Can Cougs take next step in OL protection?

WASHINGTON STATE IS coming off a bye week, but there was no shortage of topics that coach Paul Wulff discussed during his Pac-12 and regular teleconferences Tuesday as his team prepares for its conference opener at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Colorado (TV: Fox College Sports Pacific). Wulff talked about the o-line, if adjusting for the altitude in the Rocky Mountains is needed, recruiting and more.

Most analysts have Colorado (1-3) pegged to finish near or at the bottom of the Pac-12 South. But the Buffaloes have been installed as three-point favorites against WSU (2-1) and Wulff said they have talent on both sides of the ball.

One of those players is sophomore wide receiver Paul Richardson, who had 284 yards and two touchdowns on 11 receptions on Sept. 10 against California. Richardson has been limited to four catches in each of the last two games, which Wulff attributes to increased attention placed on him by Colorado State and Ohio State.

"There's no question he's a big-play guy," he said. "He's got a tremendous amount of talent and speed. We're going to be aware of where he's at."

Behind senior quarterback Tyler Hansen, the Buffaloes rank 25th among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams with 287.5 passing yards per game. CU's rushing game has been much less successful as the Buffaloes averaged just 86.5 yards per game, which ranks 105th. But CU still features senior Rodney Stewart, who rushed for 1,318 yards last year.

Wulff described both the 5-foot-6 Stewart and his backup, freshman Tony Jones, as "explosive." He said both are capable of creating plays as runners and receivers.

THE BUFFALOES MIGHT be even better defensively, where they rank 34th with an average of 323 yards allowed per game. A lot of that success has come through the defensive line. CU had 14 sacks, which is tied for 10th nationally.

Wulff said most of that simply has come through a four-man pass rush, but he said the Buffaloes also have some blitz packages that incorporate linebackers. He said one of the keys to victory will be for his offensive line to "win and identify" those rushes.

That was a problem during the Cougars' 42-24 loss Sept. 17 at San Diego State. WSU quarterback Marshall Lobbestael was sacked six times during that game.

Junior-college transfer Taylor Meighen made his first start at center during that contest in place of senior Andrew Roxas (ankle) and while he had moments, he also struggled, according to Wulff. Another junior-college transfer, Matt Goetz, moved from guard to center during the bye week and was again running with the 1s on Sunday night.

While Wulff said Goetz performed well during those practices, he expects Roxas back "on a limited basis" this week. He is not certain which player will start against CU at center.

Roxas was injured before the SDSU game, but Wulff said his team sustained more injuries than he anticipated immediately afterward. He said the bye week allowed those players extra rest.

For others, it was an opportunity for a refresher. Wulff said there was an emphasis on areas that need improvement, while the coaching staff also introduced some concepts that were not utilized during the first three games.

Junior quarterback Jeff Tuel also reemerged last week. Tuel, who suffered a broken left clavicle Sept. 3 against Idaho State, has thrown the ball in practice but not in any team drills.

"The plan is he'll throw a little more," said Wulff, referring to practice this week. "He won't have gear on. After this game, he'll probably be able to have pads on and we'll continue to evaluate the healing process of the bone."

The earliest timetable for Tuel's return is Oct. 8 at UCLA though the following week against Stanford might be most realistic. Wulff said that while no official decision has been made, he expects Tuel to replace Lobbestael as the starter when he is able to play.

  • WSU's last six commitments have come from offensive linemen, as reported by CF.C. They include in-state products B.J. Salmonson (Everson) and Sam Flor (Seattle) in addition to a pair of Californians -- Eduardo Middleton and Fernando Villanueva -- and two others, Denzell Dotson (Arizona) and Pierson Villarrubia (Louisiana).

    Wulff cannot discuss individual recruits until National Letter of Intent Day in February, but he said offensive line has been a focus based on the program's needs and the quality of available players.

    "I feel these guys are all outstanding prospects for us," he said.

    He raved about the Cougars' 2010 class, which already has produced several standouts, but he said the current group could be WSU's best since Wulff signed with then-coach Jim Walden in 1985.

    "I'm very happy about this class," he said.

  • One discussion point that always surfaces when a team plays at CU is its 5,360-foot elevation. But Wulff said that was not one of his biggest concerns. He noted that Pullman's elevation is more than 2,300 feet. Wulff also played at CU -- a 26-17 loss in 1987 -- and two years later at Wyoming. The Cougars won the latter game, 29-23, which was played at more than 7,000 feet above sea level.

    "We've got to make sure we're hydrated," Wulff said. "It should not be an issue."

  • As previously reported by CF.C, Wulff said he expects true freshman defensive end Logan Mayes to make his WSU debut Saturday. Wulff said Mayes initially will be used in passing downs, but his role could expand. He would be the 10th true freshman to play for the Cougars this year, joining walk-ons Jordan Simone, Alex Den Bleyker and Cyrus Coen and scholarship players Marcus Mason, Chester Su'a, Henry Eaddy, Isiah Myers, Darryl Monroe and Spencer Waseem.

    Wulff said he anticipates the other freshman will redshirt barring a "rash" of injuries at any position. He also still plans to redshirt junior-college transfer defensive end Ian Knight.

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