WSU's kicking game remains a sore point

SPECIAL TEAMS WAS one of Washington State's few units that stood out last season, but it also was one perhaps the only area that warranted criticism during Saturday's 59-7 win against UNLV. The Cougars had two kickoffs that landed out of bounds and also surrendered a late touchdown on a kickoff return. Coach Paul Wulff analyzed that unit and more during his Sunday teleconference.

Wulff was less critical of the kickoff return by Tim Cornett for a touchdown with 5:29 remaining in the game than the other special-teams breakdowns.

"We had a couple of guys we felt might have been held at the point of attack," he said.

WSU (2-0) consistently ranked near the best among Football Championship Subdivision team for allowing the fewest yards on kickoff returns last year. And Wulff again feels the Cougars' return coverage is good. But he said the lack of consistency displayed by kickers Andrew Furney and Alex Gauper is problematic.

He said neither can consistently kick the ball into the end zone. But Wulff said that is not necessarily a problem as long as kickoffs have enough hang time to get the coverage teams in place. He said it is difficult when one kickoff might reach the goal line, while the next lands around the 20-yard line.

"We just need to develop some consistency there," Wulff said.

Kickoffs that landed out of bounds twice gave the Rebels (0-2) possession at the 40-yard line.

"We're trying to keep everything inbounds," Wulff said. "Sometimes they just get pushed or pulled too far."

He said Furney, a sophomore, remains No. 1 on the depth chart when it comes to both kickoffs and extra points and field goals. But he said Gauper, a junior, still will travel with the team because he also is the backup punter to Dan Wagner.

SENIOR Marshall Lobbestael completed 24 of 32 passes for 361 yards and five touchdowns against the Rebels. Last season, Lobbestael completed just 7 of 15 passes in 2010.

"I am very happy for him personally because I know all of the work he's put in," Wulff said. "From a coaching standpoint, he's been through a lot here."

He also said he was happy with the performance of redshirt freshman Kristoff Williams, who was expected to play last year before he was sidelined with turf toe. Williams had 89 yards on four receptions.

Wulff was at least as effusive in his praise of the defense, which allowed just 158 yards against UNLV. In comparison, the Cougars' offense produced 610 yards of total offense.

"We were pretty assignment sound on defense," he said. "We tackled well."

The Rebels passed for only 60 yards, but Wulff said it was difficult to assess the play of his cornerbacks because "they weren't challenged a lot." When they were, he said they tackled well.

The Cougars rank first among FBS teams with an average of 61.5 points per game and 24th in points allowed (14.0). But WSU now plays San Diego State (2-0) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. The Aztecs finished 9-4 and won the Poinsettia Bowl last year. The Cougars have one only once on the road -- 31-14 on Nov. 13, 2010, at Oregon State -- during the last two seasons.

"(We need intensity in practice) because things keep becoming a bigger challenge for us," Wulff said. "We need to keep growing and evolving as a team because we're not where we need to be."

SDSU has opened against two teams -- Cal Poly and Army -- that feature the triple option and Wulff said he "hopes" the Aztecs struggle to adjust to the Cougars' no-huddle scheme. But he added that WSU also does not have any film from SDSU for this season.

"We're going to have some challenges figuring out what we need to do," Wulff said.

He said not much, including the starting lineup, will change this week during practice.

"It's going to be the same approach," Wulff said. "We've got to come out and work hard to get ourselves better."

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