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Game day is almost here at WSU


COUGARS

Our first post this afternoon is a long one. It's our Game Day items for tomorrow's matchup. Read on for the unedited version of our page along with the short story that runs with it.
••••••••••

• Here's the info …

WSU game day

Stanford at Washington State

• Kickoff: 3 p.m. Martin Stadium

• TV: FSN

• Radio: KXLY 920-AM

Tale of the tape

Washington State Cougars

• 2008 Record: 1-8 Pac-10, 2-11 Overall

• Coach: Paul Wulff, second season

Stanford Cardinal

• 2008 Record: 4-5, Pac-10, 5-7 Overall

• Coach: Jim Harbaugh, third season

Trends

• Last meeting: 11/01/08, Stanford 58, WSU 0

• Last week: Season opener for both teams

• Series: Stanford leads 33-25-1

The game at a glance

• When the Cougars run: The goal of WSU's offensive line this year is to get consistent push up front in the running game. Do that and the Cougars deep stable of running backs – Dwight Tardy, James Montgomery and Logwone Mitz – will take advantage. The Stanford defensive line, however, is stout, with 6-foot-2, 315-pound Ekom Udofia anchoring, almost literally, the middle. EDGE: Stanford

• When the Cougars pass: Ever since coach Paul Wulff announced Kevin Lopina would start – he is scheduled to share the position with Marshall Lobbestael – the senior has been throwing the ball much better. Give him time – last year WSU's quarterbacks were sacked 43 times – and he should be able to find the Cougars' young receivers. Free safety Bo McNally has led Stanford in tackles each of the past two years. EDGE: Stanford

• When the Cardinal run: Everyone ran on WSU last year and Stanford was no exception, going for 344 yards in the rainy rout. Senior Toby Gerhart, third in the Pac-10 in rushing last season, is running behind a revamped offensive line this year. Speaking of revamped, the Cougars have almost completely rebuilt its defensive front, with only Kevin Kooyman starting in the same position he played last year. EDGE: Stanford

• When the Cardinal pass: Who knows? Stanford has a new quarterback in redshirt freshman Andrew Luck. But Luck has the good fortune to be throwing to Chris Owusu, who had five catches for 80 yards against WSU last season. The Cougars will be stacked to stop Gerhart and the running game, so play action might catch them in a vulnerable state. EDGE: Stanford

• Coaching/intangibles: This really depends on how many of the Cougar faithful turn out on Labor Day weekend. If the crowd comes in fired up and ready to make life miserable for Stanford, Washington State's lift will be Jordan-like. If the stands are half full and flat, the Cougars will probably play the same way. We're betting on the former. EDGE: WSU

• Relatives: One freshman running back's dad owns the San Diego Chargers. An offensive lineman's father is running for governor of Florida. The quarterback's dad played in the NFL, the free safety's granddad for the Baltimore Orioles and the offensive tackle's grandpa was once named the best player in the World Cup. Heck, even the most famous father on the WSU team, Jack Thompson, is also related to a Cardinal. EDGE: Stanford

3 things to watch

Keys to today's Washington State-Stanford matchup

• 1. Stanford's first possession: If the Cardinal ride Toby Gerhart for 10 to 15 plays and march down the field for a score, it's going to be a long day. After last season's defensive woes, even the coaches know the group's psyche might be fragile. But if WSU can run to the ball, gang tackle and slow the Stanford running attack early, possibly forcing a quick punt or even a turnover, the defense could ride the momentum all day.

• 2. The quarterback rotation: Kevin Lopina gets the call first. If the senior moves Washington State down the field consistently, then it's possible sophomore Marshall Lobbestael may not see the field. But if the Cougars sputter, especially early, expect to see Lobbestael given a chance to show what he can do with the offensive controls. No matter who is running the show, WSU will try to balance the offense, mixing runs and passes on each down.

• 3. Check the lineup cards: The flu reared its ugly head all week in Pullman, with 13 players missing time recently. If everyone makes it to the starting gate healthy, that can be considered a win. But no matter what, the Cougars will feature a revamped defense, with only Xavier Hicks, Kevin Kooyman and possibly Chima Nwachukwu slated to start at the same spot they started last year. Considering the problems they had stopping people last season, this is probably a positive.

3 names to know

EKOM UDOFIA

STANFORD DEFENSIVE TACKLE

There was some question last year about Udofia's fitness, a nice way of saying some were questioning his effort. They shouldn't have. Seems the senior, who had nine tackles against WSU last year, played most of the season with a small break in his ankle. X-rays missed it, according to coach Jim Harbaugh, because it was obscured by a metal plate put in to fix an earlier injury. Healed, Udofia wants to play with a "nasty" attitude this season. At 6-foot-2 and 315 pounds, he's quicker than you might expect and will be tough to handle.

KENNY ALFRED

WSU CENTER

Alfred just might be the Cougars most valuable player. Sure, he's an excellent blocker who played all of last season in pain, waiting until December to have a hip injury fixed. He's also WSU's acknowledged leader on and off the field. But, with expected backup Andrew Roxas sidelined for the season after a debilitating illness, the Cougars would have to turn to walk-on Chris Prummer or backup guard Brian Danaher if Alfred needed a break. No matter who took the spot, no one could really fill the 6-3, 289-pound Alfred's shoes.

ANDREW LUCK

STANFORD QUARTERBACK

If the Cardinal have their way, the 6-4, 235-pound redshirt freshman would probably throw less than a dozen passes today. More than likely, the idea is to give WSU a steady diet of Toby Gerhart runs. But the Cougars want to see if Luck can handle the pressure of moving the offense by himself, so they'll do whatever it takes to limit the Stanford rushing attack. Expect Luck to show the poise befitting the son of an NFL veteran.

This and that from today's game …

The Cardinal have opened every year of the Jim Harbaugh era with a Pac-10 game. Last season's 36-28 upset of Oregon State ultimately cost the Beavers a Rose Bowl berth. It's been nine years since WSU opened with a conference game. ... Senior Dwight Tardy is trying to do something no Cougar has done since at least World War II: lead WSU in rushing four consecutive years. ... Stanford's only road victory last year came at Washington. ... The Cougars finished last or second-to-last in five NCAA statistical categories last season: Total offense, scoring offense, rushing defense, scoring defense and turnover margin. ... Despite losing two all-conference offensive linemen, Stanford's group has 52 starts between them. The Cougars' group have 67. ... The Cardinal feature eight returning offensive starters and seven on defense.

•••

• And here's our short story …

PULLMAN – Washington State University football coach Paul Wulff is already tired of hearing about last season.

And the new season doesn't even start until this afternoon.

"We burned all our film from last year, so we can't show anything," Wulff joked this week, referring to last year's 2-11 season that featured seven losses of more than 30 points.

So Wulff's desire to get this season started is understandable, if only to see how his team can improve on its 1-8 Pac-10 mark from a year ago.

Washington State's opponent today, conference foe Stanford, might not be blamed if it wanted to take a peak back, at least to last year's matchup between the team.

But coach Jim Harbaugh is having none of it.

"We don't have any rear-view mirrors in our car here," said Harbaugh this week when asked about the Cardinal's 58-0 win over WSU last year. "It's a new season, both for our ballclub and for there's."

The Cardinal formula, which they used pretty effectively in last year's 5-7 season, is to pound you with 6-foot-1, 235-pound running back Toby Gerhart behind a large offensive line. Their goal is to wear you down.

"We've got to become a relentless team," Harbaugh said earlier this year. "We've got to do the hunting. You can't kill us, we're never going to quit, but eventually, we're going to kill you."

It's what the Cardinal did to WSU last year.

Asked this week if he thought his team would play better than they did in that defeat, Wulff blurted out his answer.

"Well, I sure darn hope so," the second year coach said.

"I think we've improved a lot," he continued. "I think we've come a long ways and we're an improved football team."

And they'll try to start showing just how much today.

•••

• That's it for tonight. We'll be back in the morning with our spin around the Pac-10. 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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