It all starts with the lines

WASHINGTON STATE IS as healthy as they've been in a long time. But that doesn't mean they're 100 percent. In fact, there is a starter who won't make the trip to Southern Cal. The head coach also talks about three areas of focus for Saturday, plus the challenge of matching up with the Trojans.

Although the sun was out, it was cold and windy in Pullman on Thursday.  So the Cougs practiced in the IPF for the first time this year.  "Its not a ‘get after it' practice (on Thursdays)," said coach Bill Doba. 

And because the practice is usually "shorts and helmets", it made sense to take it inside today given that chill wind blowing.

One player not scheduled to practice much Thursday was DT Steve Cook (foot).  When indoors, especially later in the week, the coaching staff tries to prevent those injuries made more possible during a practice on turf -- such as a turned ankle.

But Cook will travel with the team - and he'll see some playing time Saturday for the first time since New Mexico.  "The foot is pretty much pain-free," said Doba.  In having missed the last four games, conditioning will factor into how much No. 99 is on the field.

Returning to the other line is C Mike Shelford.  And Doba said he might go in as early as the second series on offense, depending on how the game unfolds. 

The senior has missed nearly all of the past five games - and his absence has been deeply felt. "Shelford just somehow gets in the way and gets it done," said Doba.  "He's vocal and he knows the assignments." 

Although Doba and staff have an affinity towards a player who has worked as hard as the former walk-on has during his career, "We're not playing him because he's a senior, and he's worked hard, and he's been out five weeks.  We're playing him because he's the best player," said Doba.

That doesn't necessarily mean Nick Mihlhauser will be coming out when Shelford is in.  One option Doba mentioned was Shelford at center with Mihlhauser moving over to guard to spell Billy Knotts.  It doesn't mean that's the way it'll go - but its an option.

One player who won't make the trip is Troy Bienemann (back).  Cody Boyd dislocated his finger in the OSU game but he is good to go and will start at TE in Bienemann's place. 

Taking over the long snapping duties for Bienemann will be OL Riley Fitt-Chappell.  (TE Adam West can also deep snap if need be.) 

The difference between Fitt-Chappell and Bienemann isn't so much the snap itself, said Doba, it's how much faster a TE can get downfield to cover punts as opposed to an OL. 

Still, with Bienemann in considerable pain last week and unable to run full speed, the coverage teams draped a blanket over the Beavers' return efforts.

In other injury news, TE Jesse Taylor is available Saturday after missing Oregon State with a stinger.  OL Charles Harris (high ankle sprain) will not make the trip.

Three areas Doba identified as crucial to victory were;
1) to protect the football
2) be able to run the ball some, setting up play action (and other things) and,
3) the Cougs can't give up big plays

A player of great import this week will be P Kyle Basler.  It is vital for the Cougs to, "make ‘em drive a long field," said Doba. 

He mentioned one factor in California's win over USC was the yards gained on the ground - not for the points they led to but because it set up the field position battle in the Golden Bears favor. Another battle this Saturday will be the one between the coaching staffs.

"One thing they try to do is to create matchup problems," said Doba of a Trojan offense averaging more than 40 points a game.  USC will at times put their athletic RBs out wide with the WRs inside.  Opposing linebackers have suddenly found themselves out on the island normally manned by a cornerback. 

Take away the rankings and this game still has all the makings of a classic confrontation on the field.  But the chess match occurring off the field of play, that between the coaching staffs, also promises to be something to behold. 

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