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PACIFIC 10 FOOTBALL / DAN HAFNER : Experts Were Wrong About Washington State

October 13, 1994|DAN HAFNER

The experts who predict how good football teams are going to be couldn't see much good about Washington State this season.

The Cougars were deemed a candidate for Steve Harvey's Bottom Ten.

Some of the other Pacific 10 Conference teams might belong with the losers, but Mike Price's team isn't one of them.

A near-unanimous choice to finish last in the Pac-10, the Cougars are suddenly in a position to grab the favorite's role in the run to the Rose Bowl.

After beating Oregon last week, the Cougars can move into the driver's seat by beating Arizona on Saturday at Pullman, Wash.

A victory would give the Cougars a 3-0 conference record and help them clear a big hurdle to Pasadena.

The Arizona-Washington State game has long been billed as a battle of great defenses. They had been 1-2 in the conference and among the leaders in the nation on defense.

But there is some question about the Wildcat defense after the Colorado State game. In adding to the Western Athletic Conference's superiority over the Pac-10 this season, unbeaten Colorado State had little trouble moving the ball or scoring in a 21-16 victory that ended the Wildcats' hopes for an unbeaten season.

Colorado State gained 314 yards, 251 in the air. All season, Arizona Coach Dick Tomey hasbelieved something was missing on defense, and the game proved it.

Washington State, led by All-American DeWayne Patterson, has not given up more than one touchdown in a game, but several teams have found flaws in the Arizona defense.

"Thus far, we have not fulfilled our expectations in quality of play or in intensity," Tomey said.

"The better team won last week. But a good team will come back strong after a poor performance. We will see if our team can do that. You may not necessarily win, but a good team will play better. We have a special group of guys that I think will respond to the challenge.

"It's a tall order for us. Right now, the Cougars are playing the best football in our league. I don't know whether we can go up to Pullman and win. But we will be pretty upset if we don't go up there and play a good game."

The game is not likely to be won on the ground. The Cougars are No. 3 in the nation against the run, giving up only 56.8 yards per game. The Wildcats are sixth, yielding 71.4.

The Cougars are tops in the nation in scoring defense, yielding only 5.8 points.

The Cougars don't score a lot of points, either. They have scored only 10 touchdowns in five games, and linebackers Mark Fields and Ron Childs have one apiece.

"We will have to improve our offense, because this is the toughest defense we've faced," Price said. "This one could be decided by a touchdown."

*

It has not exactly been a golden season for the California Bears. Even before training camp, tragedy struck and now Coach Keith Gilbertson has lost his star.

There was much gloom on the squad when several Bears were injured in an auto accident. Starting linebacker Paul Joiner was almost killed in the accident, which ended his career.

So when Dave Barr, the outstanding quarterback, suffered a broken collarbone when he was slammed to the ground by UCLA's Donnie Edwards in the second quarter last Saturday, it was another bitter blow.

Although the convincing 26-7 victory over the Bruins gave the Bears a 2-0 record in conference play, there is no joy in Berkeley.

Barr, the team leader and one of the nation's top passers, is probably sidelined for the season. Left-handed junior Kerry McConigal proved a capable replacement against the Bruins, but once the Bears had more than a touchdown lead, they didn't let him throw another pass.

Although Oregon has worse quarterback problems than Cal, the Ducks will put considerably more pressure on McConigal on Saturday than the Bruins did.

In their loss at Washington State, the Ducks' starter, Tony Graziani, who played so well against USC in his first start, was sidelined early because of a sprained ankle. Danny O'Neil, who hadn't taken a snap from center for two weeks because of a finger injury, was pressed into action. Against the Cougars' powerful defense, O'Neil didn't have a chance. He completed only four of 20 passes and the Cougars won handily, 21-7.

Not only did Rich Brooks' team lose Graziani early, but also Cristin McLemore, its best receiver.

"You have to hand it to the Cougars," Brooks said. "They are a good, tough football team, but with our injuries we never had a chance. We didn't have a chance to fire all our bullets.

"Danny's timing was off and we couldn't protect him from their great pass rush. He'll be better Saturday, but we won't have Graziani or McLemore. We could be in for a rugged afternoon."

*

While many of the highly touted Pac-10 quarterbacks are falling by the wayside, either because of poor performances, injury or both, Stanford's Steve Stenstrom continues to break records.

The new all-time yardage leader in the Pac-10 has passed for more than 300 yards in 12 of the last 15 games. He is No. 3 in the nation, averaging 300 yards total offense.

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