Cougar D being built from the middle

WITH THE EXCEPTION of being the two most popular sports in the United States, there are few similarities between baseball and football. But Washington State coach Paul Wulff said during his Tuesday teleconference that he can apply an old hardball adage to the gridiron: build the defense up the middle.

He said that is occurring with the Cougars (1-9 overall, 0-7 Pac-10), who play at 1 p.m. Saturday at Oregon State (TV: FSN-NW). Wulff cited a pair of true freshmen — safety Deone Bucannon and linebacker C.J. Mizell — as reasons behind that. Bucannon, who has started at strong safety the last five weeks, leads WSU and ranks 11th in the Pac-10 with average of 7.2 tackles per game.

"I haven't seen a first-year freshman as good as him in a long time," said Wulff, adding that he would prefer for Bucannon to not have to make as many tackles.

Mizell was suspended for the Oct. 15 game against Arizona, but has started three consecutive games. Perhaps the most celebrated member of February's recruiting class — he signed with Florida State in 2009 before being declared academically ineligible — Mizell was criticized for poor practice habits and saw limited playing time initially.

"C.J. has come quite a ways," Wulff said. "He kind of epitomizes our football team. There's ups and downs, but there's a lot of potential."

ANOTHER ADAGE IS that success in football always starts with line play. The defensive line has not been a strength for the Cougars this season as they rank last in the against the run (223.1 yards per game) and have the second-fewest sacks (18) in the Pac-10. Wulff said Anthony Laurenzi is emerging at defensive tackle, though.

He said there are rare circumstances where players excel immediately, but it usually takes a few years for that to occur. Wulff said he recently has seen "the light" go on for Laurenzi, a third-year sophomore.

"Anthony Laurenzi played the best game by a defensive tackle for us all year," said Wulff, adding that Laurenzi likely will start Saturday. "That was very encouraging."

The defensive-line play will be significant as the Cougars try to contain Beavers junior running back Jacquizz Rodgers. His 4.5 yards per carry rank below several other running backs in the conference, but his 13 rushing touchdowns are second in the Pac-10. Wulff said Rodgers' running ability makes OSU (4-4, 3-2) a strong play-action team.

The Beavers also have only turned over the ball four times — all on interceptions — this year. OSU has lost twice in the last three weeks by three points or less, and Wulff said turnover margin will be critical toward his team's success.

OFFENSIVELY, WULFF SAID it all comes down to execution. Among WSU opponents so far, only USC (423.8 yards per game) ranks lower in total defense than the Beavers (412.6).

As previously reported on CF.C, Wulff said a pair of seniors, running back James Montgomery and wide receiver Daniel Blackledge, both of whom suffered concussions in recent weeks, will be ready to play Saturday.

"We really missed those guys last Saturday," he said, referring to the Cougars' 20-13 loss against California.

In addition to Montgomery, Wulff said sophomore Carl Winston (hamstring) should be able to join the rotation at running back that also includes junior Logwone Mitz and senior Marcus Richmond.

At other positions, sophomore cornerback Daniel Simmons, who has started throughout the season, had an arthrogram Tuesday to determine the severity of his rotator-cuff injury and Wulff said early indications do not look positive. He said Simmons will not play Saturday, but could return for the Dec. 4 Apple Cup if it is just a strain. If the rotator cuff is torn, he will miss the remainder of the season. Wulff said junior Aire Justin will start in his place.

He said redshirt freshman linebacker Sekope Kaufusi (shoulder) might be able to play, while sophomore wide receiver Gino Simone (concussion) is out against the Beavers.

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • It was announced Tuesday that the Apple Cup will be played at 4 p.m. and will be televised on Versus.

    "I think it's a good time," Wulff said. "Either that or 7 (p.m.) would be good for me. I think the colder the day could be, the better in my opinion."

    When asked about the prospect of snow, he said that could be "a lot of fun."

  • Wulff said he initially intended to redshirt true freshman kicker Andrew Furney from Burlington-Edison High School, but that changed when senior Nico Grasu struggled early in the season. He said he also wanted to determine whether Furney could handle the role in the future or if he needed to recruit another kicker.

    "I didn't think we would ever know that until we gave him opportunities," said Wulff, adding that Furney has the leg strength to kick from 55 or possibly 60 yards out. "He gets the ball up really high off the ground quick."

    Wulff said Furney initially took too much time to kick field goals, but that has improved as the season progressed. He said Furney has not shown enough consistency to handle kickoffs yet, though.

  • The Cougars might have to adjust their protection schemes on the offensive line to contain OSU defensive tackle Stephen Paea, who is regarded as a first-round pick in next year's NFL draft by many analysts, Wulff said.

  • Wulff again was asked about the third-and-20 play where California's Jeremy Ross, who fought through numerous defenders on a screen pass when he appeared to be several yards short of a first down. He instead gained 21 yards and the Golden Bears later scored on a 1-yard run by Shane Vereen.

    "There's a prime example of kids doing what they've been coached," Wulff said. "We were trying to create a turnover. I think they were just trying to get the dang ball out."


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