PULLMAN -- The Cougars and Huskies may be bitter rivals, but that description certainly does not apply to quarterbacks Jeff Tuel of Washington State and Jake Locker of Washington.
"Obviously, he's a tremendous athlete, just kind of a freak in that sense -- how fast he is, how big," Tuel said of Locker. "I think every quarterback wants to have his attributes as an athlete."
Says Locker of Tuel, "He does a great job. He's really made some plays for them ... he throws the deep ball really well."
WSU coach Paul Wulff
won't hold his first press conferences of the week until later today, but he'll come in as a 10-adjective underdog to Husky coach Steve Sarkisian when it comes to praising the opposition.
"Washington State plays hard ... I appreciate teams that play hard and with great effort," Sarkisian said. "It's something we try to reach and we pride ourselves on here. I think Coach Wulff has done a nice job of that."
Sarkisian heaped more praise on Wulff ("He's a good guy and he's a good football coach"), then tossed another compliment to Wulff's team. "I think our guys are very respectful of Washington State: who they are and the way they play and their style of play," Sarkisian said. "They (Husky players) know it will be a very physical game and it will take a great effort out of us to get a win."
Locker said he expects no favors if WSU backup safety Casey Locker gets a chance to nail his older, more famous cousin. "I'm sure he'll try to hit me harder than he'll hit anyone else," Jake said. Casey, a redshirt freshman, replaced his cousin as quarterback at Ferndale High School after Jake graduated. "I'm not going to hate him this week," Jake said with a smile. "I've followed him all year and wished him the best. "It's a little different this week because I don't wish him as good this week," Jake joked.
WSU defensive end Travis Long said he's engaged in some good-natured trash-talking with a few friends who attend Washington. "They're coming to the game and crashing at my house afterwards," Long said. What will Travis do if his Husky friends become a bit obnoxious? "Make 'em sleep in the garage," Long deadpanned.
The 2-9 Cougars and 5-6 Huskies rank quite low in many national statistics, but there are a few notable exceptions. For starters, Washington and WSU rank 1-2 for the nation's toughest schedules, according to the Sagarin computer rankings. WSU leads the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-A) in kickoff returns defense with a 16.9 average. That could prove pivotal Saturday, since Washington ranks 78th in kickoff returns (and last in the Pac-10) at 21.1. On the flip side, Washington is tied for third in red-zone scoring at .92 percent (27-for-29). The Cougars rank dead last -- 120th -- at .65 (22-for-34) despite a 4-for-4 effort in their most recent game, a 31-14 win at Oregon State.
Elsehwere on the stats front, Washington linebacker Mason Foster leads the Pac-10 and ranks second in the nation with 12.5 tackles per game. Another Husky linebacker, Victor Aiyewa, leads the Pac-10 and ranks 10th nationally with 1.55 tackles for loss per game. Cougar punter Reid Forrest ranks fourth in the Pac-10 and 10th in the FBS with 45.2 yards per punt.
CBSSports.com, which ranks all 120 FBS teams, has Washington at 77th and WSU at 91st. The Huskies are favored by 6 ½ points Saturday.
Judging from the consistent praise WSU players and coaches have received for the young team's determined play and wholesale improvement from a year ago, it seems safe to say the Cougars have not been distracted by constant speculation about the future of Wulff and his staff. Senior defensive end Kevin Kooyman said he has "no idea" if coaching changes will be made. "I've heard both sides of the story; that we are going to get a new staff, and I've heard they are going to stay," Kooyman said. "It's all hearsay. You never know what's going to happen. I mean, it's up to (athletic director Bill) Moos and President (Elson) Floyd."
Chris Prummer waited three years to go on scholarship at WSU, but he was happier for his mother than himself when his parents no longer had to pay for his schooling. "Mom got to quit her job ... it was a job she didn't really like that much," said Prummer, a career backup at center and offensive guard. "Now she's doing something she loves. It's one of the best feelings you can have." Prummer, a fifth-year senior with a 3.90 grade point average, has already earned his zoology degree. He plans to become a doctor of some sort, and he interviewed last week at -- you guessed it -- the University of Washington School of Medicine. "Kinda funny," he said.
Micah Hannam, WSU's starting offensive right tackle the past four years, attended Peninsula High in Gig Harbor. That's a long field goal from the U-Dub campus, but Hannam said he barely drew a whiff from the Huskies."The staff they had liked big, fat dudes. That wasn't me," Hannam said with a smile.