Brink: Import of UA game not lost on Cougs

PULLMAN -– Cougar quarterback Alex Brink is unequivocal in assessing the importance of Saturday night's game between Washington State and Arizona. "I said it before the season, there's gonna come a time where we're going to have to make the season what it is and step up to the plate," he said Tuesday. The Cougs and Cats are each "at a crossroad and we need to take it and go somewhere with it."

In a conference as tough, top to bottom, as any in the nation, two programs in desperate need of a winning season and a bowl invitation find themselves in must-win territory this week. WSU hasn't been to the post-season since 2003 and Arizona since 1998.

With seven wins pretty much required for a bowl berth, each of these teams came within a whisker of landing one a year ago. But setbacks against their arch-rivals on the last Saturday of the regular season sent them both home at 6-6.

The Cougars' miss was hastened by the Wildcats, who came into Pullman in early November as big underdogs against the then-25th ranked Cougs and won going away, 27-17.

The Cougars come into this week's tilt at 2-2, the Wildcats at 1-3.

If the Cougs, slight underdogs this time around, are to come out of the desert with a win, the porous defense will have to contain Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama and the Cats' new, Texas Tech-style spread offense.

Last week, in a loss to Cal, Arizona came on strong after a sluggish start and put 27 points on the board.

WSU's practice Tuesday reflected what the Cougs expect to see -– multiple receivers all over the field. Head coach Bill Doba said Monday that the Cougs might counter the aerial show with some nickel and dime packages – packages that no doubt will bring young defensive backs Xavier Hicks and Romeo Pellum off the bench.

The Cougar D will be looking for a rebound after yielding more than 300 passing yards to USC last week and failing to force the Trojans to punt even once.

As for the Cougs on offense, they'll face an Arizona unit that features many veterans.

"They were a little underestimated last year and this year they have 10 guys coming back," Brink said. "So it's a good group.

After the whooping the Cougs took from No. 1 USC, Brink says it's time to look forward, not back. "There's no reason to go out there and play tight and be scared of what could happen. You just gotta go play."

Brink said the offense has a job to go out and score, and feels no pressure to perform at a higher level because of the struggling Cougar defense.

The senior Co-captain also praised his team's attitude following the loss at USC.

"I think guys are really focused," Brink said. "I like what I've seen, you know, coming back on Sunday, getting ready, kind of forgetting about that USC game and getting ready to prepare [for Arizona].

"I haven't seen a group of guys this focused on a game, having the realization of what this game means to us, in a long time."


* The Cougs came home from USC with little to report on the injury front. Safety Christian Bass sat out practice Tuesday with a sore wrist.

* Linebacker Alex Hamill is out of his protective boot and running again. His return date is still unknown. He's been out since late August with a bum foot.

* Saturday's game kicks off at 7 pm Pacific Time and will be televised by Fox Sports Northwest and Fox Arizona. The Cougars game next, in Pullman against Arizona State, has been moved to 1 pm to accommodate FSN, which will telecast the game.

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