Cougs eye changes to defense, kicking game

AFTER WATCHING his team allow more than 500 yards in total offense -- and many big plays -- on Saturday for the third time in five games, Washington State head coach Paul Wulff said during his Sunday teleconference that changes to the starting lineup likely are coming.

The Cougars (1-4 overall, 0-2 Pac-10) host Oregon at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Ducks (5-0, 2-0) boast the No. 2 running game in Football Bowl Subdivision with an average of 331 yards per game. Only Air Force (373.6), which historically has featured a run-heavy offense, averages more rushing yards per game.

Wulff said the priority remains to improve individuals and the entire unit instead of focusing directly on Oregon, but he wants to see faster players on the defensive side because of the Ducks' team speed on offense. Wulff was vague on what that entails -- he said decisions on potential changes likely will come Monday -- but said that the defensive line, linebackers and secondary all could be affected. Wulff previously has moved former defensive backs such as redshirt freshman Jamal Atofau and senior Myron Beck to linebacker in recent seasons. He did not rule out more position changes.

ATOFAU MADE HIS first start against the Bruins, but Wulff said that was because Beck was late to a team function. He recovered a fumble forced by sophomore defensive end Travis Long during the first quarter.

"We need to keep working so we can get consistency from him," said Wulff, referring to the pair of penalties against Atofau. "Jamal showed flashes of some good things."

As for the defense in general, Wulff said the it might have been "a little bit" better on tape than it appeared against UCLA.

"It still wasn't good enough," he said. "We still had some missed tackles. We wouldn't get ourselves in position to make plays.

"We've got to make sure we're sound in our defensive front and front seven."

WHILE CHANGES HAVE not been determined on the defensive side, Wulff made one in the kicking game. Wulff said walk-on true freshman Andrew Furney from Burlington-Edison will handle place-kicking duties, while senior Nico Grasu still will do kickoffs.

Wulff said during Saturday's radio post-game show that Grasu was inconsistent and he wanted to get Furney more game experience. Furney missed a 45-yard field goal during the fourth quarter and also was unsuccessful on an extra point on a 1-yard touchdown run by sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel. The latter did not count in the statistics because replay showed that Tuel's knee was down short of the goal line.

Wulff said Grasu "will still be involved," and that Furney could lose the job if he struggles.

ONE AREA WHERE changes are not coming is the offense. WSU produced a season-high 384 yards of total offense against UCLA. Tuel completed 20 of 37 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns.

But Wulff said while he felt the offense played well, it can be even better.

"We left two or three touchdowns out there," he said. "We're not good enough, but we know we can get better and better."

Wulff said he felt the running backs also played better and added that he won't change the rotation against Oregon. Senior James Montgomery had a team-high 45 yards on 12 carries, but Wulff said he particularly was impressed with the blocking of several running backs.

"I think they had a solid ball game," he said. "We popped a few runs, which was really good to see."

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • True freshman cornerback Damante Horton seems to get more playing time each week. Horton had a career-high eight tackles against the Bruins. Wulff said Horton's increased playing time is a result of his instincts and intelligence. He said that Horton quickly picks up schemes and instruction from coaches.

  • Wulff said there were no significant injuries against UCLA. After being one of the most injury-plagued teams in college football during his first two seasons, Wulff said it is encouraging that his players' work in the weight room is showing benefits.


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