Washington State didn’t miss him on the scoreboard Saturday, but its defense wasn’t quite the same without injured linebacker Johnny Nansen.
“He plays with a lot of emotion and a lot of leadership,” senior teammate James Darling said. “Kenny Moore and Steve Gleason came in and played real well.
“But in terms of leadership and emotion, we need Johnny out there. He’s a big player for us.”
Nansen, a senior starter, missed the 52-16 non-conference victory over San Jose State after having arthroscopic knee surgery on Monday. He’s expected back for this week’s Pacific-10 Conference game at Arizona.
Nansen’s absence was especially apparent when the Spartans put together an 11-play drive spanning the first and second quarters.
The drive included runs of 9, 26 and 10 yards, and the Cougars ended up needing Duane Stewart’s end-zone interception to keep San Jose State from capitalizing.
Stewart was deep in the end zone when he made the interception, and visions of an electrifying return ended abruptly at the 9-yard-line.
“As soon as you get an interception, like whoa, you look out there and it kind of looks like nobody’s out there,” Stewart said. “But all of a sudden, you start running and everybody swarms to you.
“I just saw touchdown, a hundred yards - but I only got about 10. That’s the way it goes.”
Back-up quarterback Steve Birnbaum saw his first extensive playing time as a Cougar and responded by completing 4 of 9 passes for 53 yards.
The second-year freshman threw two passes in last week’s win against Oregon, and both fell incomplete.
“This time, I got to throw a couple times and show off my skills,” said Birnbaum, who nearly completed a deep pass to roommate Nian Taylor.
Afterward, as Taylor casually told reporters Birnbaum had underthrown the pass, he was suddenly interrupted.
“It would help if you would have run the right route,” coach Mike Price cracked loudly.
The Cougars were supposed to receive Arizona game film early Sunday, but the tapes didn’t arrive until late in the evening - setting back their preparations by a day… . WSU suffered no serious injuries against San Jose State. Center Cory Withrow aggravated an ankle injury and Leaf hurt his right hamstring, but both were able to continue playing. , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo