PRACTICE REPORT: Levy sharp, D clicking

PULLMAN -- With Kevin Lopina still recovering from the concussion he suffered Saturday, J.T. Levenseller had sole command of the Cougar offense at Tuesday's practice and he took full advantage of the opportunity – despite being without the services of the Cougars' record-setting senior receiver.

Brandon Gibson missed the practice in order to attend the funeral of a family member in Arizona, head coach Paul Wulff said. The Pride of Puyallup, who in this Saturday's Apple Cup will make his 37th consecutive Cougar start, is expected back in pads Wednesday.

Levenseller, meanwhile, was firing the ball around the field. His passes were crisp and freshman receiver Kevin Norrell helped him out with some head-turning grabs, including a nifty sliding adjustment on a low throw.

Not all the receivers were so accommodating. Daniel Blackledge dropped a ball that hit him square on the numbers. On the very next play, Marcus Richmond dropped a very catchable ball.

Levenseller, a freshman, saw his first extended playing time at Arizona State last weekend when Lopina went down. In a little more than two quarters of action, Levenseller completed 7-of-14 passes for 41 yards and one interception.

In the backfield Tuesday, Logwone Mitz (shoulder) was wearing a no-contact jersey but looked to be back in fine form. And Dwight Tardy showed off some wheels on one play after turning the corner and taking off with a burst for daylight.

Lopina, who sustained a mild concussion at ASU, was originally thought possible for practice Tuesday. He woke up foggy and with a splitting headache on Sunday and said he's shown steady improvement since then, but not enough to be cleared for Tuesday's workout. He's planning to do some early morning weightlifting and running Wednesday, "and if that goes as planned, I'll be able to practice." Even if he isn't cleared for Wednesday, Lopina assured that he would be suited up on Saturday.

The first team defense showed an improved pass rush and better play in the trenches on Tuesday, with the linemen taking on multiple blockers and freeing the linebackers to run. Myron Beck, an outside ‘backer, managed to break up a pass after returning to practice with a cast on his broken hand. At cornerback, Tyrone Justin (ankle) practiced but was limited to going for a couple snaps at a time before being relieved by Tali Talakai with the first team.

Defensive end/outside linebacker Andy Mattingly, out the past couple weeks with a bad ankle, was in action Tuesday – albeit a bit gimpy -- and got into the backfield against the scout team several times.

WSU CO-DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Chris Ball said the rivalry between the Cougars and Huskies is one of the best in the nation. That's saying a lot considering his tenure with Alabama and the Tide's storied rivalry with Auburn. "This is a huge rivalry...This is as big if not bigger than those (in the east and south)," he said.

This will be Ball's fifth Apple Cup. He was a WSU graduate assistant under Mike Price in 1989 and the Cougars' secondary coach under Price from 2000-2002.

Ball said an improved injury situation may alter the Cougar D's recent reliance on a three-man defensive front. "We're getting some defensive linemen back from injury and I don't know if we're going to stick with it (three down linemen) or not—were looking at some different things. The kids are playing a lot harder, they're starting to really understand the defense ..."

The Cougars are 8 ½-point underdogs against the Huskies. Ball said the WSU offense, which had a good game against Arizona two weeks ago, and the defense, which played well against ASU, need to turn in solid efforts on the same day if the Cougs are going to produce their first Pac-10 win of the season.

The Cougs are 1-10, with the lone win against Portland State, and Washington is 0-10. Kickoff Saturday is at noon. FSN will broadcast the game.

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