PULLMAN -- On one of the coldest, rain-and-hail filled evenings of recent years, the BCS' No. 25-ranked team convened on Rogers Field to prep for its trip to Pasadena this weekend. The injury-plagued Cougars are shaking things up on defense, as coordinator Robb Akey explains. Meanwhile, running back Dwight Tardy talks about the ground attack, Cougar unity and Saturday's showdown with UCLA.
Tardy, a redshirt freshman out of tiny Sante Fe Springs, Calif., has been the most potent member of Washington State's three-headed running back attack, joining sophomore DeMaundray Woolridge and junior Derrell Hutsona in the Cougar backfield.
Through Week Eight, Washington State has rushed for 1,256 yards, with Tardy's 430 hashes and three TDs leading the way. The bulk of that yardage, 145 hashes, came this past Saturday in the 34-23 win over the Ducks, earning the 5-11, 212 pounder his first PAC-10 player of the week nomination at Washington State.
“I feel very comfortable now,” Tardy said, having started the last five games and six overall. “But the biggest thing is I want the team to win, and I am going to give a 110 percent regardless if I am the starter or not.”
Tardy said the unit and team have both come together as one as the season has progressed.
“We have a lot of unity -- we hang out a lot together outside of practice, we get along really well,” the freshman said. “We stick together, and we trust each other.”
That offensive unity will be tested Saturday, as the Cougs travel to the Los Angeles area to take on a stingy UCLA defense that has played especially well at home, all four of the Bruin wins have come in Pasadena.
“They have a good defense. We’re just focusing on working hard in practice,” Tardy said. “Usually when we have tough starts, we usually have (had) a bad week in practice. We don’t really get stuff done and we just kind of struggle. My opinion is, when we start off slow like that it’s because of practice--but we had a good practice today.”
The trip to the Rose Bowl will be especially important for him, said Tardy, returning to his home state for the second (Stanford) and final regular season game of the year.
“Yeah, it’s bigger,” Tardy said. “I am going to give it all I got, all four quarters.”
THE COUGAR DEFENSE, meanwhile, as promised by Head Coach Bill Doba in conference calls earlier, saw familiar faces in different places Tuesday.
Running back Chris Ivory lined up at linebacker and fellow true freshman Andy Mattingly, a linebacker, lined up at defensive end. Sophomore walk-on Adam Hineline also saw increased time in the limelight as he took over the role of sole back-up to now-starting defensive tackles Bryan Tarkington and Matt Eichelberger. The Cougs top three DTs -- Fevaea'i Ahmu, Aaron Johnson and Ropati Pitoitua -- are all out for UCLA with injuries.
Defensive coordinator Robb Akey said the alternate role of both players, and the now crucial role for Hineline will chiefly be one of back-ups, but pointed out that things can change quickly and that everybody on the roster should always be ready for action.
“Mattingly’s a linebacker,” Akey said. “We’re just preparing him for if there’s a scenario that’s necessary. That shouldn’t present itself, but you never know what’s going to happen.”
Akey sang a similar tune on Ivory, also saying the 5-11, 213 pounder’s turn at the position is an opportunity for him and a chance for the Cougs to build some depth at the position as well.
“We’ll see you know, he’s down the line in the depth chart a little bit as a running back right now, he’s a kid that’s been helping us out on special teams. He’s got a body, we’ll see what he can do if the opportunity presents itself,” said Akey."
All three players saw a considerable amount of reps at their respective positions Tuesday and, for the most part, looked comfortable in their roles. Senior DE and team captain Mkristo Bruce was also seen offering advice to Mattingly.
As expected, senior wide receiver Jason Hill (shoulder) and sophomore safety Michael Willis (shoulder) both continued to sport yellow no-contact jerseys in the session. Both are expected to play Saturday. Senior tight end Cody Boyd (ankle) and sophomore QB Gary Rogers (shoulder) each took part in the session without apparent restriction.
Also as expected, senior cornerback Tyron Brackenridge (hamstring) did not participate in the session. Akey said JC transfer Brian Williams will likely start in place of Brackenridge Saturday if Brackenridge cannot play, with Doba saying the staff would see who stepped up during the practice week.
Tuesday’s practice was held under changing skies Tuesday, as alternate conditions including sunshine, light rain, intense hail, downpour, and strong winds all made appearances.