The center of attention

WASHINGTON STATE IS prepared to face the Ducks without their usual man at center. But that doesn't mean No. 63 isn't doing everything he can to get ready for Saturday's tilt at Autzen. Meanwhile, just to the right of the center position, the Cougs welcome back a familiar face. And there will be yet another familiar mug joining the team for meetings down in Eugene.

Mike Shelford, the starting center, continues to receive treatment for his ailing shoulder and has shown improvement each day this week -- but it's uncertain if he'll be able to go on Saturday.  If not, Shelford will be with George Yarno "helping us coach the game," said coach Bill Doba.  With a shoulder stinger, what often occurs is the player isn't able to generate much force when pushing down, because the nerve isn't firing properly.  Shelford will be a game time decision.

Nick Mihlhauser gets the nod at center if Shelford cannot play.  The coaches had looked at Riley Fitt-Chappell and Keola Loo as possible center replacements before making the call to go with Mihlhauser.  Doba said its difficult enough learning one position, let alone two, so Loo and Fitt-Chappell will stay at guard.

Returning to the line for the first time this year is senior Billy Knotts.  Doba estimated that Knotts, who broke his thumb, will play about half the game.   Knotts practiced with the first unit yesterday and will get the start at right guard. 

It is doubtful running back Chris Bruhn will make the trip to Eugene.  Bruhn suffered an ankle injury last week and unless there is unexpected improvement, he will not travel with the team. 

Jermaine Green returns to the starting position at RB after a one week absence due to an intestinal virus and Jonathan Smith will again see significant playing time, as he has all season.  Smith has been non-contact all week for precautionary measures due to a slight concussion against the Lobos but is "good to go" according to Doba.

On Defense, Will Derting has been receiving treatment for both a thigh bruise and a slight pull.  "He said it felt great," said Doba, when asked how Derting was feeling.  The slight pull came when Derting (amazingly) chased down a WR from behind last Saturday.  "I didn't know Will could run that fast," said Doba. 

Hell, how many linebackers can run down a receiver?'s official count: One.

In other injury news, Norvell Holmes returned to practice this week but the backup OL is not yet ready to suit up and will not make the trip.  Receiver Jevon Miller is expected back next week.  Trandon Harvey will play on Saturday, returning to action for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain a couple of weeks back.  Harvey will back up starter Scott Lunde at the slot.

Chris Hurd will meet up with the team in Oregon.  In addition to his rehab, Hurd is taking correspondence courses which allows him to sit in on meetings with the team.  All indications are that Hurd will be ready to play next year. 

When asked about penalties, Doba mentioned the two areas that need significant improvement are 1) before the whistle penalties and 2) excessive celebration fouls.  At the same time, he mentioned a team that flies around is going to have more penalties than your average squad.

The number of penalties is of course a concern and one he would like to see improvement in, but Doba also said he would rather have a team jump off-sides a few times than sitting back on their butts and getting knocked off the line. 

Again, he wants to eliminate penalties such as not enough men on the line of scrimmage and celebration fouls.  But its also important to realize an aggressive team, one that flies around, is at times going to get more flags tossed their way.

The Cougs meet the Ducks at 12:30 PT in Eugene on Saturday. The game will be broadcast live to a regional audience on ABC.

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