Practice Report: Audition Day, says Levy

PULLMAN--Bill Doba foretold Tuesday afternoon an intense practice to kick off the week was on tap. That it was, reminiscent of the intense, vocal, pad-cracking sessions usually reserved for spring ball and fall camp. With Jason Hill and Michael Bumpus out Tuesday, the WR corps looked sharp, as several find themselves jockeying for potentially serious playing time. Plus, notes and quotes galore.

"We need to win this game. We sure don't want to go into the Apple Cup needing that seventh win...Because that's always a tough ball game and more than likely they'll come in needing a sixth wins for bowl eligibility."

"I don't think you want to put that kind of pressure on them like, 'We've got to win this one,' but I think they sense it themselves without us harping about it. We're just going to talk to them about, 'Man, we've got a staff that's going to prepare them, we're going to have that game plan that will given them the opportunity to win. All they have to do is execute.'"

"And again, credit to Arizona. Coming off the field I felt we didn't play that well. But after looking at the tape, our kids played hard. And Arizona played hard. And Arizona played well...the more I look at the tape, the more credit I have to give to Arizona for playing well. Our kids, they didn't quit, they didn't lay down there wasn't anybody loafing. They just didn't make plays."

(If Hill and Bumpus don't play) "We're not going to change to throw in a whole new game plan or anything else, we might emphasize two tight ends more but we're not going to make wholesale changes.

"We've had adversity on the defensive side and lost three defensive tackles. But the staff made ajustments. And we'll make adjustments (on offense) again. But we're not as thin at the receiver position as we were at defensive end."

  • With injuries affecting the special teams as well, Doba said not to be surprised to see Scott Davis, Steve Dildine, Tyron Brackenridge and possibly other starters take on more special teams roles. Davis has been on one of the units, the punt unit, with Doba saying the linebacker could play on as many as three of the special teams this week, for example.

  • Returning to practice from injury for the Cougs' was running back Derrell Hutsona (ankle), defensive tackle Ropati Pitoitua (knee), and RB DeMaundray Woolridge (shoulder). All three players looked to be limited, with Woolridge sporting a yellow no-contact jersey. Before practice, Doba thought Woolridge was probable for Saturday, Pitoitua was a maybe and Hutsona might need one more week. Andy Roof will try and practice more this week in anticipation of being able to return for ASU. The guard has been trying to come back each week since suffering a knee sprain against Oregon when he was pushed in the back on a blocked extra point return. Doba said more would be known on all four later this week, likely on Thursday.

  • The Cougs may be able to just use Bumpus as a receiver and return man when he returns. WR Reid Forrest did a fine job as Darryl Blunt's backup Tuesday, launching several nice punts skyward.

  • As expected, wide receivers Jason Hill and Michael Bumpus, the proverbial one-two punch for the Cougar air-game, sat out Tuesday's session with high-ankle sprains.

    While not expected to play this Saturday at ASU, Doba before practice would not rule the Cougs' leading scorer and pass catcher out for ASU, saying he'd know more later this week.

    With both unavailable Tuesday, however, the receiver corps sported a new look and like the rest of the team, came out fired up and ready to play.

    The starting three receivers would seemingly be senior Chris Jordan, sophomore Brandon Gibson and junior Charles Dillon. But there are a number of other players who could see plenty of turns Saturday. Jordan, who returned to the field for the first time since Idaho this past Saturday, had his knee drained Sunday and did not practice. Doba on Tuesday said he expects him to be ready to go by Saturday.

    Gibson has been steadily becoming more and more of a factor in the Cougar offense and has the second longest TD reception in program history (91 yards) against Arizona. And Dillon was both seen and heard plenty on Tuesday.

    Junior Finas Rabb and sophomores Benny Ward and Scott Selby would seem to be the frontrunners for time behind the starters, but offensive coordinator and receivers coach Mike Levenseller was noncommittal on who was making strides on Tuesday.

    "There's nobody," Levenseller said, when asked if any specific player has stood out to him as a leading candidate for increased playing time. "The key is somebody's got to earn it, and that's what today is about, they're auditioning."

    In the locker room Saturday after Hill and Bumpus, Doba said one of the receivers who would need to step up would be Rabb. Tuesday, the junior appeared to take a good step forward in that regard with his play. But Rabb, Ward and Selby have all seen their roles broadened with the absence of Hill and Bumpus, and all responded with some nice grabs Tuesday, impressively pulling in several Alex Brink and Gary Rogers bullets.

    Indeed, all of the above receivers save for Jordan saw time with the 1s on Tuesday -- as did Michael Willis and walk-on Andy Largent.

    A former safety, Willis joined the WR corps last week and while it may not be realistic to expect anyone could assimilate the position in so brief a time, Willis was putting in extra time with Levenseller and quarterbacks coach Timm Rosenbach Tuesday. Willis continued to don a yellow jersey during practice for precautionary purposes as he continues to recover from the shoulder injury that was the catalyst for the position change.

    Expressing the mindset of the offense headed into ASU was Selby. Following the spirited session Tuesday, Selby said the team feels the next two games are must win situations.

    "We've got to make up for some great players," Selby said. "(But) we're a lot more focused this week. We've got to win the next two ballgames -- but the first one right now, this week."

    Despite Saturday's loss, Selby said the players' collective confidence remains high.

    "We're still confident in ourselves, with what we've done all year, we just came out flat last week, and we've got to prove it this week."

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