Quick Quacks

The thought of playing yet another football game in Pullman is a paradox… it is one of the more enjoyable trips for a fan – a nice college town in a quiet part of the west that wouldn't draw much attention to itself were it not for the Cougars – though not a place one would consciously decide to visit six times in eight years, but that is exactly what following the Ducks on the road has required.

This visit could not come later in the season – the game before the Civil War and Apple Cup games are played to end each team's conference season. Mid-November is a reliable break point between autumn and winter and with cold and wind a given that late in the year – and any precipitation a distinct possibility being snow –the odds don't appear to be greatly in favor this being a pleasant trip.

Thankfully, the inhospitality of the weather should not be made worse by the performance of the host team.

In the recent past the Palouse has enjoyed an unprecedented stretch of successes. Mike Price, and then Bill Doba have found enough talented receivers and a couple of strong-armed quarterbacks to fashion a couple of Rose Bowl appearances, a Holiday Bowl victory over Texas and a Sun Bowl win - pretty heady stuff.

One key element to that success has been the good fortune to avoid injury to key players. WSU, despite the small town charm, is generally not able to attract top tier athletes in significant numbers– it is quite a different culture for most recruits. The result is the the depth chart is usually the Cougs' Achilles heel.

Injuries to starting quarterback Josh Swogger and All-American linebacker Will Derting helped grease the slide to last year's 5-6 finish – a slide that accelerated after the Ducks' 41-38 comeback victory in Martin Stadium.

This year the Cougars also suffered a setback to their depth chart when several recruits failed to meet academic requirements – a severe hit to the team both in the short and the long term.

Still, the Cougars have weapons. Swogger is healthy – though back-up Alex Brink's competitive fire may make him a better choice to start – and there is a solid receiving corps led by junior WR Jason Hill. Last season the Cougars were without a rushing attack until Jerome Harrison took over the starting duties. This year the offensive line will have to replace both starting tackles, making the running game an open question once again, as well as opening a debate about the ability to protect the quarterback.

Defensively, led by a healthy Derting, the front seven will be solid, though again depth is a concern with little to no experience behind the starting group. The secondary is a significant concern with only one returning starter, Alex Teems, to a unit that was scorched for 21 passing TD's last season. In the pass happy Pac-10, you can bet every QB and WR is going to be pointing toward the WSU game as a stats game.

The only stats that count, of course, are the "W's" and "L's". Washington State is always capable of surprise, though this year the surprise would be if they were to match last season's record of 5-6. When November comes calling a season of wear and tear will have diminished a team that is not a very deep unit to begin with. Though it may represent a cross-over from fall to winter, the trip to the most remote of the conference outposts should be a nice prelude to a return to Autzen for the Civil War – with Rick Neuheisal's famed "NW Championship" firmly in hand.

Till the next time…



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