Bring on da Wolf Pack

WASHINGTON STATE and Nevada will square off Saturday for the first time ever, but sure as shootin' you can count on plenty of fireworks between these offensive-minded Land Grant schools.

Nevada averaged a whopping 453 yards of offense per game in 2001 while the Cougars averaged 432.

And many of the guys who put up all those numbers will be in uniform in Seahawks Stadium when the teams open their 2002 campaigns.

For Nevada, the attack is led by star running back Chance Kretschmer, a sophomore who led the nation in rushing last year with 1,732 yards (157.5 per game). The 'Pack will have a new starter at QB in Zack Threadgill, but he's no stranger to center stage, have thrown for more than 800 yards last year as an understudy to standout David Neill.

Defense is where the Cougars and Wolf Pack look to be going down different paths. Nevada returns 10 starters from last year's D, but the fact is that they surrendered nearly 500 yards and more than 39 points per game in 2001 --- 114th worst in the nation. The Cougars return seven starters from a defense that led the Pac-10 in sacks, turnovers and third-down-conversion ratio, and managed to place fourth in both points allowed and total defense.

GAME TIME: 12 noon, August 31

THE LINE: Cougars favored by 25 1/2

THE CROWD: 60,000-plus are expected, setting a new WSU "home" game record. In fact, WSU believes it can get the total to 66,000.

TV: Replay Sunday on Fox Sports Northwest.

THE RECORDS: The Wolf Pack was 3-8 in 2001, the Cougars 10-2.

THE EXPECTATIONS: The Wolf Pack are generally forecast to be a No. 6 finisher in the Western Athletic Conference. The Cougars are widely considered a favorite for the Pac-10 crown and have been picked as high as sixth nationally.

THE COACHES: Wolf Pack head man Chris Tormey is no stranger to the Cougars. The pride of Spokane's Gonzaga Prep, he played against the Palouse Pumas in the 1970s, coached against them as a Husky assistant coach from 1980-94, orchestrated a stunning upset of the Cougars in his final year as head coach at Idaho in 1999, and has two siblings (one of whom is married to Mark Rypien's little brother) who graduated from WSU. In two seasons at Nevada, Tormey is 5-18.

Mike Price enters 2002 with a 73-75 record at WSU and 119-119 overall head coaching mark.

FAMILIAR FACES: The Wolf Pack features four players from the state of Washington, including starting junior defensive end J.D. Morscheck of Pullman High and senior receiver Nate Burleson of Seattle's O'Dea High. Burleson is on the Watch List for the Biletnikopf Award, having nabbed 110 passes for 10 TDs and nearly 1,700 yards over the past two seasons. He's the son of former Husky Al Burleson -- a defensive back who still gives nightmares to crimson loyalists who witnessed the pain of the 1975 Apple Cup.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Nevada's ability to put pressure on WSU QB Jason Gesser and WSU's ability to contain Kretschmer, a constant threat to break off a big run.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Besides Kretschmer, Burleson and fellow receiver Jermaine Brown are key to the success of the Wolf Pack offense. They also line up a true stud in offensive lineman Cody Johnson. On defense, ends Morscheck and Jorge Cordova, linebacker Daryl Towns and free safety Ronnie Hardiman are gamers.

INJURY REPORT: For Nevada, offensive tackle Harvey Dahl (ankle) and defensive tackle P.J. Hoeper are out. Offensive guard John Tennert is doubtful. For the Cougars, defensive end Fred Shavies (shoulder) is questionable; and running backs Allen Thompon (shoulder) and Jonathon Smith (ribs); and and defensive back Hamza Abdulah (knee) are out.

NOTABLE NOTES:

Cougar backup placekicker and long-snapper Graham Siderius is from Reno and his older brother Andrew is a former 295-pound offensive lineman for the Wolf Pack (1996-99). Mom and Pop tell CF.C, however, that their loyalties Saturday definitely will be with the crimson. Andrew plans to seat squarely on the 50-yard line.

The Cougars will suit up only 65 players for the game due to an inane NCAA rule that precludes teams from dressing the entire roster any time a game is played off campus.


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