PULLMAN – The question looms over Washington State University’s head this week, and most everyone on the football field knows that there won’t be a good answer until Saturday.
Just how good are the Cougars?
Sure, their three wins have been convincing. Exhibit A would be DeMaundray Woolridge, who has managed to run for 100 yards in each of WSU’s last two games – as a backup running back coming in when the game was already out of hand.
But WSU’s much-maligned schedule to this point leaves most everyone, including a number of Cougars, wondering what this squad will look like against Pacific-10 Conference competition.
For the Cougars in the two weeks between playing Grambling State and Oregon State, the important thing has been replicating the uptick in competition they’ll see.
In that vein, they’ve endured some of the toughest practices they’ll see all year, August camp notwithstanding. Is it enough?
“We think so. We went one-against-one Thursday and Friday (of last week),” head coach Bill Doba said. “We went 10 plays where they ran our offense against their defense and then we went 10 plays where we ran their defense against our offense.”
While practice can’t necessarily replicate a game-day situation, the Cougars have to hope that their teammates’ best will match the best they’ll see this weekend in Corvallis.
“We’re going to know a lot more about who we are after this game is over,” defensive coordinator Robb Akey said. “We practiced against a Pac-10 team for three solid days there and got individual work against each other.
“(But) I’m anxious to see where we are at and I think our guys are anxious to play against somebody from the Pac-10, too.”
Oregon State, on the other hand, has dealt with all it could handle and more. The 2-2 Beavers have played three consecutive weeks against teams that could easily be in the Top 25, maybe even 20, at season’s end.
The Beavers went 1-2 against Boise State, Louisville and Arizona State, but it’s anyone’s guess if the losses help Oregon State any more than wins over Idaho, Nevada and Grambling help WSU.
“I’m hoping that our schedule has toughened us up,” Oregon State head coach Mike Riley said. “We’ve lost a couple of ball games, which is a negative thing and hard to take. Those losses, they hurt. But at the same time, if you can grow from those things … if we’re truly becoming battle-tested, that can be a very good thing.”
In Pullman, the one thing WSU is taking to the bank is the need for continual improvement. Even after outscoring the first three opponents 141-54, the Cougars know that the same level of performance could lead to disaster within the conference.
“I wouldn’t say things change, but we know we have to improve everything,” cornerback Alex Teems said. “Every little mistake we make on the field, a Pac-10 team is more likely to exploit. So we’re out here trying to clean up all the mistakes we made in the preseason, trying to look at the preseason as another, a second camp.
“We know we’re coming out for competition and we know it’s going to be a dogfight to the end.”
Senior defensive end Adam West, still out with a concussion suffered at Nevada, was evaluated in Spokane. This is West’s fourth concussion, leading to WSU’s extreme caution. West is out indefinitely. … Another second-string defensive end, Lance Broadus, has a strained groin muscle and is at best questionable to play against Oregon State. … Cornerback Don Turner, carted off the field because of back spasms on Tuesday, was unable to practice. … Wideout Chris Jordan also took a planned day of rest to aid a sore hip flexor. … The Cougars had a lighter practice as scheduled, allowing running back Jerome Harrison to don a regular white jersey instead of the yellow no-contact jersey he wore the two days prior because of a nagging shoulder injury. … A columnist for The (Portland) Oregonian suggested that Oregon State head coach Mike Riley could be on the hot seat, pointing out that if WSU scores 45 points, it would be the worst three-game stretch on defense in Beavers history.
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