Feature: Bumpus, Brink Fuel Potent Washington State Pass Attack

Sept. 20, 2007

By Tim McLaughlin
Daily Trojan

September 20, 2007

Los Angeles, CA (CSTV U-WIRE) -- Overlooked, overshadowed, underrated: These are the words Michael Bumpus and other Washington State wide receivers know too well.

For the past two seasons, the Cougars' offensive attack has hinged on an extremely talented, incredibly productive, yet relatively unknown receiving corps. What might set Bumpus apart from the pack, though, is not his height (he stands only 6 feet tall) or Washington State's lack of other receiving threats (they have plenty in the form of Brandon Gibson and Charles Dillon), but rather his on-field and off-field bond with senior quarterback Alex Brink.

Bumpus, a senior from Culver City, has plastered his name all over Washington State record books during the past three seasons -- all but six of Bumpus' games as a Cougar have been quarterbacked by Brink.

As a freshman, Bumpus' contributions to the team came mostly in the form of punt returns, but his receiving stats were nothing to be ignored. He returned a punt 52 yards for a touchdown against Oregon, making him the first WSU returner to take a punt all the way since 1997.

He went on to compile 26 catches in his last 5 games, including a 24-yard TD grab against USC. His performance was enough to get him picked by The Sporting News as a Pac-10 All Freshmen selection as both a return specialist and wide receiver.

In the Cougars' 2005 campaign, Bumpus' season was cut short by a high ankle sprain against Cal. Despite the short season, he was still an All Pac-10 Honorable Mention.

Bumpus returned healthy and dominant for his junior season. He led all Cougar receivers with 60 receptions for 558 yards, but Trojan fans will remember him best for his stellar performance against USC in which the Cougars stood toe-to-toe with the Trojans for four quarters, falling 28-22 in dramatic fashion.

In that game, Bumpus hauled in a career-high 11 passes for 112 yards, falling just shy of the WSU single-game record of 12 receptions.

So why the labels of 'underrated' and 'lack of big time recognition?'

'I think part of [it] has to do with the location of where we're at,' Brink said about WSU's location in Pullman, Wash. 'If you talk to people around the Pac-10, they understand that our group of receivers is probably the best in the league.

'It also has to do with our win-loss record the last few years. They don't pay attention to 6-6 teams very often. It's unfortunate; people don't get the credit they deserve.'

Whatever the case, Bumpus is certainly not the first Cougar to slip by the national media's consciousness, and it's doubtful he'll be the last.

In 2006, the Cougars' Jason Hill caught 41 passes for 600 yards and 7 TDs -- a mediocre season by his standards. He left WSU as one of the most prolific receivers in the program's history.

Hill ranked first all-time at WSU in touchdown receptions, sixth in receiving yards and tied for second on the all-time Pac-10 list for touchdown receptions, bested only by Dwayne Jarrett.

Hill then went on to run a blazing 4.32 second 40-yard dash at the 2007 NFL Combine on his way to being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round.

He ran the second fastest time for all receivers, better than many other media darlings, including Ted Ginn, Jr. of Ohio State and Calvin Johnson of Georgia Tech.

Yet, despite these accomplishments, Hill, much like Bumpus, never quite gained tremendous media attention, even inside the Pac-10, where the eyes of most were focused squarely on USC's Jarrett.

Bumpus, however, doesn't let the labels get to him, making it clear it's something he has dealt with before.

'Every team I've ever played on has been underrated; I've never played on completely dominating team[s]. It has its advantages - some teams might not respect us and come out a little sluggish.'

Sluggish, however, is not the word Bumpus or anyone else, for that matter, is using to describe the USC defense Washington State will face on Saturday.

'Man, I mean, I don't feel like they have a weakness,' said Bumpus when asked about USC's defensive unit.

Even with defensive back Josh Pinkard out for the season, Bumpus is still impressed by the Trojans' abilities.

'The D-line, linebackers, and secondary are all still strong and still so deep. The first and second guys are capable of playing on any team in the Pac-10.'

Those sentiments were echoed by Brink.

'Their strength lies in the front seven, particularly the front four,' he said. 'It leaves a linebacker free to make plays. They have a lot of good players, good athletes.'

Historically, Washington State has had success throwing the ball against USC. Last year, Brink threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns against the Trojans by utilizing a spread offense.

'I expect it every week,' Bumpus said. 'No matter who we play we'll be able to throw the ball.'

Both Bumpus and Brink are looking to prove something Saturday and say they benefitted from last year's toughly fought contest.

'There is something you can take away from it. A lot of teams, when they step on the field with USC, it's like they already lost,' Brink said. 'People make a pretty big deal about their defense; they are a year older, but so are we.'

If it seems at this point that Bumpus and Brink think similarly, and have coinciding great games, it isn't by luck or coincidence.

The wide receiver and quarterback duo have a relationship that goes far beyond the football field.

'I consider Brink to be one of my best friends on the team,' Bumpus said. 'We play golf together every Monday.'

Brink stresses how much he has learned from Bumpus outside athletics.

'We come from pretty different backgrounds -- he comes from Culver City, Calif. and I come from Eugene, Ore.,' Brink said. 'Those people help you grow; you learn a lot from them.'

So how does all this golf translate to the field on Saturdays?

'The relationship we have off the field spills over [onto it]' Bumpus said.

The quarterback-wide-receiver connection between the two has shown flashes of brilliance in the past, when both seem to know exactly what the other is expecting.

'Our offense, there's a lot of built in routes, adjustments on the fly. Those only work when the quarterback and the receivers have a good feel for each other,' Brink said. 'Michael and I have that. He may not have been the primary guy, but he gets where he needs to be.'

Saturday's match up at the Coliseum is the start to both USC and Washington State's Pac-10 season. The Trojans' up-the-gut running game and athletic defense sharply contrasts the high flying, spread offense of the Cougars.

As for Bumpus and Brink, they are just trying to keep everything in perspective while preparing to face off against the No. 1 team in college football.

As Bumpus said, 'I just try to stick to the routine.'

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