The Cougs stand at 0-2 in the Pac-10 after the disaster that was the game against Stanford on Saturday. Two weeks – or if you like, six quarters of football – have turned a season full of promise into one that looks ready to be a bust. Losses to OSU and Stanford have put the Cougs seriously behind the eight ball. Instead of sitting at 5-0 heading into the Homecoming game, the Cougars need to find three wins in the last six games. A tall order considering that all the remaining opponents with the exception of Washington look bowl-bound.
The Cougars looked flat, tentative, and uninspired in Saturday's loss. The bright spots were few. Jerome Harrison again played very well, carrying the ball 29 times for a net 218 yards and a touchdown. The offensive line allowed one sack and helped Harrison on his way to his eighth consecutive game of 100+ yards. Mkristo Bruce had two sacks – almost three – and led Cougar defenders with 11 total tackles. Kyle Basler returned to form, averaging just under 44 yards on five punts. When allowed to kick deep, Graham Siderius put the ball well into the endzone for touchbacks. Beyond that, it gets thin.
Maybe one of the most disturbing things about the Cougs is how ineffective the offense is without Jason Hill. Hill suited for the game, but didn't play a down and ended up spending the second half in sweats. Without Hill, the Cougar passing game struggled against OSU in the second half and was flat out not pretty against Stanford. Alex Brink was only 50% on completions and threw two very ugly interceptions – wounded duck jump balls into coverage. It does not speak well for the Cougar offense overall or for the performance of Brink when Harrison can run for over 200 yards and the Cougs can only put up 21 points in a loss. Don't expect a quarterback controversy, however. After the game, coaches made a point of stating that Brink was the starter and would remain the starter. Barring injury, Josh Swogger will stay the backup.
Competing for "most disturbing" honors is how the defense played without Will Derting. Bruce was the only one to mount any real pressure on the Stanford quarterback, Trent Edwards, and the Cougar defense made Edwards look like the second coming of Donovan McNabb. Edwards not only completed 19 of 28 attempts – 67% - of his passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns, he was also the Cardinal's leading rusher with 92 net yards. The Cougar defense did a good job of bottling up Stanford running backs, but Edwards ran wild. Edwards had six runs of over ten yards, four counting for first downs. Sheesh.
Miscellaneous uglies? How about the Cougars almost choosing to punt on fourth and one with five minutes in the game and down by two touchdowns? After the crowd booed heavily, the Cougs called timeout, reconsidered, and ended up with their final touchdown. If that's not the winner, maybe Michael Bumpus fair catching a punt on the Cougar 1 yard line? Or the fact that the Cougs best starting field position was their own 21? Maybe the failure of the Cougars to force either a Stanford turnover or a Stanford three-and-out? Or the inexplicable pooch kick after the Cougars tied the score at 14 – 14 that spotted Stanford the ball at the 38 and led to a Cardinal touchdown?
The Cougars need to right this ship fast. Otherwise, the prospect of going 0-fer the Pac-10 looms large.
CougZone Player of the Game – Jerome Harrison: Harrison was the clear brightest spot on a dark Cougar day, and had his eighth consecutive game with over a 100 yards.