Doba sizes up Badgers, Yarno and more

PULLMAN -- Big Ten football teams pride themselves on their smash-mouth brand of play. Maybe that's why Washington State football coach Bill Doba elected to go on the offensive and deliver the first punch at his Monday morning press conference as the Cougars gear up for Saturday's season opener at seventh-ranked Wisconsin.

Asked if the Badgers are a better match-up for the Cougars than last year's opening opponent (fourth-ranked Auburn), Doba said, "I think so. I hate to say that -- it'll be bulletin board material -- but Auburn was very quick, with all the heat and humidity and all that stuff."

The Cougars were no match for Auburn's quickness and speed, losing 40-14. Doba said he's eager to see how WSU's big, physical defensive line can deal with the Badgers' big, physical offense line. The average Wisconsin O-line starter goes about 6-foot-6 and 314 pounds.

"This will be a very physical game for our team," Doba said. "They're very big and strong. They're going to be like road graders."

Doba stressed, "It's not like they're slow." Indeed, the Badgers have two gifted individuals on preseason watch lists for college player of the year.

Tailback P.J. Hill, a 5-11, 227-pounder, was named national freshman of the year after rushing for 1,569 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.

"A big, strong kid who runs really well," Doba said.

Travis Beckum, a 6-2, 224-pound junior, is listed as an H-back this year. He set school records for a tight end by catching 61 passes for 903 yards last season.

"They'll put him in motion, hand him the ball … we have to be aware where he is," Doba said.

The Badgers return nine offensive starters and seven defensive starters from a 12-1 team. However, new quarterback Tyler Donovan, a senior, has been a career backup and has not been overwhelming in fall practices.

-- Injury report: Monday is a day off for players, and Doba said he doesn't expect star wide receiver Brandon Gibson to practice Tuesday. Doba said he hopes Gibson, out for two weeks with a knee injury, can practice Wednesday and Thursday and play Saturday.

"It's one of those things, we might have to wait for (pre-game) warmups," Doba said.

Benny Ward, a junior with no college receptions, is set to start if Gibson can't play. Senior Finas Rabb and freshman Jeshua Anderson would be the top receivers off the bench, Doba said.

Two of WSU's most heralded recruits, safety Terry Mixon and wideout Daniel Blackledge, are expected to miss at least the Wisconsin game with hamstring injuries.

Loren Langley, formerly the No. 1 kicker, will stay home due to a groin injury. Walk-on freshman kicker Wade Penner will make the trip as Romeen Abdollmohammadi's backup.

-- Stripling update: Doba said he's written Jason Stripling's name on the travel roster in pencil. The Cougars hope to learn this week if the sophomore linebacker, who has been practicing all month, will have his academic eligibility restored.

"He's got great quickness … he comes through there 150 miles an hour," Doba said.

* LONG ODDS: Wisconsin is 16-25-1 all-time against Pac-10 teams, including 0-4 in season openers.

So much for the good news for Cougar fans. Wisconsin has the third-longest active winning streak (nine games) in the nation and has won 12 straight nonconference games in the regular season. The Badgers have won nine straight season openers, seven straight home openers and seven straight home games (and 18 of the last 19 at home). Saturday's game will be the 26th straight sellout at 80,321-seat Camp Randall Stadium.

In their only previous meeting, Wisconsin defeated WSU 35-26 in Madison in 1976.

* YARNO PRAISED: The Cougars' offensive line has made huge strides since the start of fall practice, and Doba said longtime O-line coach George Yarno deserves credit.

"I think George has done a great job to bring that offensive line together," Doba said. "From where they started … they're not perfect by any means, but they've come a long ways."

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