Cougs can’t afford to lose

  • John K. Wiley / Associated Press
  • Wednesday, October 31, 2001 9:00pm
  • Sports

By John K. Wiley

Associated Press

PULLMAN – Washington State coach Mike Price and UCLA coach Bob Toledo know the feeling.

A loss Saturday means a team that last week was playing for a shot at a national championship is knocked out of the Pacific-10 Conference championship race for the Fiesta Bowl.

“It’s like two wounded animals,” Price said Tuesday. “Any time you’ve got a wounded animal backed into a corner, look out. We’re expecting UCLA to come in here fired up.”

Both teams suffered their first losses of the season last week – UCLA to Stanford and Washington State to Oregon – resulting in a five-way tie for first place in the conference.

“I think all five teams tied for first realize that if they lose one game, they’re out of it. You can’t afford to lose at this point and expect to be in the hunt,” Toledo said Tuesday. “That’s what makes this game Saturday such an exciting football game. Mike and I both lost a game Saturday and can’t afford to lose another one.”

No. 16 Washington State (7-1, 4-1) hosts No. 9 UCLA (6-1, 3-1) in a game that pits the high-scoring Cougars against the Bruins’ stingy defense.

UCLA also has tailback DeShaun Foster, who leads the conference in rushing (144 yards a game), all-purpose yards (162) and scoring (10.3 points per game).

“We have a good game plan,” Price said. “Our plan on defense is to stop them. Our plan on offense is to score as many points as we can, and other than that, I’m not going to tell you anything.”

Foster scares the Cougars, who gave up 446 rushing yards in a 24-17 loss last week to Oregon.

“I think DeShaun Foster, if you had to build a running back, you’d try to build one who would look an awful lot like a Foster,” Price said when asked if UCLA players might be the best athletes in the conference.

Offensively, the Bruins’ starting quarterback could be backup Ryan McCann, after Scott McEwan suffered a sprained right ankle in the Stanford loss. McEwan replaced Cory Paus, who has started most games the past three seasons, but who aggravated an injury to his right thumb in that game.

Price said the situation could work to the Cougars’ advantage.

“Over the week, he’s going to have to handle the pressure of being the man,” Price said. “Sometimes it’s a little easier to come off the bench” than to be thrust into the starter’s role early in the week.

The man at Washington State is Jason Gesser, who leads the conference in total offense with 268.3 yards per game, and has 20 TD passes. Wide receiver Nakoa McElrath is atop the conference with nearly seven receptions for 109 yards per game.

Washington State leads the conference in scoring offense (41 points per game) and total offense (480 yards per game), while the Bruins lead the league in scoring defense (16.4 points) and total defense (316 yards).

UCLA’s offense is “a bit more one-dimensional” than was Oregon, but Foster is the only facet needed, Price said.

“UCLA is a very disciplined team. A very well-coached team. When you win seven games like they have, doing it the same way, why fix it if it isn’t broken?” Price asked. “Obviously, DeShaun Foster is a great back.”

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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