Seen & Heard 11/20

WORD OVER MONTLAKE way is that Gilby has closed practices this week, prompting area pundits to speculate about gadget plays and new additions to the offense like the option or wishbone. It's adrenalin and the quest for redemption that worries me about the Dawgs, not Xs and Os.

Why? Because WSU's senior-led defense has never blinked once this season and any new formations --- particularly with Doba, Akey, et. al. doing the scheming to counter them --- will be addressed in short order.

While this Cougar defense doesn't rate as high statistically as the famed Palouse Posse of 1994, I rank them up there in the same category of uber-excellence. The blasting and blizting, the speed from sideline to sideline, and the tenacious coverage in the secondary make them really something special. Best of all, while these guys sometimes bend, they never break. And just when you need a shot in the arm, they seem to come up with a big-time turnover or blocked kick.

I've never been one for sentimentality, but I might damn near weep when this season is over because it means the end of so many great Cougar careers on defense. Al Genatone, Erik Coleman, D.D. Acholonu, Isaac Brown, Jeremey Williams, Jason David, Virgil Williams and Tai Tupai have all been part of the family for four or give years now. They're hard workers and good kids who knew that if they did their best, they could return WSU to the top of the Pac-10.

The chemistry among them is palpable. Look at national defensive stats for the last three years combined and you'll see WSU at or the near the top for sacks and interceptions. And this season alone, the Cougar D has accounted, directly or via set up, for a whopping 133 points.

Win, lose or draw in the Apple Cup, facts are facts: These guys have led a renaissance of near-mythical proportion, stringing together the three greatest seasons in Pac-10 history since USC in 1931-33.

My sense is that their names will one day be spoken in the same sacred tones as those of Mel Hein and Turk Edwards, the legendary leaders of WSU's great teams of the late 20s and early 30s.

THEY MAY BE STRUGGLING, but the Huskies scare me for several reasons. Foremost is the emotion (i.e. fight and fury) of playing their highly rated arch-rival at home in a season where they badly need a boost. Moreover, consider that three of the last seven Cups have gone into overtime -- that says street fight no matter what the records are coming in.

Second, there's Cody Pickett and Reggie Williams, who have played two of the greatest games in their stellar careers against the Cougars. These guys can light it up quickly when they're on. And finally, there's the simple matter of tradition -- the Cougs haven't won the Cup since Ryan Leaf was firing laser beams in 1997; that can be a psychological thing on both sides of the ball.

There was still no betting line as of this a.m. on the Coug-Dawg game, ostensibly because of the uncertainty of Matt Kegel's health. Alas, Bill Doba was on KJR Radio this afternoon and pretty much guaranteed Kegel would start. The tough Montanan practiced Wednesday, will practice again today and then will be monitored during warm ups Saturday. Nonetheless, most of the practice attention this week is being given to the youngster Josh Swogger.

For you line watchers, in the last seven Apple Cups the Cougars have covered the spread four times. And by definition, that means the Dawgs have covered three times.

Kickoff is set for 3:30 PT, with live TV coverage on Fox Sports Net.

LEAVE IT TO A GUY IN UNIFORM: Word in Seattle is that one of the Democratic presidential candidates has taken notice of the Cougar-Husky game this weekend. But probably not because of the contest's BCS implications. Nope. The campaign of former four-star general Wesley Clark is planning to have a voter registration tent outside Husky Stadium on Saturday with a banner proclaiming: COUGARS AND HUSKIES UNITE FOR CLARK. Why? Says state campaign chair Kevin Price, "Because people from every part of the state will be at the game and we think Wes Clark is the one candidate who can appeal to every single one of them."

WITH GREAT ADMIRATION for Jason Hickman, the talented young man who filled in nicely on PA two weeks for Glen Johnson when Glen went down with emergency appendectomy surgery, I must say that Glen's return to the mic this past Saturday was music to the ol' ears. For 24 seasons, Glen has been working his magic at Cougar home games. Like His Holiness, Bob Robertson, Glen is a living legend whom none of us should ever take for granted.

Speaking of great Cougars, I thought it was wonderful last week when WSU President Lane Rawlins presented Jim Walden with an honorary degree. Jim's work on the sidelines in the 70s and 80s speaks for itself, but his subsequent loyalty to Ol' Wazzu has really been a heartwarming tribute to both the school, its spirit, and the man himself.

AS I'M SURE MOST of you know, the Seattle Times' Bud Withers did a marvelous story about the remarkable journey of the Cougar flag -- we call it Ol' Crimson -- in pursuit of airtime on ESPN's Gameday. Alas, I don't think our message -- we'll keep coming to Gameday until Gameday comes to Pullman -- is getting through to network executives. Not only do they apparently not know where Pullman is, but last week they also showed they're not paying attention to one of the toughest QBs in the nation. For the record, it's spelled K-E-G-E-L, not KegAl, as ESPN had it a week ago.

NOBODY ASKED, BUT I'm tired of some Dog fans saying they we hope the Cougs win because the Huskies are going nowhere fast. That speaks volumes about the difference between Coug and Dog fans. We tend not to root for them under any circumstance. As our executive editor is fond of telling us, one of his most vivid childhood memories is his dad tellinmg him he'd "root for Red China before rooting for the Huskies."

SAD BUT TRUE: I did a double-take on this stat the other day. ASU head man Dirk Koetter is 1-12 in games played in November and December. Makes you forget about the November road woes of the man Formerly Known as Saint Mike.

SWEET STUFF: The Nokia Sugar Bowl exhibits at Rogers Field last week were awesome! I even got to pose with the actual Heisman Trophy. WSU has done a lot to make game days a fun, campus-wide event. The post-game festivities in the Field House, however, have been lacking -- largely, I think, because beer sales are no longer. Too bad -- there was nothing better than throwing back a cold one while talking Cougar football with friends and coaches.

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