PULLMAN – The last thing Washington State University needed just days away from playing No. 4 Auburn on the road is another bad break.
Now it looks as if the Cougars have received just that.
Defensive tackle Fevaea’i Ahmu, who won the starting job in fall camp after starting all 11 games as a true freshman last season, has an early partial stress fracture in his left foot, in the same fifth metatarsal that he injured in the spring.
Pending further tests this morning, Ahmu is unlikely to play Saturday and – should he sit out – would probably miss 2-4 weeks. Since the fracture is only partial, WSU might be able to green-light Ahmu to play. But if the damage worsened to a full break, the sophomore’s season would be over.
Add it all up and it means that the Cougars, already in trouble on the defensive line after starter Matt Mullennix tore an ACL, are stretched as thin as can be.
“I would be lying to you if I said different,” defensive coordinator Robb Akey said. “Realistically, I’ve got to plan on not having him and hope that we do.”
Assuming Ahmu does not play, Aaron Johnson moves back into the starting lineup at the tackle position, a job he has held for the last two seasons. Behind him, however, is sophomore Matt Eichelberger, who played sparingly in just seven games last year, and junior college transfer Bryan Tarkington, who just got eligible last week after missing all of last season because of academic issues.
Defensive line coach Mike Walker said the Cougars won’t consider bringing a fifth tackle and added that Eichelberger wouldn’t take more than 20 snaps, while Tarkington wouldn’t see more than 10-15 plays.
“He was out of shape,” Walker said of Tarkington’s first practices. “Hopefully, in a week or two he’ll be ready to go full speed.”
Ahmu suffered the initial break in the spring and in surgery had a screw inserted to stabilize the bone. Re-breaks are not uncommon, however, and it appears Ahmu may have rested the foot just in time to prevent more damage.
The sophomore had been in some discomfort throughout camp, but apparently the foot began to feel weak during Tuesday’s practice, so he sat out the rest of the session. X-rays that evening revealed the damage, and on Wednesday Ahmu was on crutches and in a protective boot.
Today’s examination has been scheduled to double-check the initial diagnosis, but unless the partial fracture is small, it would seem unlikely that WSU will clear him to play.
“We’re trying to take all the mileage off of it and let it begin healing,” WSU trainer Bill Drake said. “At best, he would be limited.”
Ahmu had jumped over Johnson on the depth chart and appeared to be teaming up nicely with Ropati Pitoitua in the middle of the Cougars defense. While Johnson has plenty of experience, Ahmu’s injury severely limits the team’s rotational options, and makes taking on an already tough opponent that much more difficult.
Mullennix is scheduled to have surgery on his injured knee a week from today. WSU waited to send the junior in for surgery because his hand fracture, also suffered in fall camp, would have made it impossible to use crutches. … Guard Andy Roof, the third starter lost to injury in camp this year, could return for the Baylor game, although tests this week might alter that timetable. … Kickers Loren Langley and Romeen Abdollmohammadi both went 4 of 7 at the end of the session in front of the whole team, although when coaches and players added pressure by yelling and distracting the two, both missed twice.