Cougars Roar Into Bye Week With Top-10 Ranking

Oct. 14, 2002

AP Sports Writer

STANFORD, Calif. - Even though Jason Gesser's ribs are in dire need of a bye week, he'd prefer to keep Washington State's outstanding season going without an interruption.

The Cougars (6-1, 3-0 Pac-10) cracked the Top 10 on Sunday following their 36-11 trouncing of Stanford a day earlier. Washington State moved up two spots to No. 10 with another outstanding game from Gesser and his corps of fleet-footed receivers in addition to a stifling defensive performance.

'The true character of our team showed today,' said Gesser, who went 17-of-23 for 297 yards and three touchdowns despite a dislocated rib that's affecting his velocity. 'We're in a good rhythm right now. We feel like we can beat anybody, but we've got so many injuries that it's probably a good time (for a bye week).'

For a team with several injured players on both offense and defense, Washington State's schedule is playing out almost ideally. After the bye week, the Cougars face two of the Pac-10's less frightening teams in Arizona and Arizona State before a showdown with Oregon, which moved up to No. 6 this week.

After that, there's another bye week before the Apple Cup against Washington - then another bye before the regular season finale at UCLA.

'I like the position we're in, because we're making improvements every week,' Washington State coach Mike Price said. 'If we keep up this pace, we're going to be a heck of a football team in two or three weeks.'

Washington State had no trouble with Stanford (1-4, 0-2), which is showing signs of a full-scale collapse under first-year coach Buddy Teevens, who is trying to teach entirely new offensive and defensive schemes to a team that lost a crowd of important players to graduation.

In particular, the Cougars picked on Stanford's weak defensive secondary. The Cardinal double-teamed star receivers Mike Bush and Devard Darling, holding them to three combined catches - so Gesser repeatedly hit Jerome Riley, Collin Henderson, Scott Lunde and Jonathan Smith.

'We've got a ton of talented receivers, and they can't cover all of us,' said Riley, who had nine catches for 173 yards.

The best news from Stanford was Gesser's sparkling white jersey. He was barely touched by the Cardinal's pass rushers, and Washington State got so far ahead that Gesser was able to sit out all but the first few plays of the fourth quarter.

Gesser plans to spend the bye week sleeping and healing - with perhaps a few trips to the weight room in between.

'Having a week off will get everybody rested, not just me,' Gesser said. 'Hopefully, when we get back, it will feel like the first game of a real season for me. My (rib injury) won't hurt as bad when I'm throwing the ball, but when I'm getting hit, it's still going to hurt. It could hurt like that all year.'

Gesser is looking better, but the Cougars picked up a few new injuries at Stanford. Linebacker Al Genatone sprained his ankle, and Darling hurt his shoulder on a catch over the middle.

A string of injuries also hit Washington State last season, playing a large part in the Cougars' 2-2 finish. But the Cougars' depth has improved markedly this season - as shown by the two freshmen who took starting assignments on the offensive line without a problem against Stanford.

'We've been challenged by injuries as long as I've been here,' Price said, 'and this team is responding remarkably well.'

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