Raw weather brings out best in Cougs

PULLMAN — It was cold, windy, dark and rainy as Washington State kicked off its week of preparation for Saturday's home game against Arizona State, the first of three must-win games for the Cougars. Despite the inclement weather, though, Tuesday's session may have been WSU's best practice all season.

Bill Doba weighed in on Will Derting's health, getting more players involved on offense, the quarterback situation, and more.

"The coaches told us this was our best practice all year," senior cornerback Alex Teems said afterwards. "So I guess that's a good sign."

Teems was among the group of seniors who met in a tight circle after the other players left the field. He didn't disclose what they talked about.

During practice, the weather had its expected effect on the passing game. Each of the Cougars' five quarterbacks made at least a couple bad throws that could be blamed on playing with a wet ball on a slippery field facing strong winds.

Starter Alex Brink and backup Josh Swogger looked about equal in their performance. Each quarterback made the short to intermediate throws well enough, but had trouble completing deep passes due to the conditions.

EARLIER IN THE DAY Doba said there would be no change in starting quarterbacks following Brink's disappointing work at USC and said the questions surrounding Brink's future are a bit grating in light of the fact the Cougar offense was on track, until meeting USC, of breaking the school record for yardage in a season.

Until the last two weeks, he said Brink was playing above expectations.

"He had a couple passes that were overthrown," said Doba on the Southern Cal loss. "He had a couple passes that were thrown short. I didn't say he didn't play well, I said he didn't play as well as he had been playing, I didn't think. He's a sophomore and had a few sophomore mistakes."

"He's still playing well enough to-- you know, he's catching all kinds of static for this offense and until the 'SC game, they were on course to set an all time record here at Washington State for yardage and everything else," Doba said calmly. "So they stumbled a little bit. They'll come back this week."

"If we thought Josh could win the game for us, sure we'd put him in," said Doba. "But you know, unless (Alex) really struggles...."

THE RECEIVERS ALSO appeared affected by the weather Tuesday. On a few occasions, receivers slipped on the wet turf while making cuts. When they were able to run their routes, drops were also an issue. Brandon Gibson and Greg Prator in particular had problems hanging onto the ball, and Jason Hill also had a long pass skip off his fingertips.

One pass-catcher who was actually better in the rain was tight end Cody Boyd. On three separate occasions, Boyd made outstanding one-handed grabs, including one with linebacker Scott Davis draped all over him on a perfectly-placed ball by Gary Rogers.

Doba noted that he thinks the Cougar passing attack needs to "find the tight ends more" in the remaining three games.

ON THE INJURY front, Will Derting (knee), Ropati Pitoitua (leg), Michael Bumpus (ankle) and Marty Martin didn't practice. Doba said Tuesday Derting was "doubtful at best", a downgrade from this past Thursday when he mentioned the middle linebacker looked probable for Arizona State. Pitoitua is on a day-on, day off regimen, Martin would seem likley to play and Bumpus would be considered doubtful at this stage of the week.

Jerome Harrison practiced without a yellow no-contact jersey for the first time in a long while, while Lorenzo Bursey was still in yellow. Freshman running back Dwight Tardy also returned to the field after missing most of last week with a knee injury.

Harrison can tie the Pac-10 record for consecutive 100-yard rushing games if he hits the century mark this week. The Cougar senior has 11 straight, trying him for No. 2 with legendary Marcus Allen, one behind J.J. Arrington.

Doba said the Cougs may look to get running back DeMaundray Woolridge more playing time -- possibly with Jerome Harrison in the backfield as they did at USC -- as the pair provides a good 1-2 punch. Doba also said the Cougs have not gotten the ball enough to tight ends Troy Bienemann and Cody Boyd this season.

Michael Willis was mentioned by Doba as one of the young guns who's becoming a leader on special teams. Expectations were sky high for the rookie this year, but Doba took time to remind reporters Willis had a year off from football as he gained academic clearance, safety requires a lot of calls and he's also just a true freshman.

Freshman quarterback Arkelon Hall was named scout team offensive player of the week for his efforts leading up to the USC game, while second-year walk-on linebacker Alexis Alexander earned the honor on the defensive side of the ball.

After spending the past couple weeks on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad, former Cougar safety Hamza Abdullah was signed to the Denver Broncos active roster. He joins college teammate Karl Paymah, a rookie cornerback, in the Broncos secondary. Paymah has recorded seven tackles in five appearances this season for Denver. The older brother of WSU safety Husain, Hamza was a seventh round draft choice but was waived by the Buccaneers in their final roster cutdown before joining the team's practice squad Oct. 20. Over his four year WSU career, Abdullah had 104 tackles (69 solo), one interception, one sack, nine pass breakups and four forced fumbles. Last season, he was an 11-game starter at free safety and recorded a career-best 70 tackles (44 solo) with one sack for the Cougars.

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