PULLMAN – Washington State football fans will be delighted to know that all four offensive starters missing in action at the end of the regular season participated Saturday in the team’s final practice before the Cougars leave for the Sun Bowl.
Obviously, the news also pleased coach Mike Leach. Leach might be even more pleased if the news reaches Miami and complicates the Hurricanes’ defensive game plans.
Truth be told, WSU injury updates will probably have little impact on Miami’s preparation for the nation’s No. 1 passing offense. The Cougars pass constantly, regardless of the opponent, and routinely complete passes to 10 or more receivers.
It was already known that QB Luke Falk has recovered from the concussion that sidelined him for the Apple Cup. What remains unknown is the status of the team’s best offensive lineman (Joe Dahl), best wide receiver (Gabe Marks) and best slot receiver (River Cracraft).
The three left practice early Saturday after seeing limited duty. All are believed to be recovering from foot and/or ankle injuries. Whether they’ll be ready at kickoff Saturday in El Paso (11 a.m., CBS) is a question Leach would not answer if he knew, and even Leach may be uncertain.
“We’re glad to have them back (for practices),” safety Shalom Luani said. “I ask them every time if they’re good. I want them to play in this game.”
The Cougars, of course, virtually never say word one about injuries. As for the Hurricanes, they announced Friday that starting right offensive tackle Sunny Odogwu has undergone knee surgery and will miss the game.
No team passes more than the Cougars, but Miami also relies heavily on its air game. The Hurricanes have yielded just 15 quarterback sacks.
The Cougars and Hurricanes, both 8-4, fly to Texas Monday. Miami wrapped up local workouts in 80-degree sunshine Friday. The Cougars, who have Sunday off, practiced in light snow in the low 30’s Saturday.
A happy medium – sunshine and a high of 57 – is the game-time forecast for El Paso. Leach said slot receiver Tyler Baker, one of four Texans on WSU’s roster, is particularly excited about returning to his native state.
“For all I know, Baker’s got a plantation there, and the girls all wear really long dresses,” Leach deadpanned. “Baker probably rides his horse around and jumps over things and bounces children on his knee.”
Baker will be handsomely attired once he returns home, since all players received various Cougars gear for their school-supplied bowl presents. Other free goodies will be supplied by the bowl.
Las Vegas oddsmakers have installed the Cougars as 2½- or 3-point favorites. The odds are even better on finding great food in El Paso. The city of 675,000 sits across the Rio Grande River from Juarez, Mexico, and the dining options are plentiful.
“I’m pretty excited about that,” Falk said.
The Cougars quarterback is even more excited about returning to action after watching inexperienced backup Peyton Bender struggle mightily in a 45-10 loss at Washington. The lopsided defeat may have cost the Cougars a berth in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego Dec. 31.
Ticket sales have been slow for the Sun Bowl, partly because the game will be played the day after Christmas in the mountainous desert country of West Texas. WSU players, of course, don’t give a hoot about ticket sales.
“We’re ready to get on the plane, get down there and get to work,” Falk said.