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Cougars lose more than game

PULLMAN — His team is 3-1, but Washington State head coach Bill Doba — and everyone else in the Cougar locker room — know that 4-0 was there for the taking.

“I think our kids just felt like they could have won,” Doba said just more than 24 hours after his team lost at Oregon State, “and you can’t let games like that get away from you. It’s a tough loss.”

For the Cougars, Saturday’s Pac-10 defeat meant more than just an initial entry in the 2005 loss column. Middle linebacker Will Derting’s left medial collateral ligament sprain, suffered with about two minutes to play on a quarterback sneak, is significant enough that it will cost the senior captain 2-4 weeks, maybe more, in Doba’s estimation.

Cornerback Alex Teems, one of the other three seniors starting on defense and the lone returner from last season’s secondary, was another casualty. Teems’ right shoulder sprain has left him “very doubtful” to play against Stanford.

Both Derting and Teems were undergoing X-rays to help determine the severity of the injuries.

That leaves wide receiver Jason Hill, who perhaps has supplanted Derting as the Cougars’ No. 1 star with his sparkling start in 2005, as the lone Cougar starter injured Saturday who still has a realistic chance to play this week. Doba said Hill’s left quadriceps bruise, sustained just above the knee, is still limiting Hill but called the receiver “maybe probable” to play.

Derting’s loss is especially damaging as WSU entered this season frighteningly thin at all three linebacker positions. His loss leaves a physical and emotional void in the center of the Cougars defense, one that just allowed 44 points to the Beavers. True freshman Greg Trent is most likely to get the start, but it’s possible that another true freshman, Jason Stripling, could see time, and veterans Chirs Baltzer and Brian Hall also factor in.

“Those four kids have had some playing time and we’ll take a good look at all those guys,” Doba said. “Hopefully one of those four guys can play, or it might be middle linebacker by committee until we can get that straightened out or until one of them steps out front and takes the bull by the horns.”

Without prompting, Doba also dismissed the possibility of moving outside linebackers Scott Davis or Steve Dildine into the middle.

“They’re playing so well outside and just getting really comfortable at that position,” Doba said, “and I think we might weaken ourselves at two positions just to strengthen ourselves at the one.”

The head coach again defended the play of his quarterback, Alex Brink. The sophomore set a school record with 531 passing yards – besting Drew Bledsoe’s 476 in the 1992 Copper Bowl – but threw four second-half interceptions. The second, a pass in the left flat intended for Michael Bumpus, was intercepted by Sabby Piscitelli and returned 23 yards for a score.

“I thought he performed really pretty well under pressure,” Doba said. “He threw the one pick and that went ahead, but we still came back and battled them. I don’t think we folded our tent.

“They’re looking for leadership from us as coaches. We have to lead. It doesn’t do them any good to tell them they’re no good. We’ve got to try to be positive, show them what they did wrong and try to make those corrections and try to get better.”

The Oregon State game was viewed by coaches on both sides as pivotal. With that contest lost, Doba seemed to acknowledge there now exists a tenuous balance between knowing things are more difficult and maintaining an attitude that will allow for success.

And spoken or not, the next two weeks, both at home, will be crucial for WSU.

“This conference you’re going to have to fight for every win,” Doba said. “These kids still think that they’re pretty good. At least they better think that way. They still have got a chance.”

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