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Washington State Defense Doesn't Even Like to Bend : College football: Cougars, who rank among the nation's best in several categories, will show off their attacking style against USC on Saturday.


The phrase bend but don't break is a football cliche.

But Bill Doba, coordinator of Washington State's nationally ranked defense, has refined it.

"We play don't bend defense," he said.

"We want the opponent to go three (downs) and out, every series. It doesn't always work out that way, but that's our goal. We play an attacking style of defense, trying to make big plays.

"We're pretty much forced to play that way. We don't have a lot of defensive depth, so we want our defense on the field for only short periods, then back on the bench, resting."

The defense that USC goes up against Saturday at Pullman, Wash., in a matchup of 4-1 Pacific 10 Conference teams has held half its opponents to single-digit scores this season.

How good is it? Consider that the Cougars:

--Rank first in the country against the run, giving up only 58 yards a game.

--Also rank first in scoring defense, at 10.4 points a game.

--Rank sixth in pass defense, giving up 89 yards a game.

--Rank second in total defense, at 216 yards a game.

--Have given up nine touchdowns this season.

--Have allowed opponents to convert only 22 of 122 third-down plays.

--In the last three years have held 20 of 30 foes to fewer than 100 yards rushing.

--Have given up only three runs of more than 20 yards this season, and only seven of 10 or more yards.

After Washington State had beaten Arizona State two weeks ago, 28-21, Sun Devil Coach Bruce Snyder had seen enough.

"It's a 4-3 defense with safety blitzes--but boy, do they play it fast," he said.

"A runner who likes to cut just gets eaten up. You'd better just run, don't cut, because they'll tattoo you. It looks like they get mad at each other if somebody else gets the hit. It's like a feeding frenzy."

Said USC Coach John Robinson: "They play defense with a certain fanaticism and they create havoc. One of their keys is the blitz and the threat of the blitz. Sometimes they line up with the safeties just four yards off the line of scrimmage."

And said one of the Cougars' defensive stars, senior cornerback Torey Hunter: "When we go on the field, we have two goals: three and out, or a big-play turnover. We'll try to get the ball."

Washington State's defense, which is averaging four sacks a game, is a senior-oriented, experienced group.

Seven defensive players have started 30 or more games and one, safety John Rushing, has started 41. The unit was crafted by Doba and former Cougar defensive assistant Mike Zimmer, now with the Dallas Cowboys.

"Having a defense as experienced as ours pays off not only by how they play together on the field, but even when they're off the field," Doba said.

"I mean, every time they come off the field, they're making suggestions to me. They're really a smart group of players. When they talk to me during a game, when they tell me they want to try something, I listen."

Doba said the unit's top NFL prospect is probably middle linebacker Mark Fields.

"He's 6-3, 238 and has great speed," Doba said. "He sat out last year with academic problems, and we put him into a new position this year and he's really taken to it.

"He's been a surprise--we knew he had great ability, but we didn't know if he could handle so complicated a position right away."

Another of Doba's big-play men is DeWayne Patterson, a quick defensive end who leads the conference in sacks at 12 1/2, seven unassisted. He's the school career and season record holder with 36 1/2 sacks, 17 of them last season.

Two more headliners are defensive tackles Chad Eaton (6-5, 285) and Don Sasa (6-4, 300). USC coaches this week called those two the best pair of defensive tackles in the Pac-10.

Said USC offensive coordinator Mike Riley: "If we can't neutralize those two guys, we could have a miserable afternoon up there."

Doba said that Sasa, from Long Beach Poly High, has turned his career around.

"He's the big surprise kid of our team," he said.

"For the first time in his life, he's in good condition. He stayed up here all summer and lifted weights. Now he's got strength, speed and a great attitude."

The 5-9 Hunter, who starts at left cornerback, was asked about Rob Johnson, the USC senior who resumes his quarterback job Saturday in Pullman, after having sat out the equivalent of three games because of an ankle sprain.

"Rob Johnson has a great arm, he's smart and he's experienced," he said.

"He does so many things right, you can't expect him to make mental mistakes. So you have to prepare to play him like he's going to play a great game, like he did against us last year."

Johnson, in perhaps his best game at USC, passed for 392 yards a year ago in a 34-3 victory over the Cougars, a game that was over at halftime.

"Johnson and Johnnie Morton killed us that night," Hunter said.

"Morton's the best receiver I ever covered in the Pac-10. He had a way of attacking the ball, like he was the DB, trying to break up the play."

Hunter, who grew up in the rough-and-tumble Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma, Wash., was raised by a strong-willed mother, Corliss Hunter, and an older brother, Darryl.

His mother has worked for Boeing for 17 years and his brother is a Boeing engineer.

At 5-9, he's realistic about playing on Sundays.

"I'd say I have an outside shot for the NFL, but I'll be prepared if I don't play pro."

He will graduate in June with a degree in personnel and human relations.

"I'd like to be a corporate personnel director some day," he said.

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