WSU hopes to be fresh against Illini

The Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. — The focus is on fresh legs as Washington State prepares to kick off its schedule on Thursday night against No. 21 Illinois at Soldier Field in Chicago.

“Last year we looked slow against Michigan,” coach Mike Price said yesterday, recalling the Cougars’ 41-14 loss at Ann Arbor in the 1993 opener.

“We might have been a little leg-weary and a little tired,” he said in a telephone news conference from Pullman. “I don’t think that will be the case this year. We’ve kept our practices short, cut down on the running, cut down on the lifting. Our players are fresh.”

The game is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. Tucson time on Thursday.

Price said he expects a defensive battle against the Illini, who return 11 defensive starters. The Illinois defenders are led by Dana Howard, 1993 Big Ten Conference defensive player of the year, and all-conference first-teamers John Holecek and Simeon Rice.

“Illinois is a lot like Washington State,” Price said. “They’re a defensive-dominated team ... a veteran, experienced club that is very disciplined. It’s going to be a real challenge, this game.”

Illinois is the first of six teams on the Cougars’ schedule that is ranked in the Associated Press preseason Top 25.

Like the Fighting Illini, the Pacific 10 Conference Cougars were 5-6 last season. They return seven starters to a team that was second in the nation against the run and eighth in total defense.

Price said the game should be a good test for quarterback Chad Davis, a redshirt sophomore transfer from University of Oklahoma. Davis never has thrown a pass in a college game.

“I think he’s going to be excited and pumped up and fired up. He’s that kind of kid,” Price said.

He said Davis has been able to overcome poor play in practice, coming back after throwing two early interceptions in one scrimmage, then throwing “about 15 straight completions. I’m glad that put a little pressure on him. He adjusted.”

Price said the Cougars will focus on technique.

“We’re going to try to be a real clean-running unit,” he said. “We would like to be penalty free for this game and keep our mental mistakes at a minimum.”

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