Leading the way on defense

WASHINGTON STATE HAS a few injuries to contend with headed into Saturday's contest against UCLA. But the Cougs also appear to be a fired-up team.. ready to get after it following a disappointing loss down in Southern Cal. Plus, a thing or two you might not have known about one of the Cougs' leaders on defense.

Coach Bill Doba stopped just short of saying Matt Kegel (knee, shoulders) will start this Saturday when UCLA visits Martin Stadium.  "Right now, we probably will go with Kegel," said Doba. 

If Kegel isn't healthy, Doba left open the possibility Josh Swogger could get the nod, should the senior from Montana have trouble warming up.

"We might go with Swogger," he said. 

To be clear; while Swogger has taken considerable reps with the first team, Kegel has practiced extensively this week. It would be something of a surprise if he wasn't able to go on Saturday.

Al Genatone (ankle sprain) "probably will not play", said Doba.  Scott Davis will get the start at outside linebacker in place of Big Al.

Tight end, arguably the Cougs' deepest position, has needed every bit of that depth. The unit has been hit hard the last two weeks.  Troy Bienemann (back) is healthy and will start.  Cody Boyd (hip) is still pretty sore and "probably will not play," according to Doba. 

Two other tight ends, Adam West (slight concussion) and Jesse Taylor (stinger), are both probable for Saturday.  Interestingly, Doba mentioned Pat Bennett might see some time at TE in certain game situations. 

Nick Mihlhauser practiced with the first unit on Wednesday and will likely get the start at right guard against the Bruins.  But Doba stressed both he and Billy Knotts will see time at that spot; think of them as 1 and 1A.

As for the mood of the team, "They're not feeling sorry for themselves," said Doba.  The Cougs had a spirited practice on Tuesday and another good outing on Wednesday.  The players were clearly upset with the outcome last week against USC -- several have mentioned they're going to come out "ramped up" for UCLA on Saturday.

REGARDING THE BRUINS on offense, Doba mentioned RB Maurice Drew is difficult to bring down, adept at breaking tackles. The Cougs will have to wrap up the 200-pound fire hydrant if they're going to keep their Rose Bowl dreams alive.  Doba also singled out Craig Bragg, a versatile wide receiver with excellent speed and "a very, very good athlete."

Doba was asked by a reporter if the Cougs passing attack would be well served to look to other places besides the middle, given the Bruins like to drop the middle 'backer to take away the quick slant.

Doba played it close to the vest, indicating the Cougs are well aware of UCLA's scheme.  He also pointed out the Bruins don't always drop that MLB.  In other words, one gets the feeling WSU has some things in mind for UCLA - something to watch for Saturday when the Cougs take to the air.

HOW MUCH DOES Erik Coleman mean to this team?  Spring Ball and last season's Grandaddy of them all provide some answers. 

During a Rose Bowl practice last year, Coleman's shoulder popped clean out of the socket.  Despite the pain, he strapped the shoulder in a harness come game day, proceeding to rack up a team-leading 10 tackles against Oklahoma while also recovering a fumble.

The shoulder required surgery, keeping him out of the spring camp this year. 

Despite being unable to suit up, Coleman's dedication and leadership was evident throughout the month-long session.  Every meeting, every single practice - there he was; acting as another coach out in the secondary and fully involved in every aspect of Spring Ball. 

By continually asking questions throughout, some of which he knew the answers to already, the senior ensured every player within earshot of him was learning, getting better.

It's rare to have that athlete who is not only an exceptional player, but through his words and actions, also makes those around him better.  Doba left little doubt that Erik Coleman is one of those guys. 

He's also one very tough football player. 

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