Questions surround Cougar backfield

WASHINGTON STATE could offer up some interesting personnel looks in the backfield Saturday. Chris Ivory returns but his conditioning is a question mark having missed extended time. Kevin McCall started last week with Dwight Tardy out for the year, but now McCall's availability for Stanford is unclear. What to do? Well, notes Bill Doba, Kevin Lopina was an option QB in high school...

The question probably isn't as much about if running backs McCall and Ivory will be available, but instead each player's ability to go a whole game against Stanford. And when there's a question on that, it behooves a staff to contingency plan.

McCall has a lower leg injury and has been limited in practice this week. Ivory was not allowed to do any work -- let alone practice -- while concussion symptoms subsided so his conditioning is not expected to be 100 percent.

"I don't know about McCall," said Doba. "He's still a little bit iffy. But Ivory's back so that will help."

Next on the depth chart behind Ivory and McCall is Marcus Richmond but Doba said which running back would start the game is undecided headed into Thursday's practice.

"I'm not really sure who would start, I think Kevin's going to try to practice today. We've worked everybody back there (this week), okay?" said Doba.

Indeed. Doba mentioned an area newspaper's report that backup QB Kevin Lopina took snaps at running back on Wednesday. But whether Lopina was in there just to fill in as a body for the drills, or if he's a viable candidate to get some turns, was unclear.

"We worked Lopina back there," said Doba, laughing. "You know, Lopina was an option quarterback in high school and he can run halfway decent. And we worked Jed Collins back there, also."

Bottom line, who gets the carries against Stanford, and how many of them, appear to be questions whose answers will come on Saturday afternoon, but Doba said he wasn't concerned by the low number of carries by running backs (16) in last week's loss at Cal.

"No, I don't think that's a big issue, no," said Doba. "...You do what the defense gives you and you do whatever your kids can do best."

Washington State this season has thrown it 58 percent of the time, with 286 rushing attempts to 392 pass attempts.

"If we can give Alex some time, I think we can do okay there," Doba said.

Along with Ivory, safety Alfonso Jackson (concussion) should see his first game action since a brief appearance at Oregon. It is expected Xavier Hicks, who has filled in smartly in Jackson's absence, will get the start.

Receiver Charles Dillon will start Saturday but his routine of late has been to have the bursa sac in his knee drained on Sunday, sit out the Tuesday and Wednesday practice sessions, then practice on Thursdays, usually the lightest of the three days. Brandon Gibson has also been limited during the week, Doba said.

Doba noted earlier this week not having receivers available for practice, or players in general for that matter and particularly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays when most of the week's preparation takes place, can have an impact on the timing -- in the receiver's case, with QB Alex Brink.

"But they should all be out there today," said Doba.

Mike Graise will likely miss the game, said Doba, as would fellow defensive end Kevin Kooyman. Both are nursing high ankle sprain injuries. The Cougs have run a 3-4, (3 down linemen, 4 linebackers) the past several games, but also ran some of the 4-3 against Cal.

  • "I think we've had excellent practices. The last two weeks, really... since the bye our kids have worked hard and we're having some fun out there. I think that's key," said Doba.

  • Asked what concerns him most about Stanford, Doba said pretty much everything concerns a coach, especially as the game draws nearer. "Heck they beat Arizona and USC, that concerns me as much as anything," said Doba.

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