Cougs win opener over the Vandals, 38 - 26

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If you throw out second half of the first quarter to and through the first half of the third quarter, hey, the Cougs played a pretty dang good game against the Vandals in securing their first win of the 2005 season, 38 – 26. If you stop yourself from blocking out the second quarter and the first part of the third, you came away thinking the Cougs have some work to do if they want a bowl game this season.
WSU came out on fire. First play from scrimmage, Jerome Harrison took an Alex Brink handoff to the right side, made a couple upfield cuts, and 80 yards later was in the Idaho endzone. Idaho received the ensuing kickoff only to have the ball ripped free by DeWayne Patterson with the Cougars recovering on the Idaho 19. Three plays later, it was Harrison again up the middle for a four yard touchdown and it looked like the rout was on.
And that's when things got ugly. Whether the two quick scores put WSU to sleep, or whether Idaho stepped up to the challenge, or both, or neither – the Cougs started struggling. The Cougs managed only a 26 yard Loren Langley field goal until the third quarter. Brink was intercepted twice – both on tipped passes – and by halftime was clearly out of rhythm and forcing his throws. It was easy to begin wondering when Josh Swogger would be sent in to provide a change of pace and possible spark. Harrison finished with a nice 163 yards on 24 carries with the two touchdowns, but taking away that initial 80 yard run left him with only 83 yards the rest of the way – and he did play almost the entire game.

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The problem was the line play. Credit has to be given to the Vandals who fought the Cougar linemen to a standstill in the trenches, and a tie on the line amounts to a win for the defensive unit. The line problems extended to the defensive side of the ball as well. The Cougar front four was erratic in getting pressure against the Idaho quarterbacks. WSU had to resort to blitzing linebackers and defensive backs in order to disrupt the Vandal pocket and keep Idaho from having too much time to find receivers.
A lot of things were just plain sloppy. Maybe that's understandable given that the game was the first of the season and on a Thursday night. Still, the old Cougar curse of way too many penalties reared it's ugly head again. WSU finished the game with 9 penalties for 103 yards, including one called on Jason Hill that stole a pretty sweet touchdown catch away from tight end Jesse Taylor. Hill made up for it the next play by bringing in a twenty yard touchdown pass at the back of the endzone, but those two plays show in a nutshell what this game was like. Hot then cold then hot again.
Hill's performance illustrated the up and down nature of the game. Along with the penalty that cost Taylor his score, Hill dropped at least three catchable balls, including two possible touchdowns. On the flip side, Hill led the Cougs in yards on the day with 5 catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns – and the touchdowns were beauties. There was the 20 yarder in the back of the endzone and also a beauty of a 73 yard pass perfectly thrown by Brink in the third quarter that marked the moment when the Cougs decided to take control of the game.
Brink was another example of the way things went. He started hot then cooled way off to the point that an appearance by Swogger would have been welcome. After the half, Brink heated right up again – going 9 for 11 in the second half and finishing the day with 17 completions on 29 attempts for 230 yards, 3 touchdowns, and the two picks. The touchdown that did not go to Hill from Brink was a 26 yarder in the third quarter brought in by Michael Bumpus. Bumpus would finish the day leading the Cougs in catches with 8 for 87 yards and the score. Brink also added 30 yards rushing on three carries with the long being a masterful 22 yard scramble to set the Cougs up on the Idaho 15. The hot and cold nature of the game then rose up. One play after Hill dropped a catchable ball in the endzone, a poorly thrown Brink pass was tipped and picked.
The linebacker corps of the Killer D's – Will Derting, Scott Davis, and Steve Dildine – played well, with Derting having another in a long line of superior games. The problems up front made life tougher for the defensive secondary, resulting in too many caught balls and too many Vandal passing first downs.
Take away a bad decision by Bumpus to touch a bouncing punt that led to a turnover, and the Cougar special teams looked very good. Langley kicked well, hitting all his PAT's with authority and nailing his one field goal attempt. Bumpus showed spark and overall good judgment on the punt returns. Lorenzo Bursey was impressive returning kicks, and may have a scoring return before this season is done. Coverage teams were strong, with the most impressive player being true freshman Courtney Williams. Williams seemed to either make or be close to every tackle.
A win is a win is a win, but some are prettier than others. This one wasn't thoroughly ugly, but it sure wasn't a beauty. It will be a good game for both the team and the coaches as there will be much to learn and improve before WSU takes the field against Nevada.
CougZone Player of the Game: Jerome Harrison - Harrison didn't always have room to run, but when he did he hit it with authority for his 163 yards and two touchdowns.