Los Angeles — Jason Gesser has gotten the attention for Washington State with his record-breaking statistics, but three interchangeable running backs also have helped lead the seventh-ranked Cougars this season.
Tailbacks Jermaine Green, John Tippins and Jonathan Smith have shared the load and together produced 1,676 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns.
Even though nobody averages 100 yards or more a game, WSU (10-2) has averaged 139.7 yards on the ground. The Cougars' approach is different than their Rose Bowl opponent, No. 8 Oklahoma (11-2). The Sooners have relied on senior running back Quentin Griffin, who ran for 1,740 yards and 13 TDs this season.
Washington State running backs coach Kasey Dunn said rotating the backs had worked well.
"The best thing about those guys is they respect each other's ability and each other's time on the field. Nobody's griping, 'Coach, I need more carries,"' Dunn said. "That we're third in the Pac-10 in rushing is a great feat."
Green leads the team with 784 yards and nine rushing touchdowns, and averages 65.3 yards per game. He has started just four games because of a knee injury early in the season and a groin injury the last two games.
But Tippins, whose best game this year was 85 yards against Idaho, will start in the Rose Bowl.
"He gives us something special after the first hit -- the breakaway," WSU coach Mike Price said of Green. "After he touches the ball, it looks like he might go all the way. When he gets to the open field, he'll outrun people most of the time."
Tippins started four games last season behind Dave Minnich, falling 6 yards short of becoming the first WSU back to gain 100 yards rushing and receiving in a single game against Montana State.
This season, Tippins averages 46.3 yards per game, has scored twice and gained 556 yards on 113 carries. He lost the starting job to Green after seven games but still has been effective.
Smith has carried 70 times for 282 yards and five TDs.
"Jonathan gives you that dimension of being a great receiver out of the backfield," Dunn said. "Tippins and Green smack it up in there. Green has got game-breaker potential. He's one of the fastest kids on the team. Tippins will put his pads on and run you over. Jonathan Smith can shake you up. He can make you miss the phone booth."
The beneficiary has been Gesser, who can keep the offense rolling when he isn't forced to throw on every play.
"Against UCLA, they sat the whole game and defended our pass. They stuck six guys in the box and let us run," Gesser said. In that game, Green came off the bench to run for 113 yards, including an 80-yard TD, before aggravating his groin injury and sitting out the second half.
Tippins and Smith combined for 104 more yards.
"Having that rotation, having that versatility, is a huge, huge plus in our offense and allows us to do so many things," Gesser said.
Price has likened his three backs to a baseball manager who has three pitchers in his rotation, each with his own skills.
"Each kid has own thing: Tippins is the most all-around, most dependable, best blocker, is good inside. Jonathan Smith is probably the best athlete ... a good receiver," Price said. "Jermaine Green is the fastest player. He's probably the strongest and quickest of the three."
Price said Tippins, a senior, has provided the leadership that has made the system work.
"You can't be selfish on this team," Tippins said.