Washington State Looking to Cap Magical Season In Sun Bowl Against Purdue

Dec. 31, 2001

EL PASO, Texas (AP) - While Monday's contest pits Washington State coach Mike Price against one ofhis pupils in Purdue's Joe Tiller, the game also features the lone matchupbetween the Big Ten and Pacific-10 conferences.

The Rose Bowl, site of this season's national championship, was forced tocut its alliance with the two because of its ties with the Bowl ChampionshipSeries.

Washington State (9-3), which overcame three straight losing campaigns, islooking to cap a magical season in which it won its first seven games andfinished second in the Pac-10.

'This senior class has a chance to win 10 games,' said Price, the Pac-10coach of the year. 'There is no other player in Washington State footballhistory who can say 'two times I won 10 games in my career.' It's very, veryimportant for this team so we can get our 10th win.'

Price's 1997 team went 10-2, including a Rose Bowl loss to Michigan.

Quarterback Jason Gesser has been the key to this squad's success. Thejunior completed 54.9 percent of his passes and led the Pac-10 with 2,729yards and 25 touchdowns.

He directed an offense that tallied more than 40 points per game in itsfirst seven outings, but averaged just 24.5 points per game in its lastfour.

His main outlet is Nakoa Mcelrath, who caught a school-record-tying 67passes for 1,047 yards and nine scores. The senior will not start aftercriticizing the play calling in the season-finale, a 26-14 loss toWashington

Like the Cougars, the Boilermakers had visions of a league title after astrong 4-1 start. Purdue then dropped four of its last five to finish infourth in the Big Ten.

Though five seasons at Purdue, Tiller, who twice coached under Price atWashington State, has build a reputation for fielding high-octane offensiveattacks. The Boilermakers (6-5) did not live up to expectations this seasonand finished last in the Big Ten in total offense with 306.1 yards per game.

Brandon Hance opened the season under center, but was replaced by freshmanKyle Orton after throwing 10 interceptions against eight touchdowns in thefirst nine games. Tiller's decision to promote Orton promoted Hance totransfer.

Orton completed 69-of-142 for 686 yards, three interceptions and twotouchdowns.

Instead of a quick-strike offense, the Boilermakers flaunted a ferociousdefense that led the Big Ten with 36 turnovers, including 18 interceptions.

Free safety Stuart Schweigert leads the unit with 90 tackles and sixinterceptions, while defensive end Akin Ayodele is pacing the Boilermakerswith eight sacks.

That group, which limited opponents to 324.9 points per game, will bewithout Matt Mitrione. The defensive tackle elected to quit the team to givehis broken foot a chance to heal.

The defections don't seem to bother Tiller, who promised the Boilermakerswill be well-prepared.

'The best preparation is going against ourselves,' Tiller said. 'WashingtonState plays many of the same alignments we do defensively. Offensively,we're running exactly what Washington State is running.

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