Practice report: Intensity, DB battle, more

PULLMAN -- A quarterback returns to the field. Four DBs compete for nickel duty. Special teams coach Dave Walkosky sees punt protection perfection. And perhaps best of all, intensity runs high at Wednesday's practice as the Cougars gear for their Saturday night tilt in the desert.

Arizona may be 1-3 this season, with the lone victory over Northern Arizona, but there doesn't appear to be a Cougar who's not laser focused on the Wildcats. WSU's mid-week practice session was as intense and workmanlike as any this season. Among the coaches, Walkosky and defensive ends assistant Marty Long were especially vocal.

Despite the snap that punter Darryl Blunt dropped last weekend against USC, Walkosky said he was encouraged by the progress the Cougar special teams showed in Los Angeles, giving him high hopes for the Arizona game. "The opening kickoff (at USC) was probably a Rembrandt of exactly what you want," Walkosky said. "Guys did things right."

The Cougs pinned the Trojans on their own 17-yard line on that opening kickoff.

The Cougs were unable to get their punt return unit on the field because USC never had to punt. When the Cougs punted, though, Walkosky said he saw more reason for optimism.

"The punt protection was probably the best we've ever had," Walkosky said. "A lot of individual good efforts that we haven't seen showed up in that game."

Correcting mistakes, like the long kickoff return the Cougs allowed USC following the Cougars' first TD of the game, is critical to the team's success, Walkosky said. "There is no second down in special teams play. You get one down. That's it."

The Cougar secondary, where Walkosky serves as cornerbacks coach, faces a tough challenge at Arizona. The Wildcats this season are running a pass-heavy spread offense. They're averaging 399 total yards per game, with 318 of them coming through the air. In last week's loss to Cal, Wildcat QB Willie Tuitama broke school records for completions, attempts and yards.

Cougar head coach Bill Doba indicated earlier this week that he might use nickel and dime packages against the Wildcats' multi-receiver sets. Walkosky said a fifth defensive back would likely come from the group of Christian Bass, Ryan Kensok, Xavier Hicks and Romeo Pellum. Pellum, a true freshman, has seen all of his action so far on special teams. Bass, a fifth-year senior, was in full-contact action Wednesday after sitting out Tuesday's workout with a sore wrist.

NOTABLE NOTES:

* Quarterback Kevin Lopina, who has been out since the beginning of fall camp with a torn leg muscle, returned to practice Wednesday. He donned only helmet and shorts and participated for the first half of practice.

* Freshman unning back Logwone Mitz sat out Tuesday and Wednesday to rest a sprained neck.

* Saturday's game is the first in Tucson for WSU since a 20-19 Cougar win on Sept. 25, 2004. * Senior receiver Michael Bumpus passed former Cougar greats Philip Bobo and Jason Hill last Saturday to move into second place on WSU's all-time receptions list. He needs 27 more to pass Hugh Campbell for the top spot. Should he continue on his season average of just over six catches a game, Bumpus would pass Campbell in late October.

* Going back to last season, junior receiver Brandon Gibson has caught at least one TD in six of his last eight games.

* Junior linebacker Greg Trent has led the Cougars in tackles in three of four games this season, recording 10 in the opener at Wisconsin,13 against San Diego State, with both being game-highs, a team-best eight against Idaho and seven last week at USC.


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