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September 18, 2005What the Cougar win over Grambling lacked in intensity it made up for in stats. All kinds of stats, starting with the score - 48-7. The Cougs had a shutout going at 34-0 almost through the end of the third quarter before Grambling broke the ice with their only score on the day. The Cougs racked up 515 yards of total offense with 311 yards through the air and 204 yards rushing. WSU held Grambling to 208 yards on the game, with only 11 yards rushing on 30 carries. One sided? Yeah. One sided.
All those numbers don't really tell the tale. While the numbers show dominance, the Cougar offense seemed flat and uninspired. The air of offensive intensity was more like a scrimmage than a game. The first play of the game very nearly set the tone. Alex Brink mishandled the ball, which ended up on the ground and ultimately covered at the Cougar 18 by Grambling. Still, it is almost certain that the offense will play more focused come the conference games. It says a lot for the level of offensive talent that the Cougs can play somewhat sloppy and still hang 48 points on an opponent without too much trouble.
Defensively, the front seven did a very good job against a huge but not very mobile Grambling line, but the secondary struggled allowing completions of 41, 25, and 21 yards and presenting opportunities for more big gainers if the Grambling receivers had been able to hold onto balls that were on target. If the Cougars want to win in the fast approaching conference schedule, they are going to need to improve dramatically in coverage.
The problem isn't the safeties. DeWayne Patterson is fast emerging as an effective player, Eric Frampton has been solid at a minimum in all three games so far and recovered a first quarter fumble that led to the second Cougar score, and Husain Abdullah is starting to show his last year promise after coming off his ankle injury. Grambling's only score came after Patterson had done an effective job covering the Grambling receiver on fourth down in the endzone, even knocking the ball away...which then dropped directly onto the chest and into the hands of the Grambling receiver who was lying on his back.
No, the concern is at cornerback. Grambling hit deep balls on the Cougs, sometimes badly burning the Cougar coverage, and could have hit more but for the Tiger receivers looking jittery and tight. Make no mistake. If the Cougar corners don't rapidly improve, there are plenty of Pac-10 teams that will tear them apart.
At least up front, the Cougar defense played stout. The Cougs had something of an injury scare in the first half when both Adam Braidwood and Scott Davis went down with injuries. Braidwood, with a sprained elbow, is expected to be back and fine for the conference opener against OSU. Davis, with a sprained foot, is more questionable. In relief of Braidwood, Matt Mullenix stepped in and played well. Mullenix is listed at only 214 pounds, but definitely looks much closer to his last year's weight of 256. Grambling gave up seven sacks, and clearly could not handle the Cougars up front. It's good news when Mkristo Bruce ended up leading the Cougs in tackles. One of the most improved Cougs has been tackle Bryan Olson who is on his way to a big senior year and showed outstanding up-field rush and pursuit on Saturday.
With Davis out injured and Will Derting sat down early, the Cougs presented a youth movement at linebacker with the exception of Steve Dildine. Greg Trent in place of Derting and Cory Evans in place of Davis played a lot and played well. Both true freshmen, Trent is showing a lot of natural feel for the middle linebacker spot while Evans looked fast and showed a great nose for the ball. Evans also racked up the biggest sack on the day, dropping Grambling QB Bruce Eugene for a 19 yard loss on a third down.
Offensively, Brink's final numbers were great - 19 completions on 29 attempts (65%) for 262 yards and 3 TDs. In relief time, Josh Swogger ended up 3 of 6 for 49 yards and led the Cougs to a 31 yard Loren Langley field goal to end the first half. Brink's touchdowns went to Troy Bienemann and - no surprise - Jason Hill. Hill finished the day leading receivers with 10 catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns - bringing his season total to 6, his career total to 18, and leaving him four short of tying the all-time Cougar career record of 22 with plenty of games to go. Hill's marquee catch was a 56 yarder very early in the fourth quarter where Hill beat the coverage and flat pulled away from the Grambling defender for the score. Bienemann's score was his only catch on the day and it was highlight film material. From 7 yards out, Brink went to Bienemann at the back of the endzone. With the pass a little high and long, Bienemann brought the ball in with one hand.
As to the rushing game, it's a good thing when the offensive line allows no sacks and opens enough holes for both Jerome Harrison and DeMaundray Woolridge to run for over 100 yards. Harrison ended the day with 113 yards on 23 carries and 3 touchdowns, while Woolridge had 105 yards on 18 carries. All of Harrison's scores were punched in from short yardage on the goal line. The most interesting battle was between left tackle Bobby Byrd and NFL bound Grambling defensive end Jason Hatcher. Hatcher ended up with 7 tackles on the day and might have had the slight edge in the battle, but Byrd held his own against one of the better ends he will see this season.
There wasn't a whole lot to say about the Cougar special teams. Kyle Basler was called up to punt only three times, and Grambling made a deliberate and probably wise effort to punt as far away from Michael Bumpus as they could. Langley continues to look strong, drilling all his PAT attempts and going 2 for 2 on field goals.
CougZone Player of the Game - The O-line: This unit deserves recognition for a strong game. The line allowed no sacks and gave Brink the protection he needed, and created enough holes for WSU to end up with 204 yards on the ground and three short-yardage rushing touchdowns.