First Look: Washington State

Auburn coordinators Will Muschamp and Al Borges take an early look at the Washington State Cougars.

Auburn, Ala.--Washington State is a football program that has always been known for its offensive prowess and with names like Mark Rypien, Rueben Mayes, Timm Rosenbach, Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Leaf and most recently Jerome Harrison dotting the record books for the Cougars it's no wonder why.

This season should be much the same with veteran signal caller Alex Brink back after an outstanding 2005 season that saw him pass for 2,891 yards and 24 touchdowns. Both are good enough to put him in the Top 10 for single seasons in WSU history. Throw in record setting wide receiver Jason Hill and speedster Michael Bumpus and you have the makings of one of the nation's top passing teams in 2006.

Wide receiver Jason Hill is the first in a long line of top receivers the Tigers will face this season.

A player who likely would have been a first-round selection in this year's NFL Draft, the 6-1, 207 Hill is a quarterback's dream. With a big frame and outstanding hands, Hill hauled in 62 passes for 1,097 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Playing in 12 games as a freshman but not catching a pass, Hill has exploded the last two seasons. He goes into his senior year with 107 career receptions for 2,104 yards and 25 touchdowns. Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp says that those three guys alone could make for a long night for the Tigers on Sept. 2.

"I think Alex Brink is an outstanding quarterback," Muschamp says. "He's a guy that won a state championship up in Oregon. He wasn't a heavily recruited guy that went to Washington State and kind of has a chip on his shoulder when he plays. He makes all the throws. He can hit the deep ball, he can hit the underneath throws.

"He's got two outstanding wideouts in Hill and Bumpus," Muschamp adds. "Hill is a guy that decided to come back for his senior season. He's a guy that was going to be a high drafted guy in the NFL Draft. Bumpus is an outstanding elusive, quick guy that can run. The strength of the team is at wideout and quarterback."

One player missing from last season is Harrison, who was the country's leading rusher in 2005. Replacing him is something that has been a priority for the Cougars during the spring and two-a-days and it appears big DeMaundray Woolridge is the answer. A 5-8, 234 sophomore, Woodridge averaged six yards per carry last season and gives the Cougars a physical runner behind a strong and veteran offensive line.

"They are searching a little bit for a running back," Muschamp says. "They feel good about the Woolridge kid that backed up last year and also the junior college kid that came in. They've got three of the five offensive linemen back. I know their offensive line coach (George Yarno) because we worked together at LSU. He's an outstanding coach and will have them ready to go."

Defensively the 2005 season was a struggle for Washington State as the Cougars gave up an average of 31.5 points and 442.5 total yards per game. That included giving up more than 20 points in 10 of 11 games and more than 34 points five times. While the struggles were evident a year ago Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges says he doesn't believe they'll see the same unit that unit he's watched on film.

"One thing I know because I know those guys so well--Bill (Doba) and I know Robb Akey and their staff because we played against them for years when I was at UCLA and Oregon and Cal--I know this. They statistically were not a very good defensive team a year ago, but they have never had two years where they were bad statistically. Their head coach is a defensive guy and a very good defensive guy. In the Pac 10 a lot of people would go see Bill to learn how to play their quarters coverage because they did it so well. He will find a way to put a good defensive unit on the field."

Mkristo Bruce is one of the country's top defensive ends and will be a focus of Auburn's offense when facing the Cougars.

That will likely begin up front where defensive end Mkristo Bruce anchors a front four for the Cougars that suffered a big blow during practice this week. Expected to be the opening night starter at defensive end, junior Matt Mullennix suffered a knee injury Tuesday and is out for the year. That will throw even more of the burden of the defense on Bruce.

A 6-6, 260 senior, Bruce was dominant as a junior with 67 tackles made along with 15 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks. In his first three years Bruce has 136 tackles and 18 1/2 sacks to his credit. Depth is thin up front because of several injuries during two-a-days, but Borges notes that Auburn is expecting the very best out of a unit bent on revenge this season.

"They are a really good pass rush team," Borges says. "I think they went through some injuries early especially at linebacker. Now I think they feel they're back. They've got a few kids back they were counting on a year ago. They'll be better. There's no doubt in my mind."

Kickoff for the season opener is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. CDT on Sept. 2 and can be seen nationally on ESPN2.

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