Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Curse of the Appaloosa

The fox barks not when he would steal the lamb.

The young Bears better tighten their jocks and put the press clippings away, because they are heading for the darkest, loneliest, most remote corner of the Pac 10: Pullman, Washington. Affectionately called the 'Palouse' by the Pullman townies after the legendary Appaloosa horse - god bless these simple folk, they got the name "Appaloosa" from the phrase "A Palouse Horse" - Pullman is the Pac 1o's bermuda triangle. More Argentinian pampas than West Coast college town, the Palouse is a rural death trap for unprepared visiting teams.

Hopped up on whatever liquor they can store in barrels for the winter, the Coug fans await their opponents with a Deliverance-like combination of stealth and caged belligerence. The stealth comes from the fact that no one, least of all opposing teams, pays any mind to what goes on in Pullman until the moment they step off the plane at Pullman-Moscow airport (airport code: PUW - nice one Pullman). Of course even then, Pullman seems like a charming little town. You can almost hear the dirty little kid plucking away at the banjo, watching the unsuspecting, cocky players file onto the bus.

Then the players take the field and, well, it's Bobby and the hillbilly up in the woods, with the visiting fans tied to the tree like Ed, watching helplessly as their team is emasculated. The townies rage, the band blares its high school jingles, and Coug nation rolls.

So why doesn't Wazzu win more games? Well, they used to win when Mike Price was there, because he could recruit. It's the toughest place to recruit to in the Pac 10, and maybe the toughest BCS school to recruit to nationwide. Even though Wazzu plays tough and has a great home field advantage, they lack the depth of talent across the board, and it has cost them victories late in games. They often jump on teams early, or keep the game close for most of the way, but end up losing on big plays late.

The Cougs have played the Bears tough three years in a row. Everyone remembers Cal needing a couple heroic Ayoob to Cunningham passes in 2005 to win that game at home. And last year's game was certainly not a walk in the park. Though not as close as 2005 or 2007, the game in 2006 (in Pullman) was basically won by the Cal defense, because the offense couldn't get anything going.

In fact, the 2006 game in Pullman seemed to really catch the Bears by surprise. Wazzu was the first team in 2006 to go exclusively to a zone to shut down Cal's very effective passing attack. After that, every other conference team used the same zone against us the rest of 2006, causing Nate's numbers to decline dramatically. Remember, in the 5 games prior to that, Longshore had thrown for 1136 yards and 17 TDs, averaging 18/27, 265, 3 TDs per game. The Bears were putting up 40+ per game and passing at will. Against the Cougs in Pullman, they could manage only 21 that game, with one TD coming after a blocked punt deep in Coug territory. Longshore was 17-31 for 136 with 2 INTs and no passing TDs, foreshadowing things to come, notably Arizona's effective zone coverage later that season.

The Bears had better be ready Saturday, because this has letdown written all over it.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Pullman is a dangerous place to play. No good team seems to go there and just cruise to victory. It is like the anti-Corvallis.

Anonymous said...

Your "squeal like a pig" analysis is a little over done, but once you get into football commentary your analysis and concerns are well stated.

Upper Left Hand Corner Cal Fan

SDGoldenBear said...

So true Bears Necessity. Blue Horshoe loves Corvallis.

SDGoldenBear said...

Upper Left - thanks for the insight. Of course it was overdone - I'm a Cal football fan. This means I do one of two things every season: (1) drink the kool-aid too early and loathe myself for it in the morning, or (2) sit Indian-style in front of the TV hugging myself and rocking back and forth in a fit of worry every Saturday. I live in a world of extremes.

I hope you are right that the Cougs don't have enough hillbilly in them to take the little Bears' lunchboxes away.

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