Baltzer stresses import; practice goes inside

PULLMAN -- Chris Baltzer, a WSU senior linebacker, was racking his mind trying to figure out a way to impress upon his younger teammates the importance of the Apple Cup. He presumably captured the undivided attention of his audience prior to Monday's practice when he recalled how some wackos responded to WSU's 2003 loss -- a game the Cougs led for all but 70 seconds.

"We got letters saying they hoped our plane goes down because we lost to the Huskies," Chris Baltzer remembered from his first Apple Cup.

Sort of makes that old Dan Lynch quote -- "There are four important stages in life. You're born, you play the Huskies, you get married, and you die" -- sound lukewarm.

Mind you, that nutty 2003 reaction came during a season in which WSU finished 10-3 and ranked ninth in the country after beating Texas in the Holiday Bowl. This year, the Cougars are 4-7 and coming off a 52-17 loss to Oregon State, but Baltzer said he's confident the Cougars will bounce back Saturday at Washington. Kickoff is at 4 p.m.

"Absolutely," said Baltzer, a 6-foot, 235 pounder from Eugene. "Especially the seniors.

"We've got a lot of pride. I'm glad we've got one more chance to redeem ourselves."

Pullman, virtually deserted with no classes at WSU this week, was treated to rain, snow and fog at various times Monday. The Cougars practiced in their indoor facility to avoid freezing weather and fog in the afternoon.

When a reporter suggested that snow might have come in handy this past Saturday, when the Cougars were thrashed 52-17 by Oregon State, coach Bill Doba joked, "We needed a hurricane the way we were playing."

The Saturday weather forecast for Seattle calls for temperatures in the 40s and a 10 percent chance of rain.

PAC-10 RECEIVING LEADER Brandon Gibson, who has seen limited or no action at several practices, did not participate in Monday's abbreviated practice that lasted barely an hour. Players wore helmets but no pads.

Standout tight end Jed Collins, who has vowed to play Saturday on his badly sprained left ankle, skipped practice to receive treatment. Collins played only one series against Oregon State after being injured the previous week against Stanford.

Defensive line coach Mike Walker said pass-rushing end Michael Graise may return to action, but his ankle is not 100 percent. Walker sounded less hopeful about the return of Kevin Kooyman, another reserve defensive end with an ankle injury.

Senior running back Kevin McCall ran for two touchdowns Saturday, but running backs coach Steve Broussard said he expects Chris Ivory to start a third straight game. Fumbles have been an issue for Ivory.

Doba said the Cougars are preparing for two vastly different Husky quarterbacks. Freshman sensation Jake Locker is a tremendous running threat, and he has a strong but inconsistent arm. Senior Carl Bonnell is a capable passer who tries to stay in the pocket.

Locker is expected to play after sitting out last week with a neck injury, but Bonnell is a senior who could see action. Last Saturday, Bonnell spent most of the day handing the ball off to tailback Louis Rankin (also expected to play after getting dinged up against California). Last year, Bonnell threw for 271 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-32 win at Washington State.

Bonnell grayshirted at WSU in 2002, then transferred to Washington. Bonnell's mid-year departure left a scholarship open for a quarterback, so the Cougars began their ultimately successful recruitment of Brink, who had made a verbal commitment to Boise State.

* The Cougars averaged 33,045 fans per game this season, down from 34,671 a year ago. WSU had a record four sellouts last year, but just one this season. USC leads the Pac-10 in attendance with an 86,673 average. Washington ranks third at 68,049, and that number will climb slightly with a sellout crowd of 72,000-plus expected Saturday. A handful of tickets, mostly singles, remain unsold.

* The Cougars honored 20 seniors before the Oregon State game, but reserve cornerback B.T. Walker was a no-show due to a family situation back home in New Jersey.

* WSU is asking fans to vote for the greatest Cougar play in Apple Cup history. Most of the nominated plays have accompanying video. To watch, and to place your vote, click here.

* People love to say that records don't matter in rivalry games, but the fact is, the team with the best record has usually won the Cougar-Husky game. This year, with both teams carrying 4-7 records, the Huskies are favored by 5 ½ points.

* After 99 meetings dating back to 1900, Washington leads the all-time series 64-29-6. WSU has won two of the last three years (including the most recent meeting in Seattle in 2005), but Washington won the previous six years. The Huskies are 36-15-5 at home against WSU.

* This will be the 100th meeting between the schools. The first one in 1900 ended in a 5-5 tie, when field goals and touchdowns were both worth five points. A reported crowd of 1,500 watched the game in mud and rain in Seattle.

* The game has been known as the Apple Cup since 1962, when state apple growers got involved. The winner of the game won the Governor's Trophy from 1934-61. The trophy was lost for decades before it was rescued from a scrap heap when it was about to be melted down in 1995.

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