PULLMAN - The Washington State Cougars will celebrate Senior Day at Saturday's final home football game, but there doesn't figure to be much of a party atmosphere at Martin Stadium.
The 1-9 Cougars are 31-point underdogs to 20th-ranked Oregon State, and there’s a 30 percent chance of snow and/or rain showers. The 2 p.m. contest will not be televised.
The chilly weather and another dismal season could produce one of WSU’s smallest crowds in years. The Cougars rank a distant last in the Pac-10 in attendance at 24,094 per game (27,858 if you count the Hawaii game in Seattle). WSU hasn’t drawn that poorly since averaging 21,900 in 1991.
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Coach Paul Wulff said starting quarterback Jeff Tuel remains “very questionable” due to his knee injury. Wulff said the starter likely will be determined today.
Wulff said sophomore Marshall Lobbestael, who struggled last week as the starter and gave way to senior Kevin Lopina, lacks confidence in his surgically repaired knee and in his pass protection.
“Marshall has some hurdles to overcome mentally,” Wulff said.
Wulff continues to say Kenny Alfred is WSU’s best player.
Wulff said Alfred, a center from Gig Harbor, is the only Cougar who might be selected for a senior all-star game after the season.
“I think he’s got a good chance,” Wulff said.
Another Cougar who earns regular praise from Wulff is Reid Forrest. The junior from Ephrata ranks 10th in the Bowl Football Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-A) with 44.2 yards per punt.
“He’s very committed and he does a great job,” Wulff said. “The game’s very important to him.”
Wulff has repeatedly praised Alfred and Forrest for their leadership. Alfred continues to hustle in practice and shows no signs of slowing down in the final two games.
“I think we’ve got a group of guys that is willing to fight very, very hard,” Alfred said. “That’s a huge area of improvement, especially compared to last season.
“I think that’s pretty obvious. Last year, we had some guys that would fold pretty quickly.”
Receiver Kevin Norrell, a projected starter before he was kicked off the team for at least the fall semester, was sentenced to 90 days in jail, fined $1,000 and placed on probation for 18 months after he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of first-degree negligent driving.
All but one day of the jail sentence was suspended, and $200 of the fine was suspended.
The arresting officer said he believes Norrell was under the influence of marijuana during the September incident. The sophomore remains in school and hopes to be reinstated to the team.
Senior Jason Stripling, a starting linebacker, will sit out the first quarter Saturday after being arrested early Sunday morning following a dispute on WSU’s Greek Row.
Stripling was charged with fourth-degree assault and obstructing a public servant.
The Cougars’ much-maligned offensive line gave up just two sacks against UCLA last week after yielding five in each of the previous three outings and a whopping 12 the game before that.
“We’re finally at a point where we have some guys who are back” from injuries, Alfred said. “It gave us the ability to have a little cohesiveness, which is something we needed pretty desperately.”
WSU has given up 47 sacks, second-worst among the 120 FBS teams to the 53 yielded by Miami of Ohio. WSU ranks last in defense (511.6 yards allowed per game) and next-to-last in offense (262.8).
Oregon State (7-3, 5-2 Pac-10), the hottest team in the league, has won three in a row and six of seven. The Beavers are fighting for their first Rose Bowl since 1965.
Jacquizz Rodgers ranks 10th in the country with 1,148 rushing yards, and his 18 touchdowns rank third. He’s third in the Pac-10 in rushing and second in touchdowns, and he’s second to older brother James in receptions with 62.
James Rodgers leads the conference with 71 catches, 832 receiving yards and eight TD receptions. He’s also lethal on reverses and punt and kickoff returns. He averages 179.5 all-purpose yards per game, which leads the conference and ranks seventh nationally.
Sean Canfield leads the Pac-10 with 2,566 passing yards (20th in the nation) and a 69.8 completion percentage (fourth). He’s thrown 17 TD passes and just five interceptions.
The Beavers can play defense too. They give up just 102.4 rushing yards per game, which ranks first in the conference and 15th nationally.