PULLMAN -- With the season kicking off in just a week, the Cougars hit the Martin Stadium turf Saturday for a simulated game. Plays were dispatched from the press box. Rotations were syncrohnized and substitutions orchestrated. One face in the middle of the action was a most welcome one, back in the starting lineup after a stint on the injured list.
Another key player -- receiver Brandon Gibson -- remained in street clothes, but there were assurances from on high that he'd be uniform at Wisconsin.
As for the simulated game, it was largely geared toward the offense, but head coach Bill Doba said he "liked the tempo” of the day's overall proceedings. “We go in and out of the huddle -- we didn’t have delays of game. That’s what we
want to do ... get the special teams in and get them off.”
The running game excelled, with starter Dwight Tardy, still
feeling the after-effects of a Thursday root canal, running for some nice gains
against the No. 1 and No. 2 defenses.
Quarterback Alex Brink and slotback Michael Bumpus were sharp in the passing game, and two youngsters -- quarterback Cole Morgan and true freshman receiver Jeshua Anderson -- teammed up for a 31-yard TD aerial.
SAFETY ALFONSO JACKSON returned to the No. 1 defense after missing time with a concussion. He was
wearing a yellow no-contract jersey, giving the secondary a distinctly colorful look, as corner Markus Dawes and safety Husain Abdullah -- both nursing shoulder sprains -- also were wearing no-contact jerseys.
Gibson (knee) remained on the sidelines again Saturday, but may play against at Wisconsin next week, Doba emphasized. Trainer Bill Drake said he remains hopeful that Gibson will be ready but said “it’s too early to tell” if Gibson’s ailing left knee will come around in time.
Safety Terry Mixon, who made his practice debut Thursday after weeks of rehabbing a hamstring, was in street clothes for the the second straight day. His timetable for return is unclear.
Defensive lineman Fevaea’i Ahmu also watched practice from the sidelines, resting a surgically repaired foot.
With Ahmu, once thought a possible redshirt candidate because of the surgery, firmly in the fold, the Cougars' defensive line appears to be one of the team’s strongest -- and most experienced -- positions. Ahmu, a third-year junior with 14 career starts, and Aaron Johnson, a fifth-year senior will 26 career starts, will man the tackles.
At the ends, fourth-year senior senior Ropati Pitoitua, a former tackle with 14 career starts, will anchor one side and fifth-year senior Matt Mullennix -- a picture of consistency over the last month -- will start on the other. Mullennix earned a starting nod a year ago but blew his knee just before the opener at Auburn.
Also at the ends, senior Lance Broadus, who started 12 games last season, and junior Mike Graise, figure to see plenty of field time. Broadus, though, continues to practice in shoulder pads and shorts as he continues to rehab a surgically repaired shoulder.
Sophomore Kevin Kooyman and JC transfer Jesse Feagin offer additional depth at DE, while Johnson and Ahmu will be backed up at the tackles by fourth-year junior Matt Eichelberger, second-year freshman Toby Turpin and true freshman B.J. Guerra.
CORNERBACK, THE MOST wide-open position on the team entering fall camp, looks to have sorted itself on the side of rookies. Two of them -- freshman Chima Nwachukwu and JC tranfer Devin Giles -- are on track to start at Wisconsin. They'll be spelled by four seniors: Dawes, B.T. Walker, Ryan Kensok and Brian Williams. Walker, by the way, made a nice play Saturday, forcing wide receiver Benny Ward to bobble what seemed a certain TD on a long pass from Brink.
* Kicker Romeen Abdollmohammadi drilled a 47-yard field goal Saturday.
* The scout teams squared off Saturday in what Doba called a fun ending to the day. Sophomore
defensive end Bob Hilgert recovered a fumble by freshman walk-on Joseph Campbell and returned it about 40 yards before being tackled. Hilgert’s highlight drew loud roars from the entire team.
* The Cougars have 126 players in camp right now. Per the NCAA, that number will need to be trimmed to 120 sometime before the Wisconsin game.
* Doba also said linebacker Jason Stripling’s appeal to the NCAA is still
pending. The Tacoma News Tribune reported today that a hearing is slated for next week. Stripling was ruled academically ineligible at the beginning of fall camp.
* The Weather Channel forecast for next Saturday's game in Madison calls for sunny
skies, a high temperature of 72, and humidity of 69 percent. Kickoff is at 12:30 Pacific Time. The game will be televised by ABC.