PACIFIC 10 FOOTBALL / DAN HAFNER : Bledsoe Draws Raves at Washington State

Professional football scouts and opposing coaches rate Drew Bledsoe, the 6-foot-5 quarterback for Washington State, the best in the West--if not the country.

As he gets ready for today's game at Fresno State, the junior from Walla Walla, Wash., already has impressive credentials. In two games, he has passed for almost 700 yards.

In the opener, he led the Cougars to a victory over Montana, breaking Mark Rypien's school record with 413 yards passing. Then he rallied the underdog Cougars from a 17-6 third-quarter deficit to beat Arizona, 23-20.

Coach Mike Price of the Cougars is certain the best is yet to come.

"I have taken the position of letting Drew's arm do the talking," Price said. "But I'm convinced he has barely scratched the surface. He has a ways to go to reach his peak.

"He has so much going for him. He has an excellent attitude, and he has great work habits. His best is ahead of him."

Besides being the head coach, Price coaches the quarterbacks and knows Bledsoe as well as anyone.

"Dick Tomey (Arizona coach) had some nice things to say about Drew and so did the NFL scouts," Price said. "But I have been his severest critic. I guess it's because I expect much more of him.

"But I've watched him make great progress already, just from last season. He's developing a touch. He no longer just fires the football. Whatever the situation calls for, he can throw it.

"Also, he is becoming better at looking the defense off. Before, they knew where he was going to throw the ball. Now he confuses them.

"Because of his size and strength (he weighs 224 pounds), he has always been tough to blitz. Now he is developing a quick release, and that makes it even tougher."

At Walla Walla High, where he also played basketball, Bledsoe developed into one of the top prep quarterbacks in the nation. As a senior, he passed for 25 touchdowns and 2,560 yards.

It seems odd that he would get away from Washington, which seems to get almost every good player in the Pacific Northwest. Especially when you consider Bledsoe's parents went to Washington.

"I think he liked the community atmosphere here in Pullman, rather than the big city," Price said. "It seems we had a good rapport from the start. He knew I would be his position coach, while at Washington, Don (James) has an assistant handling the quarterbacks.

"Mainly, we were just lucky."

In 1990, Bledsoe became the first true freshman to start at quarterback for the Cougars in 30 years. He started the seventh game against Oregon State. In four games he threw nine touchdown passes and he has been No. 1 ever since.

Oregon State's Mark Olford might be the smallest quarterback in major college football, but he has been a big man for the Beavers.

The 5-8 sophomore from Sacramento has made the key plays in the last two Oregon State games, a victory over Fresno State and a tie with Arizona.

With less than two minutes left at Tucson last Saturday, Olford ran four yards for a touchdown, then leaped across the goal-line for the two-point conversion that tied the game. The week before he gained 144 yards against Fresno State.

"He's a tough guy," Coach Jerry Pettibone said. "He's a good little athlete and he's a real competitor. You could tell he wanted to get into the end zone."

Olford wasn't happy with the tie, though.

"We thought we could win," he said. "We ain't satisfied with the tie."

Oregon Coach Rich Brooks wasn't sure how he felt when Texas Tech decided not to go for the tie with 27 seconds left at Eugene, Ore., last Saturday.

"Knowing that Spike (Dykes, coach at Texas Tech) came here to win, I wasn't surprised they went for the touchdown," Brooks said after Oregon had ended its eight-game losing streak.

Texas Tech had fourth and 10 on the Ducks' 25 and trailed, 16-13. Paul Rodriquez knocked down Robert Hall's pass inside the Oregon five, saving the victory.

The Ducks' losing streak started with a series of debilitating injuries last season.

"When we lost four players in the first quarter of our opener this season, I wondered if we were in for more of the same," Brooks said. "But maybe we're over that terrible time. We're starting to get healthy."

Pacific 10 Notes

A twist in the scheduling gives both USC and Washington two weeks to get ready for their game at Seattle on Oct. 3. Both are off this week after big victories over Big Eight powers, USC over Oklahoma and Washington over Nebraska. . . . When Glyn Milburn, a senior from Santa Monica, gained 111 yards against Northwestern last week, it was the seventh game in which the Stanford tailback has gained 100 or more yards. Stanford won each of them. . . . Sean Burwell, a junior tailback from Canoga Park, gained 124 yards in 22 carries for Oregon against Texas Tech. He was the key to the Ducks' ability to keep the powerful Texas Tech offense off the field.

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