Full week of work critical for Tuel

DO NOT MENTION IT. Washington State coach Paul Wulff said he does not care about the Beavers' lackluster record (1-5). Instead, he said the Cougars' sole focus is on themselves as they prepare to play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against Oregon State at CenturyLink Field (TV: Root Sports). Wulff assessed his team, the Beavers and more on Tuesday, and Carl Winston was among those who came in for praise.

Wulff said WSU (3-3 overall, 1-2 conference) must play better this weekend, particularly in the second half, to beat OSU (1-5, 1-2). It begins with junior quarterback Jeff Tuel, who made his first start of the season during Saturday's 44-14 loss against Stanford after returning from a broken left clavicle suffered Sept. 3 against Idaho State.

He said Tuel, who completed 17 of 30 passes for 145 yards, will benefit from a full week of practice for the first time this season. Even before his injury, Tuel had the flu leading up to the season opener. Wulff said Tuel was able to prepare for Stanford, but nothing compares to live game action. He said that hindered Tuel in identifying pass rushes and even connecting with his receivers last week.

"Jeff did those types of things in his sleep during spring ball," Wulff said. "He won't make that same mistake again. I guarantee it."

Tuel was one of the stars in last year's 31-14 win at Oregon State that ended the Cougars' 16-game conference losing streak. He rushed for a team-high 79 yards on 18 carries as WSU beat the Beavers for the first time since 2006.

That does not mean Tuel will be frequently scrambling again, though. After all, the strength of OSU's defense might be ends Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn. The Beavers also rank 112th among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in pass efficiency defense.

"We'll do a few things that hopefully Jeff will be really comfortable with," Wulff said. "There will be some subtle changes."

OSU MIGHT BE as unbalanced offensively as anytime in coach Mike Riley's tenure. The Beavers' average of 101.8 rushing yards per game ranks 107th among FBS teams. True freshman Malcolm Agnew, who has rushed for 272 yards and three touchdowns in just two games, returned last week after being sidelined since the season opener with a hamstring injury.

"He's quick and has good strength," Wulff said. "He's going to be a good football player."

Instead, OSU has turned to redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Mannion, who has completed 156 of 240 passes for 1,588 yards, five touchdowns and nine interceptions.

"When you're throwing 50 to 60 times a game, you're going to complete some and move the ball," said Wulff, adding that he likes Mannion's potential and that his 6-foot-5 frame allows him to see the field well.

Wulff said Mannion also has one of the top wide receivers in the conference in Markus Wheaton. The junior has 548 yards on 46 receptions.

"We can't let them get into a rhythm," Wulff said.

WULFF SAID HIS midseason MVPs on offense are junior Carl Winston and sophomore wide receiver Marquess Wilson, who has 638 yards and five touchdowns on 31 receptions. He said he put Winston, who has 193 yards and a touchdown on 48 carries, in that category because his ability to both run and block effectively and his toughness.

On defense, Wulff said senior linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis, who has a team-high 34 tackles and two sacks, and junior defensive end Travis Long have been the most consistent players.

He said he also has been happy with the performance of special teams outside of two kickoff returns for touchdowns.

"Coach (Dave) Ungerer has done a great job with our special teams," Wulff said. "Whenever we've had an issue on a kickoff, it usually is the height or distance. Punt coverage and net punting have been good."

Given Tuel's injury, Wulff said WSU has performed at about the level he expected entering the season.

"It's good because it's been a lot of hard work to get to this point," he said. "But we're nowhere near where we need to be. I came here to win championships."

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • The game at CenturyLink officially is a home contest, but Wulff said he treats it as an away game.

    "The one thing that will be different is the crowd will be on our side," he said, adding that the team will prepare in a manner that is consistent with other road games. "Hopefully it affects us in a positive way. That 12th man can have an impact on this ballgame."

    Athletic director Bill Moos plans to play home games against Oregon and OSU in Seattle for the next 10 years. Wulff said he supports the plan.

    "I think it's a necessity for us right now as we continue to grow the football program and the athletic department," he said. "I know it's important and we need to do it."

  • On the injury front, Wulff said both defensive end Lenard Williams (neck) and linebacker Sekope Kaufusi (shoulder) are probable for Saturday's game. He said junior defensive end Adam Coerper (knee) is questionable.

  • Wulff cannot discuss individual recruits until National Letter-of-Intent Day on Feb. 1, but he said some Arizona recruits have reached out to him since Wildcats coach Mike Stoops was fired earlier this month.

    He said the decision to fire Stoops will damage Arizona's recruiting class and the program will suffer because of it in upcoming years.

  • A nine-day closure of the State Route 99 Alaskan Way Viaduct begins Friday and will affect WSU football traffic. Fans heading to the game will likely run into long delays as they travel in and around downtown Seattle. The closure will increase traffic on Interstate 5 and other streets in central Seattle. Fans headed to the game are strongly advised to plan ahead and if possible look for alternate forms of transportation -- such as carpooling or riding the bus.


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