Seen & Heard 11/7

OH WHAT A difference winning can make. WSU's victorious ways are making the Cougs regulars on the pages of The Sporting News, ESPN.com, et. al. The wins also are drawing unprecedented attention for some of the team's star players.

Four Cougars are semi-finalists for national awards given to the best player at their position: QB Jason Gesser (the O'Brien Award); WR Nakoa McElrath (the Biletnikoff Award); DB Lamont Thompson (the Thorpe Award); and kicker Drew Dunning (the Groza Award).

That's an unprecedented showing for any school located outside the state of Florida. All four of those guys have played lights-out all season and I'm thrilled to see that kind of attention focused on Pullman. But to me it really just goes to show you how politicized these awards are. Was Milton Wynn no less deserving of such recognition last season? What about Billy Newman? Were WSU's three overtime losses the effective barrier to the recognition they deserved? Probably.

Speaking of national attention, you've gotta love ESPN columnist Kirk Herbstreit. Seems that nary a week has gone by this season without him mentioning "my Cougs" This week he plugs Mike Price for coach of the year honors and lauds the Cougars' "season-long theme" of always finding a way to win. "Brace yourself for two weeks from now," he says. "If Washington and Washington State avoid upsets to Oregon State and Arizona State respectively, the Apple Cup will become the premier matchup in the Pac-10."

DEVIL WATCHING
And speaking of the Sun Devils, they scare the hell out of me. They may be 1-4 in conference play, but they're dangerous as all get out and play like studs at home. Running back Delvon Flowers is a scrapper and the passing game is vintage Dirk Koetter. Heck, they're averaging 37 points per game, just one less than league-leader WSU.

One possible fly in the Devil ointment, however, is starting QB Jeff Krohn. It appears Koetter was a little premature on Monday when he said Krohn would start against the Cougs after leaving the Oregon game seeing stars. The latest news from Tempe is that Krohn's status is uncertain and that redshirt freshman Andrew Walter may be making his first-ever start. Walter completed 8 of 25 for 105 yards with an interception last week in his first extensive playing time. He also was sacked three times.

Regardless which QB gets the start, though, you can bet Coach Price won't be chatting with the lad during pre-game warm ups. A year ago, when Koetter was at Boise State, Price took the opportunity before the game to congratulate Bronc QB Bart Hendricks on his great career. Koetter had a hissy fit about it. Go figure.

But back to the field. Krohn may be staggered, but it's Cougar offense that is really ailing these days. It's basically been in the dumper since the second half of the Oregon State game (I refuse to count the Thursday night scrimmage against Montana State). If the O doesn't get back on track this weekend then I think we can kiss away those dreams for the Mother of All Apple Cups. How long can special teams, defensive opportunism and Collin Henderson flea flickers keep pulling the fat from the fire?

To that end, a hearty high-five to Coach Price for his pledge this week to do some different things on offense to get matters clicking again.

INJURY UPDATE:
We may not find out until game time if RB David Minnich (knee) is going to miss his fourth game; if he's out, don't be surprised if RB-turned-TE Jeremy Thielbahr sees some action in short-yardage situations. One guy who definitely is out is senior LB James Price (ankle, knee). OT Calvin Armstrong (concussion) should be in action.

NOTABLE NOTES:
* Pac-10 athletic directors will be polled this week on whether to temporarily alter the conference's tie-breaking formula so WSU isn't penalized for having played Division I-AA Montana State. The Cougars filled their schedule with the Bobcats when their game with Colorado was canceled following the events of Sept. 11. Under the tie-breaking formula, a win over a Division I-AA school only counts as ½ a victory.

* One of my all-time favorite Cougars, safety Billy Newman, needs one more tackle to become the most prolific defensive back in WSU history. He's currently tied with '88 Aloha Bowl DB Artie Holmes with 305 career stops – seventh on the school's career tackles list. Newman is 13 tackles away from passing early 70s linebacker Gary Larson for the sixth spot on the list. The No. 1 spot is held by 1980s linebacker Lee Blakeney with 524 total tackles.

* WSU's sack attack, led by D.D. Acholonu and Issac Brown, is the best we've seen on the Palouse in years. They have 29 so far this season. But they'll have to go wild the last two week's of the year if they want to set the WSU single-season record of 48 set in 1989.

* Drew Dunning needs five more points to pass legendary running back/kick returner Bernard Jackson for the fifth spot on WSU's single-season scoring list. Jackson talled 84 points in 1971. Dunning currently is tied for sixth, at 80 points, with 1950s star Bud Roffler. Until Mark Rypien and Ryne Sandberg arrived on the seen, many considered Roffler the finest all-around athlete ever to come out of Spokane. He played running back, defensive back and kicker for the Cougars and played one season in the NFL before a car accident ended his playing career.

* The Cougar-Devil game will be televised live throughout much of the West. Check out wsucougars.com for local listings. Kickoff is at 3:30 PT, 4:30 MT.

* And finally, I was just wondering if anyone out there on Planet Coug actually reads these stories I labor over for CF.C. If you've actually read this far, please send my boss an e-mail letting him know what you thought. Even if you hate what I write, send an e-mail. The address is greg.witter@cougfan.com


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