PULLMAN – When Washington State heads to Seattle this weekend for the Apple Cup, it may not do so with a perfect bill of health.
Cornerback Chau Smith-Wade, offensive tackle Esa Pole and running back Leo Pulalasi are all questionable for the game, WSU coach Jake Dickert said Monday, leaving their availabilities in doubt.
Smith-Wade, the team’s top cornerback who could come in particularly handy against No. 4 Washington’s cadre of receivers, has missed each of the past four games. He missed the first two with an undisclosed soft-tissue injury, and he was set to return for WSU’s loss to Cal on Nov. 11 – but he collided with safety Jaden Hicks the day before the game, Dickert said, so he sat out.
Smith-Wade also missed WSU’s win over Colorado on Friday. He is day-to-day, Dickert said.
Pole exited the Cal game with an ankle/foot injury, getting carted off during the third quarter. He also missed the Colorado game.
“Esa, we’re hoping to get back definitely for some (individual) stuff,” Dickert said, “and hopefully get him into some scout (team reps). He’s a guy that does need to practice throughout the week to make sure he’s maximizing.”
In Pole’s place on Friday was redshirt sophomore Rodrick Tialavea, who played left guard and gave up one sack in 38 pass-blocking snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, which assigned him a pass-blocking grade of 50.2 – lowest on the team for Friday’s game. Redshirt sophomore Christian Hilborn played left tackle in Pole’s absence, which Dickert said would happen again if Pole cannot play Saturday.
“We felt great about Rod,” Dickert said. “Rod Tialavea came in and did some really good things, and Christian held his own. But Washington is gonna have some really good pass rushers. So we gotta make sure we got our best guys ready to go.”
Against Cal, the true freshman Pulalasi registered his best game at WSU, carding 66 yards on 11 carries. He left early with a hamstring injury, though, and he has been on the shelf since.
On that front, the good news is that WSU starting running back Nakia Watson returned to form on Friday, posting a season-best 47 yards, plus a receiving touchdown, where he caught a pass in the flat and surged into the end zone. In the few games prior, Watson was limited by an injury, but he looked healthy during Friday’s game.
The Cougs also got back walk-on running back Dylan Paine, who had missed the previous three games with a high-ankle sprain. In Friday’s game, Paine 29 yards on 5 carries.
“Hopefully we can get him out there (for practice) on Tuesday and see what he’s capable of doing,” Dickert said of Pulalasi. “I think all those guys hopefully are ready to bounce back.”