Wulff: WSU has opportunity to create memories

IT IS A game that Washington State coach Paul Wulff said Tuesday he will cherish for the rest of his life. The indelible image of defensive back Vernon Todd swatting away Troy Aikman's pass into the end zone to preserve the Cougars' win at No. 1 UCLA in 1988. A new generation of players, he said, have a similar opportunity when they host No. 7 Stanford at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

"There are things that stick with you for the rest of your life," Wulff said. "It's an opportunity to create some great memories."

Similar to Aikman, who was the first selection of the 1989 NFL draft by Dallas, the Cougars (3-2 overall, 1-1 Pac-12) must contain another elite signal-caller to have any prospect of an upset during the homecoming game, which will be televised on Versus. Junior Andrew Luck, who has completed 106 of 145 passes for 1,383 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions this season, is the consensus top pro prospect in next April's draft.

Wulff raved about Luck's accuracy and it's not hard to see why. The junior has completed 73 percent of his passes.

"He gets them into the right plays. He's also a threat with his feet," said Wulff.

But the Cardinal's offense, which has allowed just two sacks, is more than just Luck. Wulff said the collective unit might be the best in college football. Junior Stepfan Taylor, who rushed for 1,137 yards last year, already has 459 yards and five touchdowns on 84 carries this season.

"They run the ball so effectively," Wulff said. "They've probably got three NFL players on that offensive line.

"The best thing we can do is slow the run down. When we're defending the pass, we're going to have to make plays in the secondary."

Wulff was dismissive that his players could experience an awe factor when facing Luck, whose offense averages 46.2 points per game, which is seventh among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. He noted that most of the unit returns from last year's 38-28 loss at Stanford.

But how do the Cougars contain one of the game's most prolific offenses?

"You line up and play hard football," Wulff said. "We have to execute at a high level."

The latter was not the case Saturday when WSU's defense surrendered a 58-yard completion to wide receiver Nelson Rosario that set up the go-ahead touchdown in a 28-25 loss at UCLA.

"It concerns you," said Wulff, referring to explosive plays allowed in the fourth quarter. "They were big plays. That's something we've got to grow from. We can't give up the big play."

The Cardinal (5-0, 3-0) also rank 24th (32:19 minutes) in time of possession. While many coaches and analysts feel that statistic is overrated, Wulff said it helps keep Stanford's defense fresh. The Cardinal allow just 302.4 yards per game, which ranks 19th nationally.

"They're sound," Wulff said. "They take coaching very well. They go out and execute. They're a veteran football team."

WULFF SAID SENIOR quarterback Marshall Lobbestael, who has completed 118 of 182 passes for 1,570 yards, 15 touchdowns and four interceptions, is probable to start against Stanford. He reiterated that junior Jeff Tuel, who suffered a broken left clavicle Sept. 3 against Idaho State, will not ascend to No. 1 on the depth chart until he is healthy and displays that he is a better option than Lobbestael. Tuel is scheduled for an X-ray Wednesday to see how his collarbone is healing.

"The X-ray has got to be good and he's got to feel good," said Wulff, adding that redshirting Tuel remains a possibility. "We're hoping it's soon, but we don't know when that will be. I think he has a little soreness here and there. I think a lot of it is muscle related because he was in a sling for two weeks."

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Wulff said he is not concerned about the Cougars' red-zone offense. WSU kicked four field goals at UCLA. If the Cougars scored a touchdown on just one of those possessions, particularly the three inside the red zone, they would have won. Wide receivers Jared Karstetter and Marquess Wilson both dropped touchdown passes, while Wulff said Lobbestael also made a poor throw on one play.

    "There's nothing really broken," he said. "I don't think you do anything different. I think it comes down to players executing concepts and plays."

    The result, he said, was losing a game they should have won.

    "I thought in a lot of ways we dominated the football game," Wulff said. "We just lost on the scoreboard. We played hard and tackled well. You win that game 95 out of 100 times.

    "We're playing good, physical football."

  • Wulff said he expects senior wide receiver Isiah Barton (ankle) to practice Wednesday. As previously reported by CF.C, Barton was seen wearing a protective boat at Monday's practice.

  • WSU often has featured exceptional quarterback play and some standout running backs and wide receivers. That has not always been the case on the offensive line, though. But Wulff thinks that is changing. He has he really likes his line's "raw talent" and raves about the high-school players who are committed in the 2012 class.

    "Some of the offensive linemen we're bringing in here have great talent," Wulff said. "I would be shocked if there ever was this much talent and potential on the offensive line."

  • The Cardinal have 17 sacks and their average of 3.4 per contest ranks seventh nationally. Despite that, Wulff said he has no concerns about Lobbestael, who is not regarded for his speed or scrambling ability, in the pocket.

    "We believe in our quarterbacks to get rid of the ball on time," he said.

  • Jim Harbaugh left Stanford to become coach of the San Francisco 49ers during the offseason, but Wulff said the Cardinal's schemes are similar to a year ago.


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