Happy Cougars get back to business
PULLMAN – Bill Doba got in his car Saturday night flush off a victory he compared to the Holiday Bowl win over Texas his first year as Washington State’s football coach.
He was ready to head home, where he planned to sit down at the kitchen table, turn on the television and fill out his top 25 coaches’ poll.
But first he turned on his cell phone. There were eight missed calls and five text messages. Congratulations for upsetting Pac-10 leading UCLA?
Sure, but there were more. There were two messages from the young guy who fixed the drywall at Doba’s Michigan lake cabin recently. What could those be?
“(He) texted me during the game and said ‘fake it to 31, play action pass’,” Doba said. “His second said, ‘hit the tight end up the middle.’ … Young kid, great kid, but I got a big kick out of that, text messaging me in the middle of the game. Everyone gets involved, even back in the Midwest.”
And everyone’s a play caller.
After sharing the humorous anecdote at Monday’s conference call, Doba turned his attention to this week’s opponent, the Cal Bears.
“I felt really good until Sunday afternoon when I started looking at Cal,” Doba said.
What he saw was a Bears team that has fallen off the college football map since it was one play away from becoming No. 1 in the nation three weeks ago. But the last-play defeat to Oregon State was followed by losses to UCLA and then Arizona State, meaning Cal is not only out of the national championship picture, it is also out of the Pac-10 race as well.
“They have a few guys nicked up,” Doba said of the Bears, mentioning running back Justin Forsett and wide receiver Robert Jordan. “Their quarterback, Nate Longshore is limping around also. It’s that time of year. Everyone gets caught in it.”
The Cougars aren’t completely healthy themselves, what with starting center Kenny Alfred, safety Alfonso Jackson and running back Chris Ivory all plagued by concussions or concussion-like symptoms. Plus, defensive end Mike Graise, one of WSU’s best speed rushers, was sidelined against UCLA by a sprained ankle and he’s doubtful for Saturday.
Doba listed Alfred as probable for Cal, though as with the other two concussion victims, the status will rest on tests administered this week by the training staff.
But their replacements played well enough to merit consideration the remainder of the season.
Kevin McCall, a senior used mostly on special teams, filled Ivory’s role, backing up starter Dwight Tardy at running back, and rushed for 51 yards on 11 carries. Xavier Hicks once again came up big at safety, delivering a crushing blow on UCLA wide receiver Brandon Breazell, while also recording eight tackles. And Andrew Roxas, playing his first game at center, earned praise from the coaching staff.
All of it added up to “a happy locker room for a change,” Doba said. “We’ll see. They are going up against some really good guys this week.”
Doba pointed out a statistic from the UCLA game he has never seen before in his 40-plus years of coaching: The Cougars’ net punting average (length of punt plus-or-minus the return) was higher than the punting average. What it means was UCLA had negative punt-return yardage. The Cougars tweaked their punt team again, moving one of the two up blockers closer to the line of scrimmage. “We do something a little different each week,” Doba said. “You notice people aren’t rushing us anymore. They prepare all week, then you move one guy. He’s got the same assignment, you just move him up to the outside a little bit. All of a sudden you can see the coaches jumping up and down and screaming on the sidelines. We do the same thing.” Whatever the Cougars are doing, it’s working. In Pac-10 games, WSU is averaging 37 net yards on its 25 punts, near the middle in the conference stats. … Michael Bumpus moved within four catches of Cougar legend Hugh Campbell’s career receptions record, set in 1962, when Doba was a first-year assistant coach at Goshen, Ind., High. “He’s not real big and he’s not real fast, but he’s quick and has really, really good hands,” Doba said of Bumpus. “He’ll catch it in front of the meanest linebacker and take a real big hit and hang on to the thing.” … When asked who he was picking between this weekend’s big showdown between No. 4 Oregon and No. 6 Arizona State, Doba hemmed and hawed before asking, “Where’s it played?” When told the game is in Eugene, Doba answered, “Oregon.” … FSN announced Monday that they will televise the Nov. 10 game when Washington State hosts Stanford. Game time is 3:30 p.m.