the sidelined Kenny Alfred?

The Cougars' starting center, an established talent, Alfred is out with a concussion. Andrew Roxas, the Pride of La Canada, Calif., had never played center except in practice.

Can you say botched snaps? Did you envision an over-matched rookie melting in the heart of a stifled Cougar offense?

I did.

I should have known better. With an extra week to prepare, Coug O-line coach George Yarno had his kids dialed in.

CRIMSON COMMENTARY

A consistent running game that had been absent was upgraded to Tardy, Actually upgraded by Tardy, Dwight Tardy, who ran all day. He and his alternate, Kevin McCall, exploited their running room by busting through holes in a helluva big hurry.

Roxas wasn't the best lineman on the field but he leads the nation in exceeded expectations. Roxas (the x is silent, it's Ro-hoss) addresses his elders as "Sir." He says sir a lot, since almost everbody in the stadium is older than he is.

Lack of quality depth is supposed to be an annual shortcoming at WSU. Roxas, with effective play off the bench, suggests otherwise.

With an extra week to prepare, with their non-effort at Oregon resonating through a long week off, coaches on both sides of the crimson ball zoned in on UCLA, scheming and game-planning and stressing the oldest fundamental in the game: the devastating hit.


SAFETY XAVIER HICKS

Wazzu's Husain Abdullah punished people. One game-changing blast sent Bruins tailback Kahlil Bell to the sidelines. UCLA's top wideout, Brandon Breazell, followed Bell to UCLA Sick Bay. Breazell's afternoon was short-circuited by a Xavier Hicks highlight stop -- a flying stick that the receiver had to hear before he felt it.

Anticipating a body blow like that is like listening to the final ticks of a time bomb.

It's a tough game.

Boola-boola Hussain Abdullah. And while the Coug D turned in three shutout quarters the offensive line ripped into the normally reliable UCLA defense with a kind of controlled fury that shook the under-appreciated Tardy free for 214 yards and a couple of TDs.

Cougar wideouts blocked. The tight end blocked. And when you examine Tardy's first TD in Washington State's 27-7 comeback win in sun-splashed, cool Martin Stadium you see textbook smashmouth.

There is veteran guard Bobby Byrd eliminating an inside linebacker with a lead block that was just one of a handful of carried-out assignments. Byrd and his fellow Upfront Uglies -- Roxas, Dan Rowlands, Vaughn Lesuma, Micah Hannam and tight end Jed Collins -- allowed the Cougs to hog the ball on the ground.

You can make the case that a game ball should go to what was left of the Bruin receiving corps. They had more drops than the Halls Mentho-Lyptus people and the Smith Brothers combined.

In pleasant contrast, Coug wideouts held on to almost everything they got a hand on. Michael Bumpus dropped nothing but a hint -- the hint that as long as Washington State plays in front of the Martin faithful they're good enough to escape the Pac-10 cellar.

They not only moved up a notch in the standings, they left sole possession of the Pac-10 basement to struggling Washington. That in itself made this a pretty fair October Saturday in the Palouse.


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