As a comfortable Palouse evening wore on here last night, the aspirations of the people aligned for crimson and gray went into steady backpedal...

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PULLMAN — As a comfortable Palouse evening wore on here last night, the aspirations of the people aligned for crimson and gray went into steady backpedal, from sublime to hairbreadth:


Don’t get anybody hurt.


Angle for style points.


Whoops, get out of here with our lives.


Pray that one of the student hedonists yanks the cords at the Fox TV truck.


It was that kind of night for Washington State in its football opener with Idaho. There were times when you wondered whether the Vandals, a four-touchdown underdog, were going to drop a giant anvil on Cougar heads, before WSU finally prevailed, 38-26.


In the watering holes and postgame nightcaps, relief gave way to rehash, about the surprise decision that made Alex Brink the quarterback over Josh Swogger.


“He’ll make mistakes,” quarterbacks coach Timm Rosenbach forecast days before Brink took the field.


Right on schedule, Brink did. He had two passes batted in the first half, both for interceptions, and lofted up another wishful thing that fell pitifully apart from running back Jerome Harrison.


But help abandoned him, too. Jason Hill suddenly treated the ball as if it were blackberry branches, dropping four, two for touchdowns. Hill was also whistled twice for pass interference, nullifying a score.


On the duck that Brink aimed futilely for Harrison, there was the faintest howl from the stands — somebody who apparently felt they, and Swogger, had been done wrong.


“He wasn’t playing like himself at the end of the first half,” Rosenbach of Brink. “He was making good decisions, but the ball gets tipped. It affected him. We came back at halftime and I said, ‘Play like you play, do what you do.’ “


No doubt, this Brink-Swogger set-to was one weird quarterback competition, playing out as if on split-screen: Writers and fans looking at one half, making assumptions about what was said and what the scrimmage numbers suggested, coaches trained on the other half, making assessments unappreciated by the great unwashed.


You know the particulars: Swogger started the first six games last year. He wasn’t great but he was progressing until he went out with a broken foot. Enter Brink, who went 2-3 in quarterbacking victories over 14-point favorite UCLA and Washington.


While Swogger mended through the spring, Brink doggedly measured him. He had the entire session to himself, and he took advantage.


This is what they said about Brink from Day 1 here: “He sees things.” He sees safeties coming off receivers to help elsewhere, he sees patterns developing in the crazy kaleidoscope of the secondary.


That’s not Swogger’s strongest point. What is, is his arm. But he was rusty early in fall camp while Brink soldiered on, winning points here and there. Among other good attributes like vision, he has a tempo with the offense, gets it in and out of the huddle like he realizes this is serious.


It came to a last scrimmage, which might have been the most deceiving ever. Making a last bid, Swogger went 11 of 18 for 164 yards while Brink was 8 of 20 for 64. Everybody conceded the job to Swogger.


Two and two made five.


Fans burbled at how Swogger started 7 for 9. But he missed a wide-open Michael Bumpus over the middle, and overall, he spent more time with the superior unit than Brink did. Meanwhile, the coaches were still seeing those hidden things, the nuances that told them that one guy was coming and one wasn’t.


That day, Brink said something revealing. To the suggestion that he threw off his back foot a couple of times, he replied that the coaches preach that’s the form the quarterback’s supposed to use when he’s about to be decked by a blitzer.


Who’s to argue? Brink’s the guy with the 3.7 grade-point average and the unquenchable thirst to make this work.


In the third quarter last night, he rebounded, throwing to Bumpus for a score, firing a 72-yard bomb to Hill for another, lofting a third score to Hill. He finished 17 of 29 for 230 yards.


“He did a good job,” said Rosenbach. “He made good decisions.”


Said Brink, “I felt way more comfortable in the second half. I almost felt like a rookie in the first half. I was rushing things.”


The downside to the night was, the Cougars didn’t get Swogger any quality time, thanks to Idaho’s resolve. The good thing was, they had Alex Brink on the field.


Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com