Cougs ready to march into the desert

WASHINGTON STATE moved indoors to the IPF Thursday with the winds kicking up and the mercury dropping as the Cougs closed out a spirited week of practice. Some familiar faces will be joining some new ones when Washington State clashes with Arizona State in Tempe on Saturday night, plus Bill Doba talks Sun Devils and more.

DT Ropati Pitoitua will make his return Saturday after being sidelined the past two weeks with an MCL sprain. Doba said how much the starting d-tackle plays will be determined just before kickoff and how the game develops.

"On him, you've got to see how he warms up," said Doba.

Pitoitua before his injury had been a force in the middle this season on a resurgent Cougar defense. Along with Aaron Johnson's return last week, the Cougs will have back two of their top three defensive tackles on the depth chart. The other starter, Fevaea'i Ahmu (stress fracture, foot) looks promising for next week's Apple Cup. Whether Pitoitua's return means the Cougs go to more of a 4-3 front remains to be determined, said Doba.

"It's going to depend," said Doba. "If we're stopping them in the 3-4, we wouldn't. If we're struggling, then that would be one of the alternatives."

DOBA WAS AT FIRST non-committal about whether WRs Jason Hill and Michael Bumpus (high ankle sprains) would be able to play, but after repeated questions from reporters said; "We're not taking injured guys." Doba was optimistic the receiving duo, along with Derrell Hutsona and that most others, would be ready for next week's Apple Cup, but also pointed out with a laugh that he is neither doctor nor soothsayer.

Expected to join Brandon Gibson as starters are Chris Jordan and Charles Dillon. And all three of them can play each receiver position -- flanker, slotback and split end. With Jordan battling back from knee surgery, Doba said he would like to limit him to 25 plays, but it may also depend on how Jordan feels as the game goes along.

Among those who could see plenty of route running action are Benny Ward and Finas Rabb. Michael Willis, recently brought over from the defensive side of the ball, and Scott Selby are also firmly in the mix. And don't forget about tight ends Cody Boyd and Jed Collins.

"As far as the tight ends, we've looked at (various packages) with Collins and Boyd...(and with receivers) Gibson and Dillon, and Jordan, that's pretty good...Benny Ward had a much better practice this week, so did Finas Rabb. Selby can catch the thing and Willis has a few routes he can run. So we have enough receivers."

Dillon is also expected to return punts and kickoffs, and Ward is the second man on the kickoff return team.

UP FRONT, starter Andy Roof (heel bruise/ankle sprain) practiced well this week, said Doba, and will return for his first game back since Oregon.

The Spokane hoss probably will not start, said Doba, with Dan Rowlands, also praised for his toughness by Doba, getting the nod.

DOBA SAID one of his concerns is the Sun Devils "have their backs up against the wall, too," but more than that, the Sun Devils moved the ball well at times against Oregon State, albeit before a turnover ensured it didn't show up on the scoreboard. They also fly around on special teams and have a huge offensive line, which could mean ASU might try to wear the Cougs down and then put their running game in position to take control late in the game.

"I don't care what happened last week, they're a good enough team to beat anybody," said Doba. "And they darned near beat SC."

The Cougs are bowl eligible with six wins but some teams may need seven victories to go bowling. With a win Saturday, the Cougs would be 7-4 and ensure they'll be someplace warm for the holidays. Most important to next season, though, are the practices that go along with being a bowl-bound team -- it's like having another spring ball session.

"Our kids have practiced hard this week, and it's fun to go to practice, they're a good bunch of guys -- and they want to win," said Doba.

CB Markus Dawes pulled a quadriceps muscle during Wednesday's practice session in skelly drills and is out for ASU. The junior earlier missed six weeks with a high ankle sprain and had not yet fully come all the way back to the health and form that had earned him to the No. 3 corner headed into the season. His status for the Apple Cup will be determined next week. "I think that's the end of the injuries, we're going to go out with no helmets and no pads and just walk around," quipped Doba.

With plenty of instruction and polishing the norm for a Thursday practice, Doba moved the team indoors. As the winds kicked up and temperatures dropped, the staff didn't want the players to need to divert part of their focus towards just staying warm.

Reid Forrest will travel as the Cougs' backup punter behind Darryl Blunt. The 6-2, 175-pound true freshman walk-on out of Ephrata has a really big leg, but just needs to become more consistent, said Doba.

Cougfan Top Stories