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Plenty of Roar Left in the Cougars

October 17, 2003|CHRIS DUFRESNE

There must have been good reasons why the Washington State Cougars were picked to finish seventh in the conference standings, right?

Maybe it was because their coach, Mike Price, deserted them last year to coach at Alabama for what turned out to be about 15 minutes.

Maybe it was because the Cougars no longer had quarterback Jason Gesser, the conference co-MVP and a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Maybe it was because the Cougar defense had lost lineman Rien Long, the Outland Trophy winner, and cornerback Marcus Truffant, a first-round NFL draft choice.

Maybe it was because the team would be breaking in a new coach, Bill Doba, a bookish-looking 62-year-old man with no previous head-coaching experience.

Obviously, these minor details were smokescreens.

The team picked to finish seventh in the Pac-10 is 5-1 and ranked sixth ... in the country.

Anyone who saw this coming must have seen Arnold Schwarzenegger coming.

Washington State returned to practice this week after one of the best bye weeks in bowl championship series history, the school jumping from 12th to sixth in the Associated Press poll from the comfort of Cougar Couch.

How could so many people be wrong about a team?

"So far, they're a pretty special bunch, but we're only halfway through the season," Doba said.

In truth, when you dug past the obvious obstacles, Washington State retained a solid core from last year's Rose Bowl team.

Doba's defense is as fast as ever. The Cougars have forced 24 turnovers and lead the nation in turnover ratio at plus-13. Jason David leads the Pac-10 in interceptions and the defensive unit ranks near the top in almost every significant statistical category.

The unit has dubbed itself "Damage Inc."

On offense, the team still has running back Jermaine Green and receiver Devard Darling, but the surprise has been quarterback Matt Kegel's steady play.

The only downers so far have been the team's blowing a 19-3 second-half lead at Notre Dame and star linebacker Will Derting's blowing over the legal limit in a driving-under-the-influence charge.

Doba takes the blame for Notre Dame, saying, "I second-guess myself a lot. We had a 19-3 lead, and the way their offense was playing at the time, I didn't think they could score 16 points."

Then again, it was Doba's first game as head coach.

There is still work to do. Washington State should take care of Stanford this weekend in Palo Alto, setting up a big Oct. 25 matchup against Oregon State in Pullman.

Obviously, in hindsight, the program deserved more credit. In the last three years, only Miami (30-1), Oklahoma (24-5), Ohio State (26-6), Texas (26-6) and Georgia (26-6) have a better record than Washington State (25-6).

Say Bye-Bye

Oregon can't lose its fourth consecutive game after a 4-0 start because the Ducks have the weekend off.

Oregon resumes play, such as it is, on Oct. 25 against Stanford. The bye could not have come at a better time as the Ducks try to stop another runaway season.

Since the team upset Michigan on Sept. 20, the Oregon offense has scored 14, 13 and 14 points in three losses, while the defense has given up 114 points in consecutive conference defeats.

Oregon has lost 10 players to season-ending injuries and the quarterback situation is so shaky that Coach Mike Bellotti is going to take a hard look this week at freshman Johnny DuRocher.

"I don't know if I don't want to pull him out of that redshirt year," Bellotti said. "Certainly if our performance doesn't improve, that would be an option.... He's getting a huge look."

DuRocher got extra time because Jason Fife is nursing a left ankle sprain. Kellen Clemens, who shares the position with Fife, threw interceptions on his first two passes in Saturday's loss to Arizona State.

Pac Bits

Stanford Coach Buddy Teevens took exception to complaints by some USC players that some Stanford players used dirty tactics during last weekend's game at the Coliseum.

"We don't teach cheap football, we don't have cheap players," Teevens said. "It's a physical game and things happen during a course of a ballgame."

Don't fence him in: At a Tuesday news conference, Washington quarterback Cody Pickett lashed back at fans who booed him during Saturday's loss to Nevada in Seattle.

"For everybody who gets off the bandwagon, don't get back on, because we are going to start winning again," Pickett said.

Washington, picked to contend for the conference title, is 3-3. Pickett, a preseason Heisman contender, has struggled behind a line that allowed him to be sacked eight times against Nevada. Pickett has thrown only seven touchdown passes and seven interceptions. It doesn't get easier this week, as Washington plays at Oregon State.

"We have a lot of fixing to do," Coach Keith Gilbertson said.

Guess which quarterback trying to hold onto his job is leading the Pac-10 in touchdown passes with 13.

Answer: USC's Matt Leinart.


You're on your own, pal: After spending $100,000 on Ken Simonton's ill-fated 2001 Heisman Trophy run, Oregon State has decided not to fund a campaign for running back Steven Jackson, the nation's second-leading rusher averaging 146 yards a game.

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