COUGAR ROUNDUP: Crossroads and telling stats

THE THUMPING IN EUGENE ON SATURDAY, the Cougars' seventh straight conference loss, adds up to Thursday -- the team's first practice session this week -- being one huge psychological barometer. Are these guys going to fold their proverbial tents or gut it out? Are they going to point fingers or stick together?

The Cougar season is at a crossroads and Thursday will tell us a lot about what to expect the rest of the way.

Cougar co-captain Michael Bumpus, asked immediately after the loss to Oregon whether the team is "coming apart," summarized it well. He basically said no one will know until this week's practice and, ultimately, the next game, on Oct. 27 in Pullman against UCLA.

"It can definitely go both ways," said Bumpus. "That's the responsibility of myself and other seniors on the team to make sure we stay together in times like this."

"If you get used to this, then you don't belong on this team," he added.

The Cougs normally have just Mondays off, but with the bye this week, most of the coaching staff is on the recruiting trail so practices won't resume until Thursday.

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING, this season is shaping up worse than even the 2005 campaign, in which the Cougs posted their worst record, 4-7, of the last six years.

On defense, where the 2005 team really struggled, this year's Cougs are worse across the board. Most tellingly, they're surrendering six more points per game and their pass defense efficiency is 17 points worse. Rush defense and total defense are also worse this season.

Yet it is the offense is where the biggest discrepancies are found.

In 2005, the Cougs averaged 33.45 points a game, making up for the leaky defense and keeping games tantalizingly close. This season, the offense is nearly 9 points off the '05 average, at 24.57 points per game (and just 16 ppg in conference games).

While both teams stacked up the losses, the mood and feel between 2005 and 2007 is markedly different. The Cougs were in most of the 2005 games right to the very end, all of them breaking the wrong way until the Apple Cup. Five of the Cougs' Pac-10 losses that year were by 4 points or less.

The close losses were devastating, but Cougar Fans always had hope that the turn was around the corner -- which it actually seemed to be for the first nine weeks of the 2006 season.

In 2007, save the heartbreaker with Arizona State, the Cougs have had their doors blown off by every BCS school they've faced.

That's why Bumpus and other team leaders look to Thursday's practice as critical to how the rest of the season unfolds.

INJURED COUGARS from the Oregon game included RT Micah Hannam (leg), CB Devin Giles (shoulder) and SS Alfonso Jackson (concussion).

Hannam's injury, first thought to be a broken leg, is listed as a lower leg contusion. X-rays were negative. Giles' injury does not appear serious and he is expected to be ready to go for UCLA.

Jackson's concussion is his second of the season, he suffered one against Arizona. His status is yet to be determined.

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