The Bruins average 218.8 rushing yards per game, which ranks 20th among Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Sophomore Johnathan Franklin, who has 409 yards and four touchdowns on 69 carries, is their leading rusher. Derrick Coleman, a 6-foot, 231-pound junior, serves as the team's power back. He has 244 yards and a touchdown on 54 carries this year.
"If you're not real disciplined ... there's a good chance they can hit a big one on you," Wulff said.
WSU (1-3, 0-1) has been anemic at times against the run this season. In the Sept. 4 season opener against Oklahoma State, senior running back Kendall Hunter rushed for 257 yards and four touchdowns. The Cowboys finished with 291 rushing yards in that game. USC used a committee of running backs to produce a similar result in its 50-16 win Saturday against the Cougars. The Trojans amassed 285 rushing yards.
Wulff said the result could be the same if WSU's defensive line struggles against the Bruins' veteran offensive line.
"They'll run it by us if we don't get off blocks," he said.
PERHAPS A BIGGER concern is tackling. Against USC, Wulff counted 32 missed tackles.
"We pretty much work on form tackling every day," he said. "It ultimately comes back to basic core fundamentals. More importantly, it's got to be attitude, confidence and a strong desire to knock someone down."
Wulff said the coaching staff will weigh that mentality when selecting starters in the secondary.
"Whoever can play the most physical is probably going to get the starting nod," he said. "We're going to find out who wants to hit someone consistently."
Wulff was critical of the linebacking corps during his Sunday teleconference. On Tuesday, he said that senior Myron Beck and junior Alex Hoffman-Ellis have played well at times at outside linebacker, but both need to be more consistent. Wulff said that he believes junior Mike Ledgerwood also can play better, but he said his struggles stem from a stinger suffered earlier this season. Ledgerwood missed the Sept. 11 game against Montana State and Wulff said he still is not fully healthy.
With the exception of senior Hallston Higgins, WSU does not feature much experience behind its starters at linebacker. Wulff previously called junior Louis Bland the team's best player, but he is redshirting after undergoing surgery on his left knee.
"The other guys need to step up and grow up," he said.
THE COUGARS ALSO figure to be challenged on offense against UCLA, which has allowed 25 points in its last two games combined. The Bruins feature junior safety Rahim Moore, who had 10 interceptions last year, and junior linebacker/defensive end Akeem Ayers. Both Ayers, who had two interceptions last year against WSU, and Moore are considered future first-round picks by some draft analysts.
"Akeem Ayers is one of the best players in this conference," Wulff said. "You definitely have to be aware of where he's at."
Ayers and the rest of UCLA's deep defensive line could be problematic for the Cougars, who have not shown the ability to run the ball. WSU averages just 2.7 yards per carry. Senior James Montgomery leads the team with 175 yards on 46 carries. Wulff said Montgomery, who suffered acute compartment syndrome in his left leg that nearly resulted in it being amputated last year, should continue to improve as the season progresses.
Among players with more than 10 carries, junior Logwone Mitz (3.5 yards per carry) is second behind Montgomery (3.8). But Wulff said the Redmond High School product has not shown enough consistency at practice to be an every-down back.
"None of them have truly separated themselves," he said, adding that the team will continue to use a committee approach at that position until someone emerges. "We would love for someone to step up. We need more explosive plays out of that position."
"I think we have some guys who have that capability," Wulff said. "They don't have the stripes to do that just yet. When you're in your first and second year, it's difficult to come in early and assume a role."