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WSU, Irish match up


COUGARS

After a very long day, we are in San Antonio. I don't think it took Santa Anna as long to get in the Alamo as it took me to get from Austin to here. Anyhow, we have our game day items and our advance on the link. By the way, listened to an hour-and-a-half high school football show on the radio on the way here. It was kind of fun in a really-over-the-top sort of way. Read on.
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• Here's the advance ...

SAN ANTONIO – This day was a long time coming for Jason Stripling.

A fifth-year senior, Stripling will line up tonight at the Will linebacker spot against Notre Dame in the Alamodome.

He'll be playing in front of some 50,000 people, about two dozen of them friends and family.

"They've never come (to Pullman)," said Stripling of latter group. "This will be the first game they were at. They were supposed to come to Baylor last year, but Hurricane Ike hit."

The Stripling fan club has made the five-hour journey from Tyler, Texas (95 miles east of Dallas off Interstate 20) to watch their favorite Washington State University player.

With all those eyes on him, Stripling is feeling a little pressure.

Then again, he repeatedly does.

"There's always pressure," he said. "Especially being on the defense, and being looked as a leader. You want to do right. Have all the young people follow you into the right direction. So there's always pressure."

Those young people, the overwhelming majority of WSU's roster, call him "Papa Strip," mostly because he's been in the program for five grueling years and partly because of his 5-foot-11, 242-pound build.

Papa Strip's journey to a starting spot – he has 23 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, and has started each game in WSU's 1-6 season – was a winding one.

As a true freshman, he played in 10 of WSU's 11 games, mostly on special teams. He redshirted in 2006, then was academically ineligible the next season.

Last year started promising, despite the coaching change that meant the group that brought him so far from home was no longer here. He had eight tackles in the Oklahoma State opener, but a shoulder injury two weeks later ended his season.

Now he's back on the field. And he can look back at five years in Pullman with the wisdom born of experience.

"Na," he said when asked if this was how he imagined his college career would go. "It's not what envisioned. Especially playing as a true freshman. But, that's how it ended up, so ..."

It's little wonder, then, as Stripling works toward his social science degree, he can describe the group coming to the Alamodome today in a few words.

"They're proud of me."

•••

• And here are the game day items ...

• WSU game day

Washington State vs. Notre Dame in San Antonio

Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. (PDT), Alamodome

TV: KHQ-6

Radio: KXLY 920-AM

• Tale of the tape

Washington State Cougars

Record: 0-5 Pac-10, 1-6 Overall

Coach: Paul Wulff, second season

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Record: 5-2 Overall

Coach: Charlie Weis, fifth season

• Trends

Last meeting: 9/6/03

Notre Dame 29, WSU 26 (OT)

Last week:

WSU lost to Cal, 49-17

Notre Dame defeated Boston College, 20-16

Series:

Notre Dame leads 1-0

• The matchups

When the Cougars run: The Fighting Irish run defense yields 127 yards a game, which would rank eighth in the Pac-10. Though that's nothing stellar, it has shown signs of improvement recently, including holding Boston College to 70 yards last week. That is about what WSU averages on the ground (72.6), but that's mainly because the Cougars have lost 205 yards on 35 sacks. Still, despite the return of B.J. Guerra and Zack Williams inside, Notre Dame's defensive front should be able to handle the WSU attack. EDGE: Notre Dame

When the Cougars pass: This is the Irish's week link. Their pass defense gives up 284.1 yards per game partly because the pass rush – 12 sacks – isn't fierce enough to force poor choices. Opponents are completing 59 percent of their attempts, though the Notre Dame secondary has intercepted nine passes. WSU's passing game seemed to come to life in the second quarter against Cal, even though the offensive line continued to struggle in pass protection. If they can give quarterback Jeff Tuel enough time and room to step up, the Cougars can move the ball through the air. EDGE: WSU

When the Fighting Irish run: They haven't done it with any consistency this season. And the last three games have been the Irish's worst of the year, averaging less than 100 yards. But they haven't faced a team that gives up rushing yards as easily as WSU. After Cal rushed for 309 yards, the Cougars are now yielding 215.4 per game and 5.8 per rush. One caveat: WSU has struggled more against speed backs than power ones. One thing the Irish have done well is take care of the football, having fumbled just twice. EDGE: Notre Dame

When the Fighting Irish pass: Notre Dame is one of the best passing teams in the nation. With quarterback Jimmy Clausen consistently on target – he's completing 65.2 percent of his passes – and wide receiver Golden Tate consistently open – he's caught 52 passes for 847 yards and eight touchdowns – Notre Dame has proven they can move the ball against the best pass defenses in the country. And WSU isn't one of those. The Cougars' 284.1 yards per game given up is the third most in the NCAA. They will try to keep Tate and company from getting deep today, but the Irish showed last week they are fine with settling short, quick chunks of yardage. EDGE: Notre Dame

Coaching/intangibles: Just about every aspect of this should be in Notre Dame's corner. Though the game will be played in a neutral city, the Irish have sold 25,000 tickets compared to the Cougars' 4,000. And most of the rest of the Alamodome seats should be filled with Notre Dame fans. Then there is the Irish mystique. Despite being away from South Bend, where it's tough to get a break – just ask Washington – Notre Dame seems to have the luck of the leprechauns, whether it be on bounces or calls. About all that WSU has going for it is the chance the Irish could be looking ahead to next week's home game with Navy. EDGE: Notre Dame

Head-to-head in the NCAAs: It's hard to think of a more dominating, defensive-fueled basketball victory than the one Washington State posted over the Fighting Irish in Denver two seasons ago. Notre Dame came into the second-round NCAA Tournament game averaging 80.6 points a game, sparked by the inside play of Big East Player of the Year Luke Harangody. But the Cougars put the clamps on Harangody and everyone else, holding Notre Dame to just 13 field goals in a 61-41 rout. "They imposed their will on us," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. EDGE: WSU

• 3 things to watch

Keys to today's Washington State-Notre Dame matchup

1. The deep ball: When speedster Michael Floyd went down with an injury after the Michigan State game, many thought the deep ball would leave with him. But Golden Tate, thought of as a possession receiver, showed he could get 5-foot-11, 195-pound body downfield as well. His ability to get deep really showed against Washington, during the Irish's 37-30 overtime win. He had 244 yards on nine catches against the Huskies, including a 77-yard reception and a 67-yard touchdown. If Notre Dame can get a couple of long strikes, especially early, the Irish should breeze.

2. Build a pocket: Give Jeff Tuel credit. He learns quickly. Struggling early in his second start, against Arizona State, the freshman was pulled. Since then he's been on fire, hitting 34 of 53 passes for 507 yards. The protection was a little better, but most of it was Tuel trusting the offensive line enough to wait for an open receiver. It's crucial today for the group to build a safe zone for Tuel to operate from. Given enough time, the WSU receivers can find the open spots in Notre Dame's zone scheme. But the Irish bring different players just about every play, so they need to be identified and picked up.

3. A fast start: Yes, it would have been more appropriate to put this first. But the Cougars haven't made it a priority yet this year, so it's down the list. If they don't start quickly today, it's not from lack of trying. The WSU coaching staff revamped practice this week, putting more hitting up front to simulate the beginning of a game. Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, threw out a challenge as well, stressing the importance of taking the Cougars out of the game early in his weekly press conference. And the WSU players have heard about it not only from the coaches and the media, but from fellow students.

• 3 names to know

KYLE RUDOLPH

NOTRE DAME TIGHT END

The Cincinnati native started all 13 games as a freshman last year, catching 29 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns. And the 6-foot-6, 260-pound mismatch in the middle started off this season even hotter, with 13 catches in the first three games. One of those was a career-long 52-yard catch and run down the heart of the Michigan State defense. But the last two games Rudolph has been nearly non-existent, catching three passes for just nine yards against USC, then following that up with a lone 11-yard reception against Boston College. Coach Charlie Weis has noticed, saying Rudolph will be more of a focus today.

KYLE MCCARTNEY

WSU SAFETY

The 6-foot, 192-pound redshirt freshman has earned his teammates respect just by his play on special teams. So much respect, in fact, he is one of three captains for today's game. And yes, he is just a redshirt freshman. McCartney rarely plays on defense, backing up junior Chima Nwachukwu at strong safety. But he's made his mark – and impression – on the special teams. In the Cougars seven games, the walk-on from Edmonds, Wash., has six tackles, including four unassisted. By the way, when he takes off his helmet, McCartney is hard to miss. He's the one with the bright red hair.

MANTI TE'O

NOTRE DAME LINEBACKER

The Notre Dame defense has been an evolving unit since the opener, with only strong safety Kyle McCarthy starting every game in the same position. And no one exemplifies that flux more than the 6-2, 244-pound freshman from Hawaii. Te'o was in and out of the starting lineup until the Washington game, where he announced his presence with 10 tackles. Since then he's added 17 more in the next two games playing the weakside linebacker. Against Boston College last week, Te'o had nine tackles, including his 2.5 for loss.

• This and that from today's game …

Senior defensive end Jesse Feagin broke his hand last week and did not practice. It will be put in a cast today – doctors didn't want to cast it before leaving Pullman, fearing swelling during the flight south – and he will try to play. ... The Irish have four fourth-quarter comeback wins. ... Notre Dame has never lost on Halloween. Washington State is just 4-7. ... There are three Cougars from Texas, Jason Stripling, Chima Nwachukwu and Hallston Higgins. Notre Dame has four. ... Notre Dame is ranked 25th in the nation, the third ranked team WSU has played this season. The last time Washington State defeated a ranked opponent was 2006, a 34-32 upset of No. 16 Oregon. It has lost the last seven. ... The last time the Cougars played in San Antonio was the Alamo Bowl win over Baylor, 10-3 in 1994. ... WSU did not name a defensive player of the game after last week's loss to Cal. Jeff Tuel was the offensive player of the game.

•••

• That's it for now. We'll be back in the morning with links. Until then …




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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