Quarterback – #10 Alex Brink
In his second season as the Cougars' starting quarterback, Alex Brink has improved steadily, but still isn't exactly among the conference's elite. Brink got off to an extremely slow start in the season's opening game at Auburn. He completed just 11 of 24 passes for 67 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Since that game, Brink has steadily improved, albeit against far inferior competition. In his last game, at Stanford, he completed 21 of 33 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns. Brink has also shown a tendency to run this season. While he is mobile enough to move in the pocket and pick up a first down now and again, he won't scare a defense into spying him or truly worrying about his scrambling ability. In his 21 rushes this season, one has gone for a 21-yard touchdown, but six have resulted in sacks. The Trojan defense hasn't allowed any sort of passing attack this season and Brink will have to put together a career day for the Cougars to move the ball through the air. He's certainly capable of chalking up more than a few yards, but he's also proven capable of being a little careless with his throws into traffic.
Runningbacks – #35 DeMaundray Woolridge, #1 Derrell Hutsona, #31 Dwight Tardy
The Cougars, like the Trojans, boast a stable of running backs featuring sophomore, DeMaundray Woolridge, junior, Derrell Hutsona and freshman, Dwight Tardy. Woolridge looked to be the main guy this season after helping Jerome Harrison carry the rushing load last season, but Tardy and Hutsona have proven to be every bit as necessary.
This season, Woolridge leads the team with 211 yards rushing on 38 carries. He put together a few big runs against Auburn's defense in the opener, including a 42-yard scamper, on his way to 86 yards on just nine carries. After sitting out the game against Idaho, Woolridge came back with 54 and 71 rushing yards in his team's next two games. He's a short, stocky runner who is best between the tackles and hiding behind blockers. He scored a touchdown in last season's loss to USC.
Hutsona is a speedster who has 173 yards rushing on 33 carries this season. He's also a threat out of the backfield, catching four passes for 34 yards.
Dwight Tardy's 42 carries leads the team this season. He has piled up 207 yards, but 189 of those came against Idaho and Stanford. He also scored one touchdown in each of those games.
The Trojans have shut down three fairly solid rushing games this season and slammed an exclamation point at the end of their performance at Arizona. Without Jerome Harrison, this Washington State rushing attack isn't what it was in seasons past and the Trojans will be anxious to continue their success in stopping the run.
Wide Receivers – #83 Jason Hill, #5 Michael Bumpus
Jason Hill is one of the best receivers in the nation, let alone the Pac-10. He has caught passes for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons, but is having something of a down year in 2006. Through four games, Hill is still without a 100-yard receiving game, although he does have three touchdown grabs. He is always a threat to get behind the defense and can make big plays happen if he's allowed space. Last year against the Trojans, Hill was held to the worst outing of his season, catching six passes for just 49 yards. If Hill puts up those same numbers this weekend, the Cougars will have a tough time moving the ball.
Michael Bumpus is becoming more and more of a go-to player for the Cougars this season. While Hill is still the big-play guy, Bumpus leads the team with 24 receptions. Though he's averaging fewer than nine yards per reception, he's caught at least five passes in each of the first four games. If he's constantly catching passes underneath the coverage, he has the speed and moves to get loose in the secondary. Trojan cornerbacks and safeties will have their hands full with a solid pair of pass catchers this weekend, but they'll get a break with Chris Jordan sitting out the game due to an injury.
Tight Ends – #80 Cody Boyd
After the top two wide receivers, Brink will look for his tight end. Cody Boyd is a huge target, at 6-8 and 264 pounds, with the speed to get up the field and provide his quarterback with a weapon in the passing game. This season, despite being slowed by an ankle injury, Boyd has 11 catches for 170 yards, including a 50-yard catch and run for a score against Auburn.
Offensive Line – LT # 72 Derek Hunter, LG #60 Sean O'Connor C #69 Kenny Alfred, RG #72 Andy Roof, RT #55 Charles Harris
With the exception of Charles Harris at right tackle, the Cougar starting offensive line could look absolutely nothing like this on Saturday. A knee injury suffered by starting left tackle Bobby Byrd caused some chaos along the line, but an injury to starting center Josh Duin last weekend has put this unit into full blown patchwork mode. At left tackle, left guard, center and right guard, the Cougars will employ a rotation of five or six guys, all depending on the whim of offensive line coach George Yarno.
Cougars on Defense
Defensive Line – #94 Mkristo Bruce, #40 Aaron Johnson, #75 Ropati Pitoitua, #9 Lance Broadus
Mkristo Bruce is by far the best defensive player for the Cougars. He's coming off a career day against the Cardinal in which he recorded five sacks. But Bruce isn't just a pass-rushing threat. He consistently ranks among the team leaders in tackles, due to his ability to play the run and pass equally. Through four games this season, Bruce has seven sacks among his eight tackles for loss and 20 total tackles. He's also intercepted a pass. On Saturday, Bruce will line up against both Sam Baker and Kyle Williams, much like Nebraska's defensive ends.
But the Trojans will need to be careful about paying too much attention to Bruce because the rest of the Cougar line can rush the passer as well. Aaron Johnson has two sacks among his three tackles for loss and Ropati Pitoitua and Lance Broadus both have one and a half sacks this season. In fact, as a whole, the Cougars have piled up an astounding 18 sacks through four games.
Linebackers – #42 Scott Davis, #52 Greg Trent, #49 Steve Dildine
Scott Davis is a redshirt senior and the leader of the back seven. He has 27 tackles on the season, including one sack.
Greg Trent was absolutely abused against the Trojans last season. As a true freshman, Trent was kept off balance by a Trojan attack that put up more than 400 yards passing and 300 yards rushing. But after that game, Trent made a vast improvement in his game and was named to several Freshman All-America teams. This year, Trent has 19 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Steve Dildine adds more experience to the linebacking corps as a redshirt senior. Dildine's 18 tackles rank third among the team's linebackers.
Cornerbacks – #12 Tyron Brackenridge, #28 Brian Williams
Tyron Brackenridge used his redshirt season last year, his second since transferring to Washington State from junior college. Brackenridge has 18 tackles this season to go along with two pass deflections.
On the other side, Brian Williams starts at cornerback in his first season at Washington State after spending time at three different colleges. Neither Brackenridge nor Williams offers a distinct height advantage for the Trojan receivers, but they certainly haven't gone against any group of receivers as talented as the ones USC will bring on Saturday. After throwing and running against Arizona's outstanding cornerback duo, the Trojans should have a relative easy time with Washington State's corners.
Safeties – #37 Eric Frampton, #23 Husain Abdullah
Eric Frampton is the team's leading tackler and the veteran presence in the defensive backfield. He also has one of four Cougar interceptions as well as one of four forced fumbles. Frampton is a hitter, but was burnt several times by the Trojans' passing game last year.
Husain Abdullah lines up next to Frampton and has chipped in with 13 tackles and a forced fumble this season.
Cougars on Special Teams
Kicker – #27 Loren Langley
Loren Langley has been very inconsistent this season. He's converted just one of three field goal attempts, hitting from 17 yards and missing from 31 and 36. He's also had one kick blocked. In terms of kickoffs, Langley has forced just five touchbacks in 21 attempts.
Punter – #8 Darryl Blunt
Darryl Blunt is averaging just under 40 yards per punt with a long of 57. He's forced three fair catches and pinned three inside the 20-yard line.
Kick Returner – #1 Derrell Hutsona
The Cougar kick return game hasn't been all that electric this season. Hutsona has received the majority of the attempts and is averaging just 20 yards per return.
Punt Returner – #5 Michael Bumpus
Michael Bumpus is a dynamic punt returner, but he has yet to show that ability this season. In six returns, Bumpus has a long of just eight yards.