O-line calls crucial against SDSU's dynamic D

HE MIGHT BE a coaching version of a chemist. When Washington State plays at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at San Diego State, the Cougars will have to navigate through Rocky Long's defense. It has been accomplished before -- WSU won both meetings against Long's New Mexico teams in 2003-04 -- but it came with mixed success as the Cougars averaged but 22 points during those wins.

Coach Paul Wulff said the Aztecs (2-0) do run Long's 3-3-5 defense, but about the only similarities on any given play are two down linemen and cornerbacks. He said SDSU likes to use a variety of linebackers and safeties to disguise their schemes.

"They can create a lot of confusion," Wulff said. "It becomes challenging in the run and passing game. They'll also twist them up. They don't give you a stagnant look very often."

He said it is imperative for the offensive line to "make the right calls" in those situations. And the Cougars (2-0) might have to do it without senior center Andrew Roxas (ankle), whom Wulff said is questionable. Junior-college transfer Taylor Meighen will start if Roxas is unable to play.

"Taylor's got to step up and play well," Wulff said. "Taylor has gotten 50 snaps already in the first two games. That has been helpful."

He said having a veteran quarterback in fifth-year senior Marshall Lobbestael should benefit his team.

"It's a lot better than a freshman," Wulff quipped. "Hopefully we have a game plan that's not too confusing for our players."

He said there is "not a whole lot" the Cougars can take from reviewing Long's schemes at New Mexico -- WSU ran a different offense under former coach Bill Doba -- but he said the coaches are familiar with the 3-3-5 because several colleges run a variation of it.

And while Wulff of course did not outline his game plan, he feels there are areas the Cougars can exploit. The Aztecs allowed an average of 365 yards per contest in their first two games, which ranks 58th among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

"There are some things offensively we would like to be able to do," Wulff said. "We believe we have a solid game plan, we just have to execute it now."

SDSU'S OFFENSIVE STATISTICS were slightly worse -- the Aztecs rank 68th with an average of 392 yards per game -- but Wulff said they have plenty of potential. It all begins with sophomore Ronnie Hillman, who has 306 yards and four touchdowns on 45 carries.

Wulff said Hillman does not have quite as much power as Jacquizz Rodgers, but he sees some similarities between him and the elusive former Oregon State standout.

Ryan Lindley, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior, also returns at quarterback. Lindley has struggled with accuracy in the first two games -- he has completed just 23 of 45 passes -- but Wulff attributes that to a small sample size.

"This kid definitely is a pro prospect for a lot of reasons," said Wulff, citing Lindley's accuracy and ability to throw deep outs.

He said linebacker play for the Cougars, who feature just one senior starter (Alex Hoffman-Ellis) on that unit, will be important.

"They use at least two tight ends a majority of the time," Wulff said. "Their play-action game could be a strength of theirs. We've got to be disciplined and be able to handle it."

  • Wulff said redshirt freshman Toni Pole (left knee) "is doing better" and is expected to practice today.

  • This marks WSU's first road game of the season, but because the Cougars had far fewer than the maximum 85 scholarship players the last few seasons, Wulff was able to take many true freshmen on road trips. Because the Cougars this season now have more than 80 players on scholarship this year, Wulff said there are a few players he would like to bring to San Diego, but won't. According to WSU sports information director Bill Stevens, FBS teams are allowed to travel 70 players to away games.

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