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Three key names missing from the participation list in CU loss, will Cougs get two of them back for Apple Cup?

IT’S ALL ABOUT US. That’s the message Mike Leach continually conveys to his Cougar team. One big problem in the loss to Colorado -- and a potential issue looking ahead to the Apple Cup -- there were fewer of “us” out on the field Saturday in Boulder for Washington State.

Leach goes to extreme lengths not to discuss nor acknowledge injuries. He told me a couple years ago in Pullman why: Leach hates the “reverse message” of it.  The mentality Leach works so hard to instill on his Cougar team: it doesn’t matter who plays or doesn't play, we’re going to go out there and play well.  It's all about us.

But it was apparent at CU the Cougar replacements didn’t play well enough in the absence of three starters (or co-starters).  Not having grabmaster River Cracraft and a pair of defensive players – WIL Isaac Dotson (pictured above) and rush Dylan Hanser -- hurt.  It also showed how potentially detrimental it can be when a starter, or two or three, is removed from the mix and the replacements can't quite bridge the gap.

Let’s be clear: this is not the sole reason the Cougs lost in Boulder.  It’s a team game.  That’s the way it goes sometimes, and no one ever has enough healthy and experienced depth. Leach is right. Next man up. And no excuses. But it does help explain Saturday, and especially the fourth quarter. There is often a tipping point, and it more often than not manifests in subtle ways.

WITH DOTSON OUT, that meant Parker Henry got his first career start at WIL.  And early in the first quarter it was plain to see from my chair on TV replay that Henry's gait was labored, and later on another replay that his movement was limited.

Give Henry credit, he’s one tough football player, his Bulldog nickname is deserved. Henry gutted it out Saturday, and at a position he’s not ideally suited to play: Henry is a hybrid safety-nickel-type who checks in at 5-11, 206 pounds.  But he was WSU’s best option to start at WIL with Dotson out. And something else of note here: Last week vs. Cal when Dotson went out, Nate DeRider got a lot of reps in his stead. But DeRider was injured in the Cal game. His name was missing from the participation list vs. Colorado as well.

And with Hanser unavailable to share the reps with Frankie Luvu at rush that meant a second key piece was off the defensive chessboard, and a narrowing of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s options.  Grinch and WSU’s success on D this season has relied hugely on rotation. But sans that flexibility means tired Cougs on D, also something plain to see in the third and fourth quarters at Colorado.

Over on offense, WSU lost River Cracraft a week ago and though the Cougs had a full week of practice without their star Y receiver, the Air Raid looked very much out of sorts at times with a mix of receivers trying to fill the void.

The drops were the most visible evidence but it went well beyond that, with confusion pre-snap, routes converging and an inability to convert on third down.

WAZZU HAS another week (albeit a short one) to try and get things tightened up in the receiving game before Friday’s regular season finale vs. the Huskies.  And it’s not optional. Cracraft isn’t coming back for the Apple Cup. His WSU career is over. 

But on defense, the Cougs might be able to get back Dotson, Hanser -- or both -- before Friday’s tilt. 

We probably won’t know for sure their status until game time and regardless of whether they practice or not this week. And Leach will release a piece of injury information to the masses the next time hell freezes over, for reasons stated above.

The margin between winning and losing figures to be small in the Apple Cup.  And if the Huskies look across the line on Friday and see Dotson, Hanser or both, that's ballast that could tip the scales towards WSU and its rotating D.  Henry will have this week to get a little healthier too.

Hell, WSU will have its starting quarterback healthy for an Apple Cup this year.  Given that stunning development, well, anything seems possible.

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