We're headed out of Pullman right now, en route to Spokane for tomorrow's flight to Los Angeles. But we're not leaving until we post the unedited version of our story for tomorrow, on running back Dwight Tardy's final trip home. We also have some notes from coach Paul Wulff's press conference and practice. Read on.
• Thursday's practice was going along like any normal Thursday practice would. The offense and defense had just come together on the Martin Stadium turf and the special team work had taken over. Then the atmosphere changed. James Montgomery hobbled out of the tunnel on crutches and took up residence near the northwest end zone. Slowly, players came over and patted him on the back or shook his hand, sharing a word or two with their injured teammate. Laughter was the prevalent sound, with Montgomery, his injured left leg in a bandage, sporting an ever-present smile. The smile didn't leave even when strength coach Darin Lovat came over, though all even Lovat wanted to do was share a joke about getting back to work. ... Montgomery's visit enlivened a practice that which also featured another player on crutches, backup quarterback Kevin Lopina. Lopina also had his calf in a bandage, though it was the right. Whether he'll be able to go Saturday is still up in the air. ... Speaking of Montgomery, Tardy paid tribute to his friend by wearing Montgomery's No. 21 practice jersey. There are no plans for the same to occur during the game. ... Wulff talked about Montgomery on his press conference Thursday, calling him one of the most liked and respected guys on the team. It showed at practice. ... Wulff said he will not be talking revenge in the locker room before Saturday's game. He'll emphasize staying the course they've embarked on this season, giving it their all, playing loose and hard. He wants them to play hard for 60 minutes and put themselves in a position to win in the fourth quarter. ... He thinks his team is learning how to prepare for games, so they should be ready to go Saturday. ... One guy who will be challenged is quarterback Marshall Lobbestael. Wulff feels he's up the challenge, especially physically, as he gets more comfortable playing the game again. ... Whether or not freshman running back Carl Winston gets in will be played by ear. ... If Lopina is out, and it looks now like he may be, Jeff Tuel is the No. 2 quarterback for sure. ... That's it in the way of notes tonight.
• Here's the Tardy story ...
PULLMAN – Dwight Tardy denies it, but Saturday night's game in the Los Angeles Coliseum surely holds special significance.
It will be the final time Tardy, a senior, has the chance to play in front of friends and family near his home in Walnut.
It will be the final time Tardy gets to show the skills in Southern California that took him from St. Paul High to the Pac-10.
And it will be the final time he has a chance to upset USC.
"Those guys are kind of arrogant," said Tardy, who played against many of the Trojans in high school. "But when you win so many games, I guess in this day and age, you can walk around like that."
Last year, the Trojans walked all over Washington State, winning 69-0, snapping the Cougars' 280-game scoring streak and running their series record to 56-8-4.
"Last year I definitely felt some players laid down," Tardy admitted. "You know, one bad apple spoils the whole bunch. If you've got one guy talking about 'here we go again,' it gets in other people's heads.
"It was just like a disease. Airborne. Killed our whole morale of the team. But this year, we're not like that. We're fighters. We're going to fight every second on the clock."
And, for the final time, that will be the Coliseum's clock. Against one of the best teams in the nation, despite the 12th-ranked Trojans' upset loss to Washington last week.
"They're a great team, but (last year) definitely left a bad taste in my mouth," Tardy said. "We're going to go out there and give it our all. We've got a good scheme for them this week. Hopefully we can pull some things off."
To pull off an upset as 45-point underdogs, Tardy will have to play a major role.
WSU's leading rusher this season, junior James Montgomery, took a blow to his calf last week, suffered acute compartment syndrome and had emergency surgery Sunday. He's out for the season and his football career is threatened.
"It's a bad deal," Tardy said. "Losing a leader like that definitely hurts our team. Hopefully, we've got some guys who can step up."
Besides Tardy, the Cougars are counting on sophomore Logwone Mitz, who missed two days of practice but is expected to play, to carry the load against USC's rushing defense, tops in the Pac-10. But it will be Tardy who will start.
"I do," Tardy answered when he was asked if he felt more pressure. "I'm going to get more carries and I'm not going to get that breather I could use. Not really too much pressure but I've got to know I'm going to get the ball more and I'm going to have to carry the team on my shoulders a little more."
That's what the 5-foot-11, 204-pound Tardy has been doing since he redshirted in 2005. He's led WSU in rushing the past three years – he's got a chance to be the first Cougar to do it for four – and, though he's never gone over 1,000 yards in a single season, he's ninth all-time in rushing yards (1,941) and eighth in carries (449).
Yet, during his time playing Pullman, WSU has won only once in Los Angeles County (37-15 over UCLA in 2006). The final chance comes Saturday.
"We're not going to lay down," Tardy said. "We never die easy. Like Walter Payton said, never die easy. We're not going to die out there."
• That's it for tonight. We'll be back in the morning with our usual post then it's off to LA. Until then …