Wulff: Cougars need to bring physicality back

HE WANTS REDEMPTION. Paul Wulff said Tuesday he expects his Cougs to play more like they did in competitive losses to three consecutive ranked opponents than last week's 42-0 debacle at unranked Arizona State. "We've got to respond," he said. "I think we were all embarrassed by our performance because I think we were setting a standard… based on what we had shown the previous four or five weeks."

The Cougars (1-8 overall, 0-6 Pac-10) play California at 1 p.m. Saturday at Martin Stadium (TV: FSN-NW).

Wulff, who is in his third year at WSU, has stated in the past he felt the coaching staff was angrier than the players about losses. That, however, was not an issue this time.

"I think (they were) mad and embarrassed," he said. "I think we had quite a few players who were upset because they felt we were going to win the ballgame. It looked like we were running on empty. We've got to get back to playing tough, physical football."

Wulff said recruiting physical players with speed has been a priority. He cited freshmen safety Deone Bucannon, linebacker Sekope Kaufusi and C.J. Mizell and cornerback Nolan Washington as examples. The problem, he said, is that none of those players have been in the program more than two years.

"Those teams that are ranked are very veteran oriented," Wulff said.

He said the inexperience within the program was an issue last week.

"Our players heard from every source possible that this was going to be the one," said Wulff, referring to ending the Cougars' conference losing streak at ASU. "Sometimes it can deter their practice habits all week. I felt that happened last week.

"You're not playing a ranked team, so you should win. That's not the way it works in this conference. We're not good enough to think that way. We're going to have to play one hell of a game to win."

BUT IT DOES not appear impossible to end their 15-game Pac-10 losing streak. The Golden Bears (4-4, 2-3) were defeated 35-7 on Saturday at Oregon State and have lost all four of their road games by a combined score of 145-61. California's starting quarterback, senior Kevin Riley, suffered a season-ending left-knee injuryat OSU and the Golden Bears will start junior Brock Mansion. He has completed 14 of 25 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown this year.

Wulff said the change presents a little challenge because they are not as familiar with Mansion.

Perhaps a greater concern is California's running game. The last time the Golden Bears visited Pullman -- a 66-3 win in 2008 -- Jahvid Best had 200 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries. Best now plays for the Detroit Lions, but junior Shane Vereen remains. Vereen ranks fourth in the Pac-10 with 774 yards on 142 carries and he has the third most rushing touchdowns (10) in the conference.

"He's very athletic -- he's got excellent strength and power," Wulff said. "Suddenness. There's a lot of great qualities."

WSU allows a conference-worst 224.3 rushing yards per game and Bucannon has been one of the team's leading tacklers for several weeks.

"We've got to play good up front," Wulff said. "We can't have our safeties making all the tackles. Some of these guys have to win up front. Those things have not happened when we've faced them the last few times."

He also said his team needs to create turnovers. The Cougars have fallen to eighth in the conference in turnover ratio at minus-five. WSU had just one takeaway last week, while it turned over the ball three times.

"Turnovers were an area where we were starting to gain momentum," Wulff said. "If you go back and look at Oregon or Arizona, we were physical. It wasn't just handed to us, we knocked the ball out."

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • Wulff said a bye "would help right now." That is because several players are injured. Running backs James Montgomery (thigh bruise), Chantz Staden (rib) and Carl Winston (hamstring) could be unavailable against the Golden Bears. If that occurs, Wulff said senior Marcus Richmond likely would start at running back. He said Montgomery is questionable, while Staden is doubtful. He said Staden felt better Monday "for the first time in three weeks." Wulff said Winston is about 90 percent healthy.

    In other injury news, Wulff hopes that defensive backs Anthony Carpenter and Aire Justin are able to return. Both are recovering from concussions. Wide receiver Daniel Blackledge (headaches) and Kaufusi (shoulder) also might be out.

  • In an unusual move, the Cougars practiced in pads Monday.

    "We just wanted to get out and pick up the pace," Wulff said. "Generally when we have pads on it lends itself to a little more contact."

  • Oregon now is ranked No. 1 in both The Associated Press poll and BCS. The Cougars played the Ducks tougher than many teams before falling 43-23 on Oct. 9 in Pullman. Wulff was asked if he felt Oregon played its best that day considering it has defeated better teams by larger margins.

    "I felt they came ready to play," he said. "We went out and got very physical on them. They had all their guys out there. They did everything they always try to do."


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