Wazzu's enhanced depth paying dividends

ONE CONSISTENT THEME Paul Wulff has maintained recently is that his program has not arrived quite yet. But unlike previous seasons, the fourth-year Washington State coach said Thursday that his team is in a much better position to handle injuries because of its improved depth as they prepare to play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at UCLA (TV: Root Sports).

"You're starting to see all the signs," Wulff said. "(Now) when you have injuries, it doesn't decimate your program."

That was tested during the Sept. 3 season opener when junior quarterback Jeff Tuel suffered a broken left clavicle and was replaced by senior Marshall Lobbestael, who threw just 15 passes last year. Fast forward to today and Lobbestael's 168.34 rating makes him the 13th most efficient passer among Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks.

It also has occurred on the offensive line where the Cougars (3-1 overall, 1-0 Pac-12) had to replace senior Andrew Roxas (ankle) before the Sept. 17 game at San Diego State. Sophomore Matt Goetz took the starting job last week at Colorado and earned praise from Wulff. Roxas, who participated in six plays during the 31-27 win against the Buffaloes, should see more time at UCLA (2-3, 1-1).

"He's moving around much better than he did," Wulff said. "There's a good chance he'll play a lot of football Saturday."

Another offensive line position that could be in flux is right tackle, where senior Wade Jacobson (back) might be sidelined. Junior Dan Spitz has filled in for him at practice. Wulff said Spitz, who missed last season with a torn right-shoulder labrum, still is "a little raw," but is more experienced than some of the alternatives WSU has used in recent years. For example, true freshman Alex Reitnouer, who weighed 253 pounds at the time, was forced to start in 2009 at Oregon.

Wulff did not rule out that Jacobson could start at UCLA.

"It just depends on how he responds," he said. "I know he feels a lot better than he did yesterday."

Wulff also praised Jacobson for his maturation during his time with the Cougars. Jacobson is known to be a bit eccentric, and Wulff said he felt that the characteristics of the Palouse were a "perfect match" for the transfer from Gavilan College in California during his recruitment in 2010. Jacobson is also an outdoors enthusiast.

Jacobson started last season at left guard, but has moved to right tackle this season following the graduation of four-year starter Micah Hannam.

"This fall is the best he's been," Wulff said. "He's played his best and most consistent football."

  • Cyrus Coen, a true freshman from Pearl City, Hawaii, was listed as sophomore Sekope Kaufusi's backup at strongside linebacker before last week's game. Coen is a walk-on.

    "His athleticism, speed, toughness and quickness have been a pleasant surprise for us," Wulff said. "He's got a bright future."

  • Because of the late start Saturday, Wulff said the team will modify its schedule slightly. He said Friday's activities will be lighter and some team meetings will be moved to Saturday. Wulff said players from California will have an opportunity to meet with their families on a limited basis.

    "They're going to have a decent block (of time), but there's still a commitment to the team," he said. "These aren't vacations."

  • Wulff said whether Tuel will play remains to be determined. As previously reported by CF.C, Lobbestael will make his fifth start of the season at UCLA.

    "He was a lot more comfortable yesterday than the day before," he said. "We'll see how he is today and keep gauging it."

  • Barring changes, this will mark WSU's final visit to Southern California until it plays at USC in 2013. Wulff said he is not concerned about that impacting recruiting, though.

    "In the older days, I think it was vital," said Wulff, referring to annual visits to Los Angeles. "Now with the way TV has evolved, I don't see it being as big of a deal as it used to be. We're in homes week in and week out."

    He said that particularly will be true next year when the Pac-12's new television contract starts.

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