Aug. 4, 2007
PULLMAN, Wash. - Following a 2006 campaign in which they came within one win of reaching a bowl game, the 2007 Washington State University Cougars enter the 2007 season looking for one more victory and a return to a bowl game for the fourth time in the past seven seasons.
"We made strides last season from the previous year but came up one win short," said WSU Head Coach Bill Doba. "It was a tough way to end the season but the kids have used last season as a learning opportunity and are determined to use it as motivation for a successful 2007."
After three consecutive 10-win seasons from 2001-03, WSU has missed the postseason three straight years, including last season's 6-6 record, 4-5 in Pacific-10 Conference play.
"Injuries really took their toll on us last season," Doba continued. "So this spring we focused a little more on technique and had less contact, which I think will help us this fall. We had a good spring and if we can stay healthy, fill a few key spots, we have the chance to be a pretty good team."
Doba enters his fifth year as WSU's head coach with a 25-22 record. The Cougar mentor has been a part of the coaching staff since 1989 and was named head coach at the conclusion of the 2002 season.
Doba and his staff, which for the first time in his four-year head coaching tenure will feature three new assistant coaches, will put a solid mix of veteran leadership and youthful energy on the field for the start of the season, with 55 returning lettermen, including 22 seniors. Also returning are 23 junior and 10 sophomore lettermen who earned varsity letters last season.
Offensively the Cougars lost four starters off an offense that averaged over 388 yards and 24 points per game, but the returning talent has the potential to see both of those numbers rise. At the forefront is senior quarterback Alex Brink (6-3, 207), a two-time team captain who has started the last 28 games of his Cougar career. Brink, a second-team All-Pac-10 selection last season, is primed to break most, if not all, of the major passing records at WSU as he enters the season in the career top 5 in pass attempts (4th), completions (3rd), passing yards (5th), touchdowns (3rd) and total offense (4th).
Last season Brink finished the year ranked 20th nationally in total offense, 21st in passing and 41st in passing efficiency as he threw for 2899 yards and 19 touchdowns. That included a WSU single-game record with a .870 completion percentage (202-3) against Oregon where he completed his final 17 attempts.
Backing up Brink is a trio of talented young arms, led by redshirt junior Gary Rogers (6-7, 233), along with redshirt sophomores Cole Morgan (6-3, 190) and Kevin Lopina (6-3, 232). Rogers threw for 214 yards and three touchdowns last season, while Morgan and Lopina, who redshirted last season after transferring from Kansas State, will battle for the third spot.
The Cougar quarterbacks will have a stable of receivers to throw to, led by senior Michael Bumpus and junior Brandon Gibson. Bumpus (6-0, 194), a senior from Culver City, Calif., led WSU in receiving last season with 60 catches for 558 yards and one touchdown in 11 games. Bumpus has a career-best 11 catches for 112 yards against USC. The senior also serves as the Cougars punt returner, where he is the WSU record holder with three punt returns for touchdowns.
Gibson (6-1, 201) led all Cougar receivers in yards in 2006, compiling 731 on 49 catches with four touchdowns. The junior wideout had three 100 yard-plus games, including a season-high 130 on eight catches against California.
In addition to Bumpus and Gibson, the Cougar receiving corps includes talented veterans Charles Dillon, Benny Ward, and Finas Rabb, along with a trio of young receivers in Keith Rosenberg, Anthony Houston and Greg Walker.
Dillon (6-0, 191) caught 15 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown last season, his first in a Cougar uniform, after arriving from Ventura Junior College. Dillon, a senior, enters the season one of three starting receivers for the Cougars, alongside Bumpus and Gibson. Ward (6-3, 192), a junior, has been a valuable special teams player that last two seasons who appears ready to break into the receiving rotation while redshirt senior Rabb (6-6, 198), who spent last season getting acquainted to the WSU offense after transferring from Santa Ana College, will look to make an impact.
Redshirt freshmen Rosenberg (5-10, 194), Houston (6-3, 190) and Walker (6-4, 180) will compete for playing time.
The Cougars once again are deep at the tight end position, led by senior Jed Collins (6-2, 251). Collins, a senior from San Juan Capistrano, Calif., caught 22 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns last season. He moves into the starting role following the graduation of Cody Boyd. Backing up Collins are redshirt junior Ben Woodard (6-5, 249), junior transfer Devin Frischknecht (6-3, 250) and redshirt sophomore Tony Thompson (6-2, 237).
Woodard saw most of his action last season on special teams while Frischknecht arrived in Pullman in January after spending the past two seasons at Snow Junior College in Ephraim, Utah, where he earned honorable mention All-America honors by JC Grid-Wire. Thompson is a sure-handed receiver who doubles as the Cougars long snapper for punts.
In the Cougar backfield the running game will begin with redshirt sophomore Dwight Tardy (5-11, 201). As a freshman last season Tardy led the Cougar rushing attack with 667 yards on 145 carries with four touchdowns. He had a season-high 145 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in a 34-23 win over No. 16 Oregon. Tardy is a straight-ahead runner who can break tackles and has good instincts.
Backing up Tardy will be Chris Ivory (5-11, 213). The sophomore from Longview, Texas, missed parts of last season with an ankle injury suffered in the home opener against Idaho where he rushed for 85 yards on three carries, including an 80-yard touchdown run on the second carry of his WSU career.
Also finding time in the Cougar backfield will be redshirt senior Kevin McCall (5-11, 208) and redshirt freshman Marcus Richmond (6-1, 219). McCall saw action in 10 games last season carrying seven times for 72 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown scamper against Idaho. Richmond spent last season as a redshirt and brings a bruising style of play to the Cougar backfield.
During the 2005 season the same five players started all 11 games on the Cougar offensive line. Last season injuries to the front five resulted in six different starting lineups, with only one player, recently graduated Charles Harris, starting every game. The Cougars return three players who started games last season: redshirt senior Bobby Byrd (6-7, 308), redshirt junior Dan Rowlands (6-5, 280) and redshirt sophomore Kenny Alfred (6-2, 310).
After starting the majority of the past three seasons at left tackle, Byrd moves inside to the left guard position for 2007. Alfred moved into the starting center position prior to the fifth game last season and did not leave. After just one season Alfred gained enough national attention to be named to the preseason Remington Award Watch List, recognizing the nation's top center.
To the right of Alfred could be Rowlands at the right guard position and redshirt freshman Micah Hannum (6-4, 278) at right tackle. Rowlands started nine games last season at both the right guard and right tackle positions.
The big question for the Cougar offensive line will be its depth and finding a left tackle. Entering the season junior college transfer Vaughn Lesuma (6-5, 340) and redshirt freshman Joe Eppele (6-7, 278) will both look to lock up the spot. Lesuma arrived in January after earning second-team Junior College Grid-Wire All-America honors at Mt. San Jacinto Junior College. Eppele spent last season as a redshirt on the WSU roster as he acclimated to the college game.
Other players looking for time on the offensive line include redshirt freshman Grady Maxwell Jr. (6-2, 305) and redshirt junior Jacob McKinney (6-3, 283).
On the defensive side of the ball, gone are six starters, including All-Pac-10 first team players Mkristo Bruce and Eric Frampton. Four of those six signed NFL contracts and the group contained six of the WSU's top 10 tacklers last season.
Up front the Cougars welcome the return of senior Matt Mullennix (6-7, 259). Mullennix, scheduled to be the starting defensive end last year, suffered a season-ending injury prior to the opener at Auburn. Mullennix's return will help fill the void left by Bruce, who led WSU with 11 sacks last season. Lance Broadus (6-2, 226) returns for his senior season after a 2006 campaign which saw him record 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles-for-loss, both figures second on the team.
On the other end of the line is junior Mike Graise (6-3, 222) and sophomore Kevin Kooyman (6-5, 239). Graise recorded two sacks last season and had a 33-yard interception return for a touchdown at Stanford. Kooyman played in 11 games last season and with a year of experience will see an expanded role this season. Also adding depth to the position will be Jesse Feagin (6-3, 255), a junior college transfer from Los Angeles Southwest College.
The defensive tackle position can be a position of strength for WSU if everyone can stay healthy. Ropati Pitoitua (6-8, 291) returns for his senior campaign after registering 37 tackles and 7.5 tackles-for-loss in nine games last season. Redshirt senior Aaron Johnson (6-7, 317) and junior A'i Ahmu (6-1, 290) will occupy the other tackle position, though both were plagued with injuries last season. Ahmu played in only three games due to a foot injury but is expected to be ready for the start of camp while Johnson played in 11 games, but battled through nagging injuries that limited his play.
Graduation saw the departure of two mainstays in the Cougar linebacking corps in Scott Davis and Steve Dildine. Another change at the position includes Doba, who has taken over as the position coach in addition to his head coaching and defensive coordinator roles.
Co-captain Greg Trent (5-11, 231) takes over the leadership role for a youthful group that includes no seniors and three underclassmen. Trent was second on the team in tackles last season with 77 to go with a pair of forced fumbles from his middle linebacker spot. Junior Cory Evans (6-1, 237) and sophomore Andy Mattingly (6-4, 241) will fill the outside backer positions. Evans registered 44 tackles last season, including six tackles-for-loss, while Mattingly saw most of his action on special teams.
Redshirt senior Chris Baltzer (6-0, 235), redshirt junior Alex Hamill (6-0, 225) and redshirt sophomore Brady Emmons (5-10, 211) give the Cougars depth at the position. Baltzer suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the 2006 season while Emmons and Hamill saw the majority of their playing time on special teams. Also in the mix is Hallston Higgins, a freshman out of Magnolia, Texas.
In the Cougar secondary the key will be finding a cornerback. Gone are both starting corners from last season, Tyron Brackenridge and Don Turner, both lost to graduation. At the right corner redshirt senior Markus Dawes (6-0, 196) enters fall camp as the projected starter. Dawes saw limited action last season after transferring from College of the Sequoias. The other cornerback position will not be decided until fall camp, where the battle will include redshirt seniors B.T. Walker (5-10, 165), Brian Williams (6-1, 160), redshirt junior Ryan Kensok (5-8, 158), along with newcomers Devin Giles (5-11, 170) and Chima Nwachukwu (5-10, 192). Williams played in all 12 games last season, registering 15 tackles and three pass break-ups, while Walker and Kensok both saw much of their action on special teams.
Giles, a redshirt sophomore, comes to WSU after spending the last two seasons at Coffeyville College while Nwachukwu is an incoming freshman from Allen, Texas.
At the safety position the Cougars return a veteran unit, led by seniors Husain Abdullah (6-1, 197) and Christian Bass (6-2, 224), along with redshirt sophomore Xavier Hicks. Abdullah, a co-captain and senior leader this season, had 66 tackles and three interceptions in 2006, his second year as the starting safety. Bass played special teams and was a back-up last season but is expected to play a bigger role in 2007.
Also expected to find playing time this season is Terry Mixon (6-1, 190), a first-team JC All-American last season at Grossmont College. Mixon was ranked by JCFootball.com as the No. 1 safety in the country last season.
Handling the kicking duties will be senior Romeen Abdollmohammadi (6-0, 235), who connected on all three of his field goal attempts after winning the starting spot late in the season. Abdollmohammadi was also a perfect 10-for-10 on extra point attempts. Senior Loren Langley (5-8, 153), who ranks fifth on WSU's career points kicking list, will back up Abdollmohammadi.
Returning starter Darryl Blunt (6-0, 190) will handle the punting duties once again. Blunt, a redshirt junior, averaged 41.4 yards last season with 12 of his 53 punts landing inside the 20.
The 2006 season provides no time to ease into the schedule as the Cougars open at Wisconsin Sept. 1, in a game televised by ABC. It marks the second consecutive season WSU has opened at a national power following last year's opener at No. 4 Auburn.
Rivals.com rated the 2007 WSU football schedule as the 20th-most difficult in college football. The Cougars face seven teams that reached bowl games last season, including four teams that won 10-plus games in 2006. Following the Idaho game (Sept. 15 in Pullman), WSU will face six straight teams that posted a winning season in 2006 until a Nov. 10 contest at Stanford.
In addition to Wisconsin and Idaho, the Cougars will face San Diego State in its only other nonconference contest, Sept. 8 at Qwest Field in Seattle.
Conference home games include Arizona State Oct. 6, UCLA Oct. 27 (FSN) and Stanford before closing the home schedule Nov. 17 against Oregon State.
The Cougars will open the conference schedule on the road at USC Sept. 22 in a game televised by ABC. Additional conference road games including Sept. 29 at Arizona, Oct. 13 at Oregon, No. 3 at California (FSN) and the regular-season finale at Washington Nov. 24 in the 100th playing of the Apple Cup.