Cook back; Swogs sore but solid; Bienemann limited

PULLMAN – The Cougar defensive line will have a tested leader back in the starting lineup Saturday against struggling-but-dangerous Oregon. Senior tackle <b>Steve Cook</b> returned to practice this week and looks ready to roll. Tight end <b>Troy Bienemann</b>'s status, however, probably won't be clear until game time.

Cook's return couldn't have come at a better time. Oregon, despite a disappointing 1-3 start, has had no problem moving the ball this season, averaging nearly 400 yards of offense per game.

Cook suffered a grade two MCL tear in his knee against Colorado on September 11. The injury is commonly considered a sprain because the ligament is still connected until its grade three, which is a full tear.

Defensive Coordinator Robb Akey knows how important it is to a starter and a senior to be on the field helping his team win. "Every game is the most valuable thing in the world," Akey said, "You couldn't wipe the smile off his face when (Cook) got back on the field this week."

Linemate Ropati Pitoitua remains hobbled by a high ankle sprain and likely won't see action until next week against Stanford. Aaron Johnson will start next to Cook, with Odell Howard rotating in.

Johnson performed solidly as a starter against Idaho and Arizona, as did Howard. With Pitoitua and Johnson being mere freshman and Howard only a redshirt sophomore, the Cougar coaching staff is thrilled at what the future holds for the middle of the D-line.

Despite the youth and injuries — don't forget linebacker Will Derting and safety Hamza Abdullah have been playing with arm casts all season — the "swaggering" Cougar stop crew is the second ranked defense in the Pac-10 and No. 16 nationally.

ON OFFENSE, standout tight end Troy Bienemann's legbone bruise continues to hamper him. Right now he appears on track for 10-15 snaps against the Ducks. Head coach Bill Doba said he probably won't know for sure how much time Bienemann will see until game time. His understudy, Cody Boyd, is out 4-5 weeks with a severe shoulder separation. That puts Jesse Taylor and Sean O'Connor into prime time.

Doba had praise for both on Tuesday, especially their blocking. With the lack of depth at TE, don't expect to see the Cougars running two tight end sets, he quipped.

Doba said QB Josh Swogger's knee has been sore but not enough to put his status in question. Doba said the big sophomore likely will be emulating Matt Kegel most of this season. A year ago, Kegel nursed a vareity of injuries the entire season and still managed to earn second-team All-Pac-10 honors.

Doba said receiver Chris Jordan's surgercally repaired knee has bothered him much of the season, but he's looked great in practice this week. The coach said he's confident Jordan is on the verge of a breakout game.

THE COUGARS AND DUCKS kickoff in Pullman at the originally scheduled 2 pm. The game was thought to be moving to 7 pm to accommodate TV, but word out of Eugene was that Oregon didn't want to play at night so pulled the plug on the cameras. The Cougars, sun or no sun, are favored by 4.

After WSU incorrectly announced this weekend's contest with Oregon would be moved from 2 pm to 7:15 to accommodate TV coverage, word that the Homecoming bout between the Cougs and Stanford on October 16 was being rescheduled for the same reason seemed a bit dubious to the Cougar Nation. But this time it's officially official: the start time is being moved from 2 pm so that Fox Sports Net can broadcast the sold out game live at 7:15.

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