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Cougars’ Hopes Riding With Kegel

Matt Kegel’s season was going along so well, he probably figured it couldn’t last.

It didn’t.

After throwing only four interceptions in his first seven games, the Washington State senior quarterback tossed five interceptions and fumbled twice in last week’s 36-30 comeback victory over Oregon State in Pullman.

It got so bad, the home crowd started cheering any play that involved a handoff.

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Momma told him there’d be days like these.

Well, if not momma, his position coach certainly did.

Washington State quarterback coach Timm Rosenbach gave Kegel a pop quiz before the Oregon State game.

“I asked him on the test, ‘At some point in this game you’re going to have to go through adversity. How will you deal with it?’ ” Rosenbach said. “Well, he had to go through a lot of it. And he dealt with it the right way.”

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The good news was, Kegel’s play did not cost his team a victory and the off-game could be dismissed as a one-game aberration.

“I could throw cliches at you, ‘Hey he got the bad one out of the way’, that type of stuff,” Rosenbach said.

Every goal and dream the Cougars imagined is in play, as No. 6 Washington State (7-1) prepares to play No. 3 USC (7-1) at the Coliseum.

At stake, possibly, are the conference title and a shot at the Sugar Bowl.

A bitter defeat last week could have sent the Cougars on a different course.

The team’s stellar defense, which held Oregon State in check, could have turned on the offense for blowing the game.

“It’s frustrating at times, but we can’t control what they do,” senior cornerback Jason David said. “We’ve just got to play our ballgame.”

The bottom line was, Washington State won and Kegel somewhat redeemed himself by throwing for 300 yards and three touchdowns.

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“I had my ups and downs -- everything did not go my way -- but I never gave up,” Kegel said of his play. “I never gave up on this team and this team never gave up on me. That’s all that really matters.”

That Kegel has led the Cougars this far surprised many. In fact, the starting quarterbacks for Saturday’s game deserve major kudos for their performances to date.

Matt Leinart of USC and Kegel had to replace last year’s conference co-MVPs, Carson Palmer and Jason Gesser.

Leinart and Kegel have led their teams to a combined 14-2 record and top-10 rankings in the BCS standings.

Leinart leads the Pac-10 in passing efficiency and, through eight games, has better numbers than Palmer did last year en route to his Heisman Trophy-winning season.

Kegel began the season as a senior in name only.

He mostly sat on the bench behind Gesser, starting only two games in three years.

Kegel had been cool and consistent on the field ... until last week’s debacle.

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His numbers are strong, 16 touchdowns against nine interceptions, yet he’ll ultimately be measured by how well he rebounds against USC.

“I’ve never really had a game like that, where I had so many turnovers,” Kegel said of the Oregon State game. “But I’m mature enough to realize the kind of talent I’m surrounded by and I’ve got enough leadership to stay in there and get a victory for this team.

“This is too important to kind of give up on.”

Border War

Oregon (5-3, 2-2) plays at Washington (4-4, 2-2) this week in the 96th meeting of what has become a bitter rivalry.

“It is intense,” Washington Coach Keith Gilbertson said this week.

Let’s just say that when Washington fired Rick Neuheisel last summer, Neuheisel knew just how to hit Husky fans where they hurt by attending the Michigan-Oregon game and then donning a Ducks’ cap in Autzen Stadium.

Last year, Washington went to Eugene and did a 42-12 number on the Ducks and then celebrated on the field.

This week, Oregon free safety Keith Lewis guaranteed a victory in Seattle and promised the team was going throw its own midfield party on the Washington W.

You ask: How do these feuds get started?

In 1948, Oregon and California tied for the conference title, which required a vote of conference schools to decide which team would play in the Rose Bowl.

Washington defected from the Pacific Northwest bloc of schools and voted for California.

You say petty?

The Hatfield and McCoy family feud reportedly started over disputed ownership of two razorback hogs.

Pac Bits

Arizona State quarterback Andrew Walter has been hobbled by a sprained right ankle this week and it may be a game-time decision on whether he starts against California.

Walter was injured in the first half in last week’s loss to UCLA. He said he took a pain-killing shot at halftime but thought trying to play would have hurt his team’s chances.

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More on USC-Washington State: The last meeting of Pac-10 teams ranked in the Associated Press’ top-10 occurred Oct. 13, 2001, when No. 7 UCLA defeated No. 10 Washington.

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They’re tops: Washington State leads the conference in scoring defense, rushing defense, total defense, turnover margin, sacks, pass defense efficiency, field goals, third-down defense, field goals and passing offense.


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