COUGAR NOTEBOOK: Back to basics

LINEBACKER ANDY MATTINGLY and either Christian Bass or Xavier Hicks at safety figure to get a prime time chance to help shore up the Cougars' beleaguered defense this weekend against undefeated Arizona State in the wake of injuries that have shelved two starters. Meanwhile, for the doom and gloom crowd, Bill Doba has a different take on the rest of the season.

"I'm not down on this bunch of kids yet. And I never will be down on them. I think they're going to strive to continue to get better. And we're going to win some games before it's over," Doba said on Monday.

ON THE INJURY FRONT linebacker Kendrick Dunn (hamstring) and strong safety Alfonso Jackson (concussion, neck stinger) were both termed doubtful by Doba on Monday.

Look for Bass, a fifth-year senior, and Hicks, a sophomore, to get plenty of reps this week in practice at SS opposite Husain Abdullah. Bellevue's Eric Block, a redshirt candidate this year, will also get a long look, Doba added.

Filling Dunn's spot at weakside linebacker will be Mattingly, a Spokane sophomore. Chris Baltzer and Brady Emmons will back up the starting trio of Greg Trent, Cory Evans and Mattingly, said Doba.

DEFENSIVELY, THE COUGS have forced but one punt over the last eight quarters of play and while Doba said the unit had made slight gains following each of the first four games, he didn't see much in the way of improvement on Saturday.

"I think we have to go back to basics," said Doba. "...We're so close, our lineman are starting to get separation and the running back is running six inches from them and they can't get (completely) off the block to make a play.

"We've become kind of a 'bend, don't break' defense. As much as I don't like to do that, I think our talent dictates that. So we have to do a better job of reading our keys and keeping that plan simple enough so that our kids can execute it."

Doba said the Sun Devils' Rudy Carpenter has also done a nice job and been a "playmaker" when flushed from the pocket. All that said, it doesn't mean it's all vanilla. all the time on defense from here on out.

"You have to have some variation in there, a different slant or different movement of some kind, a different pressure package for them," said Doba, who added improved red zone play by the Cougs is a must.

DOBA SAID earlier this year tabbed Arizona as his pick for the surprise team in the league in part because of how many starters they had back. He said nothing he saw on Saturday caused him to change that opinion.

"They are a very talented football team, probably more talented than the one we're facing this week that's undefeated. But Arizona State is very well coached, they play solid offense...Dave (Walkosky) said they've got good athletes in their kicking game...defensively, again, they're a good solid group, they don't make mistakes.

"So it will be a heck of a challenge for our kids but it's Homecoming...we need our crowd support and I know our kids will come out battling," said Doba.

ANGER, DISAPPOINTMENT, depressed, resolve -- pick an emotion and it's a pretty good bet Doba went though it on Saturday and Sunday.

"We had a good meeting Sunday with them," said Doba of his players. "...When I came off the filed I was pretty depressed to be honest with you -- I was disappointed, I guess....Our kids didn't quit. The game's just about out of hand, it's first and goal on the three and it took them three to get in and I'm not even sure they got in then."

DOBA NOTED running back Dwight Tardy, who dropped a fourth down swing pass, is battling an injured hand.

"I felt so bad for him, he's got a bad hand and that little pass out there on fourth down, I know he felt even worse than I did. He's really played well, and tough.

He's not a guy who makes you miss but he's made some really nice jump-cuts...kind of reminds me a little bit of his coach back in the day, when coach (Steve) Broussard would make that little jump-cut."

THE PUNT ATTEMPT by Michael Bumpus didn't come off the way it was drawn up due to an errant snap. It was designed to be a rugby-style rollout where Bumpus, who punted well in an emergency role in the UCLA win last year, would roll out with the option to punt on the run or if he saw an opening or open man, take off for the sticks or let it fly.

Tony Thompson, the Cougs' starting long snapper, did not play against Arizona with a strained hamstring.

There was also a punt mishandled by Reid Forrest, who started for the first time over Darryl Blunt. Forrest did, however, run for a first down on an earlier punt fake.

"I think that's a nice little variation in or punting game and with Bump back there, he can still punt the ball you have the double threat," said Doba, who added Forrest looks to be the Cougs' starting punter this week and is; "doing a nice job. I'd say he's the guy."

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