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First of two WSU Apple Cup posts


COUGARS

You want more Apple Cup news? Or have you had enough? OK, I realize you want more. So we will have two posts. This one includes practice notes and a story on next year’s schedule, among other things, that I talked about with Jim Sterk today. The next one will include the story on Jake and Casey Locker. Read on.

••••••••••

• What do we have here. As we told you yesterday, Kevin Lopina will start Saturday. Paul Wulff made it official today while talking with the media. He said Marshall Lobbestael may play and “there’s an outside chance Jeff Tuel could play, but it’s a very remote chance.” … Wulff had much more to say, including praising Jake Locker’s abilities and talking about the respect he has for Chris Polk as a running back. … He was asked if all the injuries on defense affected the substitution pattern. He laughed and answered, “Well, we’re pulling guys over from offense to play defense so … our substitution, we don’t really have a big one right now. The guys who are out there are playing a lot of football. We are trying to create a substitution at every position.” … Let’s examine that. Up front, Jesse Sanchez can relieve any of the starters. Plus Jesse Feagin was back at practice today, along with Bernard Wolfgramm, who did a little more. At linebacker, Joshua Garrett and Hallston Higgins are available. In the secondary, with Chima Nwachukwu taking most snaps, there is a little more depth, though Brandon Jones was still out. Let’s say Easton Johnson and another former receiver, Colin Huemmer, who will wear 47 Saturday, are the backups. … Wulff was asked about B.J. Guerra, who did not practice again Tuesday. If the right guard can’t go due to his concussion, Wulff said Joe Eppele would start. But Reed Lesuma took a lot of snaps there today as well. … The comments from UW tight end Kavario Middleton came up. Wulff said he didn’t want to have a reaction, in public. “Guys say those things, we understand it.” But he did admit his team is aware of it and it is bulletin-board material that will be used. “I guess he’ll have to back it up,” Wulff said. … The Cougars will practice Wednesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. After the Thanksgiving day practice, the team and some family members will gather at the University Inn for an early dinner. Friday, they bus over to Seattle.

• Speaking of practice, it was held outdoors. It was cold. Personal experience there my friends. … Last year’s Apple Cup hero, Nico Grasu, who is out with the quadriceps pull, asked for and received permission to head home for Thanksgiving. … Defensive lineman Dan Spitz (concussion) wasn’t around for another practice and has been ruled out. … The entire day was dominated by game plan work, with the offense and defense spending a majority of the time working against the scout team. … Finally, someone asked about Dwight Tardy and baseball. I talked with Dwight today and asked him about it. He said he’s torn between trying out for the baseball team – spring football has precluded that in the past – and preparing for the combine. I reminded him that, while there are few NFL players his size, there are a lot of Major League baseball players with his build. He said that was a good point. Still, he was noncommittal. There is one problem, however. The baseball team roster is already filled with kids who tried out in the fall. If Tardy, or anyone else for that matter, joined the team, someone would have to be cut.

• Just for the heck of it I talked with Reid Forrest, the rushing star of last year’s Apple Cup – a 28-yard run as he was quick to remind me. He still seems to have some regrets about that second-quarter run. “I could have probably cut it back,” he said, “but I guess I was a little safer running out of bounds.” Could there be an encore performance this week? Forrest said it’s not in the game plan, but it wasn’t in the game plan last year either. … Forrest struggled a little punting against Oregon State on a windy day – he averaged 37.9 yards per punt – but the wind didn’t affect his kicking in the way you might have thought. “The wind was (effecting him), mostly on my drops,” he said. “I was having a hard time keeping the ball square to my foot.” Forrest punted in Husky Stadium two years ago and said it was nice because there wasn’t much wind, something the stadium off Lake Washington is kind of known for. “I’ve got good memories from going to Husky Stadium,” he said. “My first year there was a real eye-opener. You know, their crowd is really into the game. It’s really loud. It was way bigger than I had expected.” … So what are the Cougars hoping for this weekend? “Each game we’ve taken little things that we’ve improved upon, and tried to build off of what we can,” said Forrest, special teams player of the week against OSU. “Coming into this game is even more important. We want to end the year on a positive note and try and put all those little things together.”

•••

• That’s it for notes. Here’s our story from talking with Jim Sterk (it takes the place of the usual Pac-10 story this week) along with the Pac-10 game of the week and a short basketball preview …

PULLMAN – The 2009 Pac-10 football season could hold an unlikely distinction. It might be the last ever with the Apple Cup played in November.

With the advent of the 12-game schedule in 2006 and the growing popularity of last-season byes, games are being played later and later. Now next year’s Apple Cup will be on Dec. 4 in Pullman.

Think there will be snow?

Washington State University coach Paul Wulff let that news out last Saturday following the Cougars game with Oregon State and athletic director Jim Sterk confirmed it Tuesday.

“The Pac-10 still hasn’t released (the final schedule), there are some things that still have to be done with it,” Sterk said in a wide-ranging interview. “We’ve looked at it from the standpoint of trying to get byes in the schedule. … and our new commissioner (Larry Scott) has been aggressive with that. But I can confirm (the new date).”

But even if the final schedule ensures two byes for WSU, the Cougars will still be stuck playing a Saturday home game the week before Thanksgiving.

“We did get the week of Thanksgiving off, but we didn’t get that week off,” said Sterk, saying Cal will be in Pullman that week. “With the schedule, it’s a majority rules, so if a majority likes the schedule then it passes.

“I didn’t like the schedule. I was in the minority.”

Last Saturday’s OSU game had an official attendance of 16,167, but the crowd looked to be less than 10,000.

“We’re talking with the university committee about what day events are hosted,” said Sterk, who has mentioned a possible Dad’s Weekend game on the date next season. “The product on the field will be significantly different next year. I am very optimistic about people getting excited about that team.”

Will that “significantly different” product still be coached by Paul Wulff, who led WSU to a 2-11 record last season and 1-10 in this one? Sterk’s answer: “yeah.”

“Rebuilding a team is tough,” Sterk continued. “No one is happy with where we are right now. … I knew this season was not going to be one where people were happy with the wins and losses. But internally, we’ve seen the change there.

“In order for us to be successful, we need players with longevity in the program. (Our successful) teams have those veterans. These coaches have attracted the type of players … that are very good … and will significantly change the game-day atmosphere.”

Sterk also said he’s seen this scenario before.

“In 2000, I had a lot more fans calling for Mike Price’s head when I got here,” Sterk said, “because the previous two years they had won one league game in conference. … But I could see a difference in the team with the direction of the players and what the coaches were doing.

“I liken that to what is happening now.”

•••

Pac-10 Game of the Week

UCLA (6-5, 3-5 in Pac-10) at No. 24 USC (7-3, 4-3)

7 p.m. Saturday; FSN

The battle for Los Angeles usually has one of two things on the line: either UCLA is trying to ruin the Trojans chances of playing in a BCS game or the Rose Bowl is on the line. Neither of those outcomes are involved this season. The Trojans, who don’t even finish their disappointing season until they meet Arizona on Dec. 5, aren’t going to an upper-tier bowl for only the second time under Pete Carroll. And UCLA, rebuilding under Rick Neuheisel, needs to win to burnish its bowl resume. But this is still for bragging rights, so expect a bruising battle.

•••

After starting the season 3-0 at home, the Washington State University men’s basketball team will hit the road for the first time. And it’s not a short trip.

The Cougars head to Anchorage, Alaska and will open the Great Alaska Shootout (2-0) today with an 8:30 p.m. PST game against the host school, Alaska-Anchorage.

WSU gets Thanksgiving off – the players will observe the holiday in family homes around the city – then return to the court Friday against Nicholls State.

Saturday, the Cougars will match up against the corresponding finisher from the other bracket, which includes Houston, Oklahoma and San Diego.

Washington State guard Klay Thompson is coming off a 37-point effort against Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne, a performance that helped him earn the Pac-10 player of the week award.

First-year WSU coach Ken Bone is familiar with the tournament, having taken his Portland State team north last season.

“That community does a great job with that tournament,” he said. “It’s a big deal.”

•••••

• That’s what we have now. We’ll be back soon with our other story. Until then …


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