Bye weeks are always a little weird and awkward for blogs, since -- like the team -- we get into a certain week-in, week-out routine with games every Saturday. For the first time in a month and a half, there is no game to look forward to this weekend (assuming you do, in fact, look forward to them).
Of course, this isn't a bad thing, as this team needs a week off to heal in the worst way. Every team says they look forward to a bye because of the injury factor, but this team is a special kind of hurt. We all thought it couldn't get any worse than last year, but it has. Boy, it sure seems like a long time ago that we were talking about this team being healthy out of camp.
So, the bye will not just allow for an extra week for some of the guys who have been out to get healthy, but it will allow those who have been playing banged up to get right. That's a big deal moving forward.
Why? Because if this were last year, I honestly wouldn't care about this team getting healthy. They were in so far over their heads on a weekly basis, that it honestly didn't matter who was on the field. But this team has shown signs of life -- the kind of life that leads you to wonder what they might be able to do with a few more bullets in the chamber, specifically on the offensive line.
Looks like we'll probably get a chance to find out against Cal. Guards Zack Williams and B.J. Guerra and guard/tackle Steven Ayers all have a shot at being back in the lineup. Assuming both Kenny Alfred and Micah Hannam are healthy for Cal -- both were banged up by the end of the ASU game -- we actually could have our entire starting five back on the offensive line (assuming Paul Wulff wants to put Ayers back in the starting lineup for Tyson Pencer).
One player who almost certainly won't be ready for Cal is Brian Danaher, the backup guard who returned from a concussion on Saturday. Wulff seemed concerned about Danaher all week, even refusing to re-insert him into the starting lineup. Well, it turns out his concern was well founded, as it's believed Danaher suffered yet another concussion.
Danaher now has a disturbing history of brain trauma, and while I'm sure the coaches, trainers and Danaher don't need my advice, I'm going to give it to them anyway: Shut him down. Maybe forever ... but at least for this year. Knowing what we now know about these brain injuries -- and given that there is so much more to learn -- there is no reason to put his future at risk. None whatsoever.
Another player who won't be back for Cal is corner back Daniel Simmons, who suffered a broken leg and is done for the year. Major bummer for him, as he had fought his way into the starting lineup this year. However, he's still just a redshirt freshman, so still lots of promise to look forward too.
Tough to say exactly what Wulff and defensive coordinator Chris Ball will do in this spot. If Eric Block is healthy -- he's been struggling with his digestive issue again, and didn't play on Saturday -- you could see a move of Chima Nwachukwu back to corner. That could also happen if they're comfortable with Jay Matthews, who played but didn't record a tackle.
I don't think they'll do that, though. my guess would be that they would elect to put either Terrance Heyward or Aire Justin (remember him?) over there. Why? Because Cal is a team that's obviously going to focus on running the ball, and it's going to be more important to have sound tackling from the safety position, and the dropoff in that respect is significant after Nwachukwu. If LeAndre Daniels or Tyree Toomer were still back there, it would be a different story. But they're not.
The good news is that the Cougs should get some help up front in trying to stop Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen in the form of defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm, who appears as if he should return from his hip injury. That's beyond huge, because we all remember what Best did to Matt Eichelberger and Ai Ahmu last year ...
There's absolutely no doubt that with Wolfgramm, this starting four up front is light years ahead of those guys. Even against USC's vaunted line, there weren't any holes like that. (At least, not after the first drive.) Additionally, middle linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis should return from his staph infection. While Greg Trent was as hard-nosed a player as you'd find, he wasn't the most fleet of foot. Hoffman-Ellis gives the Cougs a chance with his athleticism.
There also appears to be more help on the way for next year. Somebody asked recently about defensive end Brandon Rankin. I couldn't find any info out there, but the intrepid Vince Grippi did some looking and dropped this little nugget in his pregame report from Saturday:
Two players who signed with WSU last February but couldn’t make it into school, Brandon Rankin and Quayshawne Buckley, seem to be on track to get into school in the spring semester. Buckley is waiting to hear his test results – that was kept him from qualifying – and is confident he did well. Rankin is on track to finish his classes. In case you don’t know, Rankin is 6-foot-5, 260-pound junior college defensive end who has earned a four-star rating from Scout.com and will have two years left. Buckley, a 6-4, 270-pound defensive lineman, earned three stars as a high school senior last year.
Rankin is the kind of kid who could have an immediate impact. Imagine a defensive end rotation with Travis Long, Kevin Kooyman -- who looks more and more like he's headed for a medical redshirt -- and Rankin. How cool would that be?
That about covers it for today. We'll be back along either tonight or tomorrow with a lengthy post looking at the defense. You'll also start seeing the second quarter grades (can you believe the season is half over?), and we'll have Paul Wulff's press conference for you to listen to tomorrow. And since basketball kicks off its season this weekend with Midnight Mayhem, we'll probably be sprinkling in a little hoops content this week, too. I can guarantee it will be part of what we talk about on the podcast, so you've got that to look forward to as well.
In other words, while the football team will be on a bye ... we won't.