TONI POLE BROUGHT THE HEAT ON HORTON'S PICK SIX
IT’S THE BIGGEST victory in the last 10 years for the Cougs. Sure, UW was No. 25 in the BCS rankings when Wazzu beat 'em last season and you can make a case for some other Ws. But given the sheer amount of torment that came before it, WSU's victory over No. 25 USC is the one. And as with all low-scoring tilts, it was the little things that aren't so little that made it both possible, and great.
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It didn't look good. The Cougs faced third-and-nine late in the fourth quarter deep in their own territory and it felt for all the world like Wazzu just couldn’t move the ball anymore against Southern Cal. But on an inside screen, Dominique Williams used a wicked move and then stirred up the echoes of Chris Jackson as he stepped out of a would-be ankle tackle to race 50 yards to put WSU on the USC 30-yard line. Andrew Furney, who hadn’t been asked to do much of anything all night, calmly drilled a 42-yard field goal four plays later and WSU had its winning margin, 10-7. It should also be noted that Connor Halliday, for all the troubles on the night, hit Williams dead solid perfect on the play side to start the ball rolling.
The offensive line. Oh, I know what you’re thinking. True, they were able to do less and less as the game went on but that is one helluva USC defensive front – it’s arguably the best front seven the Cougs will face this year, though Stanford will challenge that concept later this season. But give it up for the Cougar starting o-line of LT Gunnar Eklund, LG Joe Dahl, C Elliott Bosch, RG John Fullington and RT Rico Forbes on Saturday -- and here’s why. The WSU o-line overcame and gained a few first downs at key points and that effected a crucial difference – they flipped the field. Indeed, they flipped it just enough, and drive after drive for USC fell short of putting points on the scoreboard. No, the WSU o-line didn’t win most of the battles up front, not by a long shot. But they won the war.
Raise your hand if you thought the WSU secondary, the oft-maligned WSU secondary, would hold Biletnikoff winner
to a paltry 27 receiving yards on seven receptions -- and Lee was the only Trojan with more than two receptions. The WSU defense held USC to 192 total yards on offense and Damante Horton, Deone Bucannon, Daquawn Brown and Taylor Taliulu were among the reasons why. Brown had quite the night. Sure, there was the play early on where a hard-charging Brown he whiffed on a running back, and later two interference calls. But there were many more plays where he was simply nails – Brown led the team in tackles with 11 sticks. But an equal contribution from this chair was how amped up he was, cheering on his teammates’ tackles and play and bringing every Cougar around him up, up up. WSU used to have a cornerback a lot like that. His nickname was “Juice”, and he was already floating three feet in the air when he got out of bed in the morning. And oh how true freshman Daquawn Brown looked like Jason David out there Saturday night at the Coliseum.
The WSU special teams coverage units bounced back in a big way against USC after giving up the KO return for score at Auburn. Lee is as dangerous a return man as there is -- and WSU punted six times. The Cougs also kicked off three times. Lee had three punt returns for a combined 15 yards. He had one kickoff return for 12 yards. The rest were fair catches or boots that went out of bounds. The coverage teams might not be remembered given the brilliance of Horton and the Cougar D, but they should be.
DE Toni Pole was money, even if the stat book won’t necessarily show it. Fellow DL Ioane Gauta and Xavier Cooper share the glory here, each had key contributions. But it was Pole who burst through the line and blocked the USC field goal attempt, when it had become oh-so-clear early in the second half that the next points would likely win the game. And Pole’s biggest contribution came on the biggest play. USC, was leading 7-0, and was poised to take control when Pole burst through with a bead on USC QB Cody Kessler. Horton made a great read and took the pick 70 yards to the house. And everyone will talk about Horton’s night – and well they should. But don’t discount Pole’s contribution on that pick-six. Pole forced Kessler to hurry that throw -- right before he drilled him. Pole raced downfield to celebrate while Kessler lay demoralized, sprawled out face-down on the turf. All the bounce that was absent from Wazzu just prior returned en masse as the Cougs headed into the locker room. That play was as big as it gets.