Leon Bender didn’t win the Outland or the Lombardi, but he’s the runaway choice for - well, let’s call it the Barkley.
Even when he’s not trying to sound outrageous, Washington State’s senior defensive tackle can find something provocative to say.
His venture into brutal honesty Saturday after the Cougars’ workout in preparation for the 84th Rose Bowl came after he was asked if Michigan’s offense reminded him of any WSU had faced during the regular season.
“Actually,” he said, “Michigan’s offense kind of reminds us of our offense in 1994.”
It took a while for the laughter of the reporters clustered around Bender at the Los Angeles Coliseum to subside.
The 1994 Cougar offense was the worst of the Mike Price era - and of several before that. It ranked last in the Pac-10 in rushing and averaged just 16 points per game - a good many of those produced by the defense.
“Now they’re a lot better,” Bender said of Michigan. “But if you look at our team in ‘94, it’s the exact same team. They have the No. 1 defense in the nation and our offense, you know, we didn’t want to give the ball up on offense, but we did. Their offense does a lot better job than our offense did, but it’s similar.” Bender paused to check his audience and then smiled.
“Why are you laughing when I say that, man?” he said.
The walking wounded
The first real injury from the Cougars’ stay in Southern California occurred Friday - when backup quarterback Steve Birnbaum tweaked his back, reportedly from picking up a suitcase. But he was back at practice Saturday and did some light throwing and running.
But safety Torry Hollimon did sit out Saturday’s workout with a hamstring pull suffered the day before, and he may not return until early this week.
“I’m a little concerned about him,” said coach Mike Price. “But Duane Stewart is playing well and that’s who Torry replaced.”
Hollimon, a sophomore, started the last three games of the season in place of Stewart, who injured a knee against Arizona State. The coaching staff had not announced a decision on which player would start against Michigan.
Not this year
The famed “swirl” pants that equipment manager Wendell Neal unboxed for the 1994 Alamo Bowl will not make a return engagement at the Rose Bowl, or anytime soon.
“Maybe at the spring game,” Neal joked. “We’ve got them back in the archives.”
The last Cougar Rose Bowl team, of course, wore crimson from head to toe, which generated some comparisons to bottles of strawberry pop. Does Neal have anything like that in mind?
“I have a little something up my sleeve,” he said. “I might pull a surprise or two that the kids don’t know about.”
Spreading the wealth
WSU running back Michael Black, on the difference between last year and this year:
“This year we’re more versatile. Last year, the receivers were there but Ryan didn’t throw to them. He went to one guy. This year he’s throwing it to all of them.”
The weather report
Neal had the best take on the gorgeous weather the Cougs have encountered - blue skies and 65-degree temperatures for Saturday’s practice.
“Have you seen a cloud yet?” he asked. “I haven’t. But a plane was up there skywriting yesterday and it almost made me homesick.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo