"Now, they've got to go out this weekend and beat a not very good Oregon State team on the road. If they can do that, they've really got something going. Splitting the next two home games against Cal and Oregon after that is not an unreasonable proposition, leaving WSU 5-3, 3-2 in the Pac-10, and squarely established in the second tier of teams heading into a favorable final month."Well, now they've got something going. After playing pretty well against Cal but having little to show for it in the scoring department, No. 16 Oregon came into Martin Stadium in what the Cougs had to look at as the defining game of their season.
WSU seized the opportunity, ambushing the Ducks in a game that wasn't as close as the 34-23 final margin.
The defense continues to prove it's one of the best in the conference after completely shutting down the potent Ducks. At first blush, the score doesn't knock your socks off, but only one of Oregon's touchdowns was of the legitimate offensive variety. One of the TDs came off a fumble return, and the other on a long bomb very late in the fourth quarter when the game was already well out of reach.
Before giving up a Brady Leaf touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter -- yes, it's his younger brother -- WSU had not allowed an offensive touchdown since the second quarter against Cal. That's five quarters of no touchdowns against the No. 1 and No. 2 offenses in the conference.
The most striking statistic? Oregon came into the game rushing for more than 200 yards a game, and things didn't look good for the Cougs when defensive tackle Aaron Johnson went out early in the game with an injury, leaving the already banged up line without its top three interior linemen. Yet, WSU held Oregon to just 104 total rushing yards with that patchwork line.
And I know what the defense will smile most about: Super soph Jonathan Stewart -- a one-time blue chip recruit who chose Oregon over WSU late in the recruiting process -- was held to just 28 yards rushing on 11 carries, a paltry 2.5-yard average. You think the defense didn't want to send a message to the kid? In the least malicious way possible, I'm sure they enjoyed sending him back to Eugene with a resounding loss ... and in fourth place in the Pac-10.
Indeed, the unit that kept this team from realizing its potential a year ago is the biggest reason the Cougs have their eye on the Holiday Bowl if both USC and Cal can figure out a way to get into the BCS. The final four games of the season are imminently winnable for this team -- at UCLA, vs. Arizona, at Arizona State, and vs. Washington -- and we Cougs can't help but catch ourselves California dreamin'.
If that happens, maybe I can convince my wife that we should travel to San Diego for the second time in our marriage; after all, it was in 2003 that the Cougs last went to the Pac-10's No. 2 bowl game, beating Texas.
I was there.
On my honeymoon.