As for my beloved Cougs, I hate moral victories, but you gotta like what we saw out of the team on Saturday. WSU did just about everything right but win the game, a far cry from last year, when the team found itself repeatedly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. This, however, nearly was one for the annals.
Quarterback Alex Brink played marvelously, completing 26 of 46 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns. His lone interception came as time expired on a hail mary pass. Here's to hoping Coug fans finally recognize this guy for what he is -- a pretty darn good quarterback who continues to improve with each passing week. He had one bad game against Auburn -- a team I think might be the best in the country (yes, better than Ohio State) -- and since then has led the team to three wins and a near upset of the dominant team in the Pac-10. Sounds pretty good to me.
By the way, for all the fanfare that DeMaundray Woolridge received after his good season opener at Auburn, it's become pretty clear who the best running back on the team is -- and it ain't Woolridge. Dwight Tardy is showing why the coaches were so dead set on redshirting him last year to preserve four years of eligibility, as he carried the ball 11 times for 65 yards. He is a tough runner who reminds me of someone in the Curtis Martin mold: Not the biggest back, not the quickest back, not the fastest back ... but he has great vision and does all of those things well enough to be effective. I'm excited to see him continue to develop.
I hesitate to second-guess coaches after such an inspired performance, but if I could find fault with anything in the game, I would wonder why the Cougars seemed to be in basic defenive personnel groupings on so many of those critical third and fourth down situations. USC converted eight of 14 third down opportunities and both fourth down chances.
While I don't have any hard evidence, it sure seemed like a lot of those were converted by wide receivers who were being covered by linebackers. The nickel package often seemed nowhere in sight. However, it could just be a situation of pick your poison -- do you want to give up 3rd and 4 on a pass with base personnel, or on a run with pass defense personnel?
I know the Cougars were unhappy that they let an opportunity slip through their fingers, and that impresses me. This team played very well, and showed me that they expected to win that game. 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.
Get all three of those, and we'll be talking Holiday Bowl. Lose to OSU, and all the good things that have been built up will be gone, and the questioning will begin anew.
Speaking of big Pac-10 road wins, the Huskies came up with one on Saturday. As I mentioned in my preview, as Isaiah Stanback goes, so go the Huskies, and if Stanback keeps going like this ... well, the rest of the Pac-10 (and nation?) better start taking notice. Granted, his last two performances have been against two teams that will be in the bottom half of the conference at the end of the year, but let's be real: The Huskies were supposed to be at the bottom of the conference themselves, and the biggest reason they're now 2-0 is Stanback.