Tonight, Washington State visits Arizona State in what is being classified as a Pac-10 football game, but Sun Devil Stadium could better be utilized for the teams to hold a support-group meeting. Call it "Receiver Rehab."
“We’re both beat up,” Washington State coach Bill Doba said.
Few teams have had their passing targets depleted like the Sun Devils and Cougars, who will have a combined 121 receptions for 1,629 yards and 11 touchdowns out with injuries. Most of that production is on Washington State’s side, but ASU is in no less of a lurch.
Terry Richardson (five catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns) and Nate Kimbrough (15 receptions, 235 yards, one TD) are out with knee injuries. Rudy Burgess (10 catches, 166 yards), who moved to cornerback and has been a candidate to return to wide receiver because of the injuries, cannot because he is out with a high ankle sprain.
“Our receiving corps has taken a major hit,” Sun Devils quarterback Rudy Carpenter said.
ASU gets no sympathy from the Cougars, as no team in America has been as statistically decimated by wide receiver injuries. High ankle sprains have sidelined Michael Bumpus (55 catches, 515 yards, TD) and Jason Hill (41 receptions, 600 yards, seven TDs).
However, both teams do not plan to turn into Army tonight. The Cougars and Sun Devils will still throw the ball, and the team that wins could be the one that best adapts and overcomes its passing-game losses.
“It’s that time of the year where you have to start using your imagination a little bit and make sure you are putting the best possible players on the field,” Doba said. “That’s our goal.”
For the Sun Devils, the injuries further weaken a downfield passing game that has never clicked this season. Timing between Carpenter and the wide receivers has rarely been good, forcing ASU to build its offense around the running game and tight end Zach Miller.
Among the receivers that Carpenter is trying to develop a rhythm with are freshman Kyle Williams, just off the scout team, and junior Tyrice Thompson, a former tight end and defensive lineman. It has been challenging, to say the least.
“Since the third game, my approach is that I’m going to hand the ball off, and if I have to throw it, I’m just focusing on completing the ball and not turning it over,” Carpenter said. “I think that’s going to be more important in the coming weeks, because of the (injuries).
“But it doesn’t matter what the timing with the wide receivers is. We have a game (today). We have to throw the ball.”
ASU’s task is to find new weapons. The coaching staff is high on Williams, a situational receiver the last two games who will be more involved in the offense tonight. Carpenter feels that Brandon Smith, a redshirt freshman who has yet to make a catch, can develop into a threat.
All this week, the receivers stayed after practice to do extra work.
“We’ve talked to each other a lot, and we want to be more consistent,” said Mike Jones, a sophomore who suffered sore ribs last week at Oregon State but will play tonight. “Do our assignments, run our routes, and when the ball comes to us, make the catch. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
Washington State lost Hill and Bumpus last week against Arizona to high ankle sprains, which ASU coach Dirk Koetter called “the injury that is sweeping college football.”
The pair could be out for the remainder of the regular season.
“We have to keep fighting, no matter what,” Hill said. “Adversity is going to come, and our team has been through a lot of it.”
Doba has three known wide receiving commodities in sophomore Brandon Gibson, junior Charles Dillon and senior Chris Jordan (who will be limited by a sore knee). After that, the unit is green.
The Cougars, who usually run a three-receiver offense, will likely utilize two tight ends or an H-back at times.
“We’re not going to throw in a whole new game plan,” Doba said. “We might emphasize the tight end a little more, but there is not going to be wholesale change. It’s too late in the season for that.”
So tonight, as "Receiver Rehab" commences, the Sun Devils and Cougars will try no less hard to win. However, they are certainly able to understand the other’s plight.
“There are so many great things about college football,” Koetter said, “but injuries are not one of them. Injuries are probably the worst thing.”
The Seattle Times and Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review contributed to this report.