ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Washington State walked into University Stadium Friday night thinking it would be able to run all over an undersized Lobo defensive line that averages about 240 pounds. By game's end, even with a 21-17 win in hand, the Cougars weren't sure of anything — even letting loose a suspicion that New Mexico's defenders might not be what they're listed as in the program.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – On Thursday night, cannon fire couldn't have stirred Josh Swogger. On the eve of his first start at quarterback for Washington State, the strong-armed sophomore "got a great night's sleep." "My nervous night was Wednesday," Swogger said. "I couldn't really sleep on Wednesday night. I think I stayed up until three or four in the morning, tossing and turning in bed. "But once we met and watched all the film (Thursday), I just relaxed and said, 'This is it – this is how it's going to be.' " Which is not to say he and the Cougars didn't give their fans some nerve-wracking moments Friday night before pulling out a 21-17 victory over New Mexico in their season opener at University Stadium.
PULLMAN — One doesn't necessarily think of a librarian and a teacher in England producing Division I-A football players. But that's what happened with Washington State University junior wide receiver Marty Martin, who was born in Cirencester, England, before moving stateside as a child. Martin has five catches in his first two seasons on the field with WSU, but will play a big role for the Cougars this year as a starting slot receiver. He'll also return punts for the first time in his collegiate career.
PULLMAN — When Washington State and New Mexico squared off in 2003, the passing game was the only way to go. The Cougars managed just 89 yards on the ground in 44 attempts; the Lobos did even worse, with 22 yards in 23 tries. But don't think last year's ugly running stats are going to deter this year's Cougars and Lobos from grinding it out on the ground.
PULLMAN — Pester a Washington State Cougar and he might admit that it's pretty comical to see players sprinting toward a student manager in a striped shirt after every down in practice. That manager is wearing a referee's jersey, and he's the designated official. Give the ball to him, and you won't get flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, even with a stricter set of rules taking effect this season.
Mike Riley knows how tough it can be in Death Valley. The Oregon State coach played his college ball at Alabama, and more than a quarter-century later, he distinctly recalls one trip to play LSU. "I remember the tiger in the corner, that's the first thing," said Riley, whose Beavers open their season against the defending national champions on Saturday. "And I remember taking the field when we took our pre-game walkaround the stadium. The student section was filled, probably close to three hours (before kickoff). They were throwing oranges at us. We were in position to go to the Orange Bowl if we won the game. We got bombarded and everybody was running away."
PULLMAN — When asked Tuesday morning on a conference call who his kick returners would be this season, Washington State head coach Bill Doba rattled off a list of six players — and two more when naming his punt returners. But by the end of Tuesday afternoon's practice, Doba was ready to clear up the picture.
PULLMAN — Matt Potter is in just his second year as head coach of the women's soccer team at Washington State University, but that doesn't mean he hasn't already brought in plenty of his own people. Thanks to a senior-laden squad in 2003, Potter had room for 12 new players on a roster of 30 for this season. While Potter might have liked a long fall camp to get his new players into the fold, his was actually the first Cougars team of the fall to get started.
PULLMAN — The coaching staff is the same, but that's about it. New quarterback, new receivers, new defensive line, new secondary, new kicker — and who that is hasn't even been settled yet. Questions rule the day around Washington State, and with the season opener just 48 hours away, the most pertinent one seems to be this: Would anything, could anything, be considered a surprise out of these Cougars?
PULLMAN — So much for all the preseason fuss: Middle linebacker Will Derting has been cleared and will play on Friday in the season opener at New Mexico. "Yeah, he's gonna go," head coach Bill Doba said.
PULLMAN — Third-string quarterback Mike Reilly left the Washington State football team Monday morning for personal reasons. Reilly was also the team's primary holder on field goals and extra points, causing the Cougars to turn to backup quarterback and backup holder Alex Brink to take over. Punter Kyle Basler becomes the backup holder.
PULLMAN — Forgive the cackling laugh that's coming from Gabriel Fulbright. He's having fun, and isn't afraid to say it. "We blitz a little bit. Maybe not a little bit. Maybe a lot," said Fulbright, a junior cornerback on the New Mexico defense.
PULLMAN — Looking for a sign that these Washington State Cougars are ready for something different following three weeks of camp? With the team filing off the field after Saturday's practice, defensive coordinator Robb Akey jumped into one of the equipment staff's motorized carts and went for a joy ride around the practice fields. Akey said he hadn't driven one before and wanted to give it a shot. "We need to start the season. We need to play against somebody else," Akey said moments after turning the vehicle back over to its rightful drivers. "I think the players feel that way and I know we're anxious too to find out where we're at."
PULLMAN — Not much could be gleaned from the Cougars' final scrimmage of the fall, with Washington State's first-stringers spending most of Friday playing against a scout team comprised largely of players who had been in camp for only three practices. Suffice it to say, if New Mexico head coach Rocky Long decides his scout team deserves playing time on Friday night, go ahead and give the Cougars their first win of the season.
PULLMAN — Middle linebacker Will Derting's chances of playing against New Mexico in the opener a week from today appear to be improving. Trainer Bill Drake said the linebacker could be cleared to participate in contact drills as soon as this weekend, and the team has upgraded Derting's status from questionable to possible.
PULLMAN — With Washington State quarterback Josh Swogger, getting a first impression is the easy part. Ask his Cougar teammates and coaches, and they'll all sing a similar song about Swogger's obvious natural ability, which is on display from the first throw of every practice.
PULLMAN — Go ahead and give the preseason MVP award to the Washington State medical staff. Well ahead of schedule, defensive captains Will Derting and Hamza Abdullah both returned to the practice field on Tuesday, the team's first session after taking two days off.
PULLMAN — Ask Washington State offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Mike Levenseller about his pass-catchers, and in a sentence he can nail down not just them but the Cougars as a whole. "You start looking down that list, there's not a whole lot of guys who have played a lot," he said of a group that has three combined career starts. "I feel we've got a group of guys that are potentially very good."
PULLMAN — At the outset of fall training camp, Washington State head coach Bill Doba said his top priority was to find a starting left guard in the first days of camp so the team could develop some continuity. Almost three weeks later, the Cougars are still searching.
PULLMAN — Washington State head coach Bill Doba strode off the practice field following his team's third scrimmage of the fall and stole a line from Neil Armstrong, with some minor alterations. "One small step for the Cougars, one giant leap for the season," he said.
PULLMAN — While preseason All-American middle linebacker Will Derting remains questionable for the season opener at New Mexico on Sept. 3, it appears increasingly unlikely that his dislocated wrist will keep him off the practice field too long to be in the lineup. Derting is currently in a cast, which Washington State hopes will speed up the recovery process and prevent the need for surgery. But according to trainer Bill Drake, that cast isn't due to come off until Aug. 31, just three days before kickoff.
PULLMAN — Two weeks remain until Washington State's season opener, and with their second subpar performance in a scrimmages recorded on Wednesday, the Cougar offense is searching for answers. "The clock is already ticking. It's been ticking for a while," WSU wideout and punt returner Marty Martin said. "We know now, Saturday is our last scrimmage, school (starts) on Monday and then we basically have a week-and-a-half. We got to start locking it in."
PULLMAN — Picture a punter in your head and Kyle Basler might not be the image that comes to mind. For when it comes to Washington State's not-so-secret weapon, the stereotype of a scrawny specialist doesn't fit. At 6-foot-3 and 231 pounds, Basler is part of a new breed in punting, looking more like, well, a football player. During his high school career in Elma, Basler took snaps at quarterback, running back, tight end, defensive end, linebacker and safety in addition to his kicking duties.
PULLMAN — Defensive co-captains Will Derting and Hamza Abdullah watched Wednesday night's scrimmage from the sidelines. It didn't make much of a difference. The Cougars' second scrimmage of the summer in Martin Stadium looked much like the first, with the Washington State offense making little headway against the defense.