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WSU’s Robert Barber returns to practice, will play vs. No. 10 Colorado

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If there was any doubt as to whether he’d go right back to work, we have our answer.

Washington State v California Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

Just hours after having a stay of his suspension granted by a Whitman County judge, nose tackle Robert Barber joined his teammates on the field on Wednesday for his first practice in weeks, as coach Mike Leach made good on his promise to welcome his best interior lineman back with open arms.

Barber had not practiced with the team since the appeal of his suspension from the school, related to an off-campus fight over the summer, had been denied back on October 27. He has missed the last three games, all WSU victories.

How much he plays this weekend is still up in the air, but defensive coordinator Alex Grinch indicated that Barber will, in fact, play. And his return comes none too soon, as the Cougars, ranked No. 22 by the CFP committee, travel to Boulder this weekend to take on 10th-ranked Colorado.

The Cougs have largely survived without Barber, but the Buffaloes are a different animal when it comes to running the ball than Oregon State, Arizona and Cal were. They rank 11th nationally in rushing attempts and 36th in rushing yards; only twice all year have the Buffs rushed the ball fewer than 46 times, and they’ve topped 50 rushes six times.

The attempts will come from all over the place, including quarterback Sefo Liufau, who usually keeps the ball around 15 times himself. Running back Phillip Lindsay is a potential game breaker who is picking up a shade over 5.5 yards per carry, but it’s important to note that the Colorado rushing attack is more of a pounding, keep-up-with-the-chains kind of attack, rather than a home-run attack. Having a player such as Barber returning to eat up blockers and make it exceedingly difficult for opponents to gain yards between the tackles makes containing the Buffaloes that much more plausible.

Additionally, all those pounding yards have the potential to wear down a defense, which means adding a very large body back to the rotation could pay very large dividends late in a game that is the Cougars’ first at true altitude this season. Bodies should be fresher, particularly Daniel Ekuale, who has played a lot the last few weeks in Barber’s stead.

Basically, having Barber back in the middle — even if only in a limited capacity — is a pretty massive development* for the Cougars, who are looking to pick up their signature win of this amazing season.

*Pun fully intended.

It’s also quite possible that his return has a profound emotional effect on the team, which also used his suspension as a rallying point.