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Sun Bowl notebook: Washington State finally has ‘normal day’ of practice in El Paso

Washington State Cougars offensive lineman Jernias Tafia (53) reacts as he takes the field during the first half of a college football game on Friday, Nov 26, 2021, at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

EL PASO, Texas – Washington State’s football team finally settled into a bowl-week routine – with only three days remaining until game time.

The Cougars (7-5) are on a tight schedule this week.

Shortly after arriving in West Texas ahead of their Sun Bowl finale, they learned Sunday evening that their originally scheduled postseason foe, the University of Miami, had withdrawn from the game because of COVID-19 issues in its program.

About 24 hours later, Central Michigan’s football program agreed to fill in for the Hurricanes after its Arizona Bowl opponent, Boise State, opted out of that contest, also citing coronavirus-caused roster limitations.

“This is going to be a challenge, especially on short notice,” WSU coach Jake Dickert said Tuesday during a media news conference after practice at Eastwood High School. “(CMU) is a good football team coming in, and one that’ll be extremely motivated. We’ll have to match that type of energy right from kickoff.”

The Cougars’ staffers got their hands on the Chippewas’ game tapes as quickly as they could Monday and spent much of the night studying film.

WSU introduced CMU game prep into practice Tuesday. The Cougars will try to nail down the Chippewas’ tendencies as best they can over the next two days before the Sun Bowl kicks off at 9 a.m. Friday.

“We’re grateful we have this opportunity and now we’re just excited that today is really our first normal day of a bowl week,” WSU Athletic Director Pat Chun said during a news conference Tuesday.

Chun reminded his listeners of the Cougars’ roller-coaster campaign and the midseason staff shakeup that left coach Nick Rolovich and four assistants jobless.

“For Washington State and the year we’ve had, a normal day is a good day for us,” he added. “We went through a lot this year to get to this place.

“We were fractured at a certain point because of decisions made by others. … We could very well be one of these programs sitting at home, hoping to be in a place like El Paso and the Sun Bowl. But our guys found a way to show up even when they had fractured hearts, and decided to play together.”

WSU will “cut down” some on its standard game-week procedures, safety George Hicks III said. The Cougars will focus mostly on their playbook, rather than trying to install an entire game plan centered around the Chippewas (8-4), a Mid-American Conference team that prides itself on explosive offense.

“We really get three days to prepare, stay on our rules and principles and make sure our guys go out and play fast,” Dickert said.

CMU will make the 300-mile drive east from Tucson, Arizona, on Thursday. The Chippewas will first take part in a series of activities lined up by the Arizona Bowl, per a report from Tony Paul of the Detroit News.

De Laura arrives

WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura traveled to Honolulu last week to spend the holidays with family members in his hometown. He didn’t accompany the Cougars on their plane to El Paso on Sunday but arrived a day later and participated in practice Tuesday.

De Laura, the Pac-12’s passing leader and its reigning offensive freshman of the year, was running behind because snowstorms in Western Washington delayed his travel schedule, according to Dickert.

“He got caught in the Seattle snow, so it was good to have him,” Dickert said. “He’s been on planes the last three days. I thought he looked sharp. He’ll wear some of the rust off. Sometimes, as a quarterback, after a long season it’s good to have a little bit of a break.

“He’s our emotional leader, he’s our playmaker. It’s different around here when he’s out there playing.”