PRACTICE: Lopina takes the reins, INJ update

PULLMAN -- The Washington State Cougars received more encouraging news on the injury front Tuesday, but the chances of starting quarterback Jeff Tuel playing in the Apple Cup appeared to take a turn for the worse. That, plus news and notes from practice, an update on Tony Thompson and more.

Tuel saw little action in practice today, with senior Kevin Lopina taking the vast majority of the snaps with the No. 1 offense.

Paul Wulff announced earlier in the day that Lopina "definitely" will start Saturday at Washington (3:30 p.m., FSN-NW). Tuel said his injured right knee felt no worse for wear Tuesday after going through his first full practice Monday since he was hurt Nov. 7 at Arizona, but he spent most of Tuesday's practice on the sidelines.

"I'm getting better," Tuel said.

But Wulff said the Cougars don't want Tuel, a true freshman with loads of potential, to take any undue risks in the final game of a 1-10 season.

"He's not 100 percent and I don't know that he will be by game day," Wulff said.

JUNIOR SAFETY Chima Nwachukwu, who was leading the Cougars in tackles before getting sidelined by a sprained ankle Oct. 31 against Notre Dame, practiced with the 1's for the second straight day.

D-tackle Bernard Wolfgramm and DE Jesse Feagin, who could help shore up the injury-depleted defensive line, went through some drills Tuesday after missing Monday's practice. Wolfgramm has been battling a back injury, and Feagin has a cast on his broken hand.

Cornerback Brandon Jones, injured in last Saturday's loss to Oregon State, said his back is "a lot better." However, Jones sat out practice again and remains listed as questionable along with three key players with concussions -- offensive guard B.J. Guerra, defensive tackle-end Dan Spitz and wide receiver Johnny Forzani.

AFTER PRACTICING INDOORS Monday, the Cougars went outdoors Tuesday afternoon despite icy winds and temperatures in the 30's. Snow was bulldozed off to the sidelines of the Rogers Field practice fields, which are artificial turf.

Most players wore long sleeves, but gritty center Kenny Alfred and a few others dared to play in short sleeves. And some players ignored the bitter chill and actually wore shorts. Players donned shoulder pads after practicing in just shorts and helmets Monday.

The cold weather didn't seem to bother Jared Karstetter. WSU's leading receiver, who does not wear gloves regardless of the weather, seemed to catch everything thrown within an area code of him. It probably doesn't hurt that Karstetter has hands the size of a Volvo.

FOR THE SECOND straight day, practice was limited to 75 minutes of no-contact work for a team that is extremely short on healthy bodies. How short? Junior walk-on Shane Thomas and senior walk-on Colin Huemmer -- moved from wide receiver to safety on Monday -- played cornerback with the No. 2 defense.

Huemmer lived down to the reputation of defensive players everywhere when he dropped a "certain" interception. But the former Redmond High receiver and safety made amends later with a leaping interception in the end zone.

BORN AND BRED a Cougar, Tony Thompson, as the son of WSU quarterback legend Jack Thompson, has played tight end and in the slot at Washington State. When he was 6, however, Thompson gave his best impression of his rifle-armed father at the 1992 "Snow Bowl" Apple Cup.

"I was here for that game," Thompson recalled. "Unfortunately, I was a little immature and I was throwing snow balls at the Huskies as they ran out."

Yeah, Thompson said "unfortunately." The glimmer in his eye indicated something else.

Thompson, a fifth-year senior, has probably seen more Apple Cups than any other player on the Cougars and Huskies. He'll be watching from the sidelines Saturday, since his career ended with his fifth concussion in college (first this year) on Oct. 31 against Notre Dame.

"It does break my heart, because I do want real badly to play against the Huskies," Thompson said. "But I understand that it's a better decision for my overall health."

Thompson said his "single best memory" of an Apple Cup past took place last year. He got knocked out of the game with a slight concussion, his second of that season, but he joined the on-field celebration after Nico Grasu's field goal in the second overtime gave the Cougars a 16-13 victory.

"I couldn't watch Nico's game-winning field goal because I was too nervous," Thompson said. "So I looked at the crowd, and I knew we had won by the crowd's reaction."

Thompson originally came to WSU without a football scholarship but earned a scholie and then worked himself into the starting lineup this season. He plans to remain in Pullman after he graduates next month, possibly as an intern with the Gray "W" Club, an organization that works to enhance the WSU experience for current and former athletes.

THE WON-LOSS RECORD and statistics aren't much different from a year ago, but Wulff and assistant head coach/co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Chris Ball said the 1-10 Cougars of 2009 are better than the 2-11 Cougars of 2008.

"We always said if we got injuries we'd be in trouble," Ball said. "We said we'd be better, but we didn't really know how many wins that would calculate to."

According to the WSU football media guide, the Cougars tied a school record by playing five ranked teams this year. Three other opponents have been ranked at some point this season.

The WSU defense ranks at or near the bottom of national statistics with per-game yields of 39 points and 517 yards, but Ball said, "We definitely feel we're better on defense, and we feel really good about next year.

"We've got a lot of these guys coming back. We've got 10 guys who redshirted … on top of a pretty dang good ('10) recruiting class."

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