Injuries test Cougars' depth

WASHINGTON STATE COACH Paul Wulff said injuries are beginning to impact his team's depth as it heads into Saturday's game against Arizona -- now without three senior mainstays. Wulff broke down the Wildcats' prolific passing game, gave an update on status of linebackers Jamal Atofau and Andre Barrington following their arrests Sunday, talked about the development of his walk-on program and more.

Injuries have not been nearly as much of an issue for Washington State in Wulff's third season.

Until now.

Wulff said during his Thursday teleconference that safety Chima Nwachukwu (hamstring), offensive linemen Micah Hannam (concussion) and wide receiver Jeffrey Solomon (left knee) are out for Saturday's 4:30 p.m. game (TV: Versus) against No. 17 Arizona (4-1 overall, 2-1 Pac-10). Also, defensive linemen (ankle), Casey Hamlett (concussion), Steven Hoffart (mononucleosis) and Adam Coerper, plus o-lineman Tyson Pencer (hip) are out.

Up front, that means true freshman John Fullington will make his first start at right tackle and Hannam's streak of 43 consecutive starts -- a school record for offensive linemen -- will end. Fullington, who is 6 foot 5 and 268 pounds, only played on the offensive line for one year at North Mason High School after he switched from tight end as a senior. He has shared time with Hannam for most of the season.

"He's facing a senior defensive end (Brooks Reed) so he has a heck of a challenge on his hands," Wulff said.

With Solomon out, Wulff said Isiah Barton and sophomore Gino Simone will see more playing time.

AS PREVIOUSLY REPORTED by CF.C, Nwachukwu also will miss a second consecutive week. His absence is significant because it means the Cougars will not start anyone older than a sophomore in the secondary against the conference's top passing offense.

The Wildcats rank fifth among Football Bowl Subdivision schools with 328.6 passing yards per game. Wulff did not say who will replace Nwachukwu, but true freshman Deone Bucannon started in his place last week.

Arizona junior quarterback Nick Foles, who has completed an eye-popping 137 of 183 passes (75 percent) for 1,529 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions, ranks third in the Pac-10 in pass efficiency. He also has 6-4, 210-pound junior wide receiver Juron Criner, who has a conference-best 531 yards, and three touchdowns on 31 receptions.

"Juron Criner might be the best receiver in the league," said Wulff, adding that his team needs to be better at the point of attack to contain the Wildcats' short, precision passing game. "He's a big, big physical guy."

But Wulff maintains that WSU (1-5, 0-3) cannot become too focused on such things. Even though the Wildcats only rank 99th among FBS on the ground, he said they have quality veteran running backs in senior Nic Grigsby, who has rushed for 274 yards and five touchdowns on 50 carries, and backups Keola Antolin and Greg Nwoko.

"We have to get some third-down stops," said Wulff, whose team ranks eighth in the conference as opponents have converted 47.4 percent of their third downs. "That's going to be a big part of it."

  • Wulff said he still is "gathering our facts" regarding redshirt freshmen linebackers Jamal Atofau and Andre Barrington. Both players were arrested early Sunday after Pullman Police found 38 marijuana plants growing in a house they shared with two other individuals. Atofau has been suspended indefinitely, while a suspension is unnecessary for Barrington, because he has not practiced with the team this year and is academically ineligible. Atofau has played in five games and has eight tackles this year.

    Wulff referenced the legal system and "how that's going to unfold." He estimated it could be anywhere from one to four weeks before a decision on the pair's future is made.

  • Junior running back Logwone Mitz had a season-high 15 carries against Oregon, but Wulff said Tuesday that his playing time this week would be determined by how hard he practiced. So how's that been? Wulff said Mitz has had a good week of practice so far and he likely would continue to see more time behind senior starter James Montgomery.

  • Wulff said Sunday that he wanted more production from his kickoff-return team. Junior Aire Justin now will team with Barton on returns. WSU ranks 66th in that statistic among FBS teams with an average return of 21.64 yards.

    Otherwise, Wulff said he mostly is pleased with his special-teams production, although WSU gave up a score on a punt return against Oregon.

    "I think our coverage on kickoff and our coverage on punts -- other than one time -- have been pretty dang good," he said, referring to Cliff Harris' 67-yard return for a touchdown last week. "The mistakes that have been made have been youthful mistakes."

    But Wulff said place kicking remains a concern. Senior Nico Grasu has converted 80 percent of his field goals and 10 of 11 extra points. True freshman Andrew Furney missed his only field-goal attempt and has made all four extra points. He missed an extra point back against UCLA that was negated after a replay official determined quarterback Jeff Tuel did not cross the goal line on a touchdown run.

  • Wulff said he is happy with the talent the Cougars are developing in their walk-on program. While he has not awarded any scholarships this season, Wulff said he has a list of about eight players he could foresee earning financial aid in the future.

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