WSU looks to contain formidable UCLA run game

COLLEGE FOOTBALL INCREASINGLY has become a passing game. But any coach will, if he can, run all day long. Coach Paul Wulff said during his Tuesday teleconferences that the Cougars will have another opportunity to show their improvement in that facet of the game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at UCLA (TV: Root Sports).

WSU (3-1 overall, 1-0 conference) lost 42-28 last year at UCLA, mostly because of its inability to contain running backs Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman. The duo combined for 401 yards on 45 carries in last year's game.

After that game, Wulff moved defensive end Sekope Kaufusi to outside linebacker and inserted C.J. Mizell into the starting lineup.

"It was the best thing we could do at the time," said Wulff, who also praised linebacker coach Chris Tormey's work with the duo. "We're bigger and stronger physically. We're a lot more comfortable with our assignments."

Wulff this offseason also replaced defensive line coach Malik Roberson with former UCLA assistant Todd Howard.

"He's gotten a lot of guys to get onto the field and be consistent," said Wulff, adding that Howard's experience as an assistant under UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel could benefit the Cougars. "We've got an ability to rotate four extra guys in there. It's kept us a little fresher and not as nicked up."

WSU ranks 47th among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision in run defense. The Cougars allow 127.25 yards per game and 3.61 hashes each carry.

In addition to enhanced speed and strength, Wulff attributed WSU's improved performance against the run to experience. One example is senior linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis, who played just one year of high-school football and another at a junior college before signing with the Cougars in 2008. He frequently was plagued by mistakes, such as taking poor angles on run plays, in 2009-10. Hoffman-Ellis had a game-high 14 tackles during Saturday's 31-27 win at Colorado, and Wulff said he has improved dramatically this season.

WSU's ability to contain the run again could determine the outcome of this year's game. The Bruins (2-3, 1-1) rank 29th with an average of 199.4 rushing yards per game and average 5.09 hashes per carry.

"They are very committed to running the football and being good at it," Wulff said. "We've got to win our battles up front. We know we won't stop it, but we've got to be sound. We just don't want to be undisciplined and beat physically very often."

WULFF ACKNOWLEDGES THAT there is "a little more spring" to the coaches' step after beating Colorado, both in the office and out on the field this week.

"I warned (players) that there's going to be a lot of people patting you on the back," Wulff said. "We haven't accomplished a whole lot yet."

He long has maintained that playing in a bowl this season is a goal, and Wulff said coming back and winning a game late should help his team.

"What they learned is probably some confidence and belief," he said. "They were able to get a victory out of those situations.

"I know we have taken a step in the right direction. There's a lot of things we accomplished in this game that this team can take moving forward. I like the direction this program is headed."

Wulff scoffed at the notion that the dramatic win could result in a letdown game against the Bruins.

"It was a last-quarter win, but we didn't play a great football game," he said. "I don't look at it as a great emotional game."

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • WSU fans frequently discuss the impact that basketball player Klay Thompson, who was a first-round pick by the Golden State Warriors in June, had on recruiting in that sport. But Wulff said walk-on sophomore defensive end Matthew Bock, who attended Santa Margarita High School in California with Thompson, was influenced by his friend to attend WSU. Bock, a 6-foot-2, 246-pound sophomore, now is in the rotation on the line. "Matt is a hard worker and he's tough," said Wulff, adding that Bock should be a bigger factor in the future as he develops physically. "He's working himself into helping this team."

  • Wulff said senior center Andrew Roxas (ankle), who came in briefly against Colorado, still is not fully healthy. Sophomore Matt Goetz made his first start at Colorado and Wulff said he will continue with the 1s until Roxas is healthy."Considering it was his first career game starting, he did a fine job," said Wulff. "He's very athletic and he falls into things naturally. He's very consistent snapping the ball."

  • Junior defensive end Adam Coerper (knee) will not play at UCLA, but Wulff hopes he can return to practice next week, Wulff said. Coerper was injured Sept. 17 at San Diego State. Punt returner Leon Brooks (shoulder) is questionable against the Bruins. He was injured at Colorado.

  • As previously reported by CF.C, Wulff said junior quarterback Jeff Tuel, who has not played since he suffered a broken left clavicle Sept. 3 against Idaho State, could be a game-time decision. Senior Marshall Lobbestael will start at UCLA. Wulff said Tuel has to display that he is "better" than Lobbestael before he plays.


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