Cougs' focus strictly on Cal

WASHINGTON STATE HAS to win three of its final four games to become bowl eligible. And while it might be cliché, Paul Wulff said Sunday that the Cougars (3-5 overall, 1-4 Pac-12) can only focus on their upcoming game at 3:30 p.m. Saturday against California at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

That partially relates to how the season has unfolded. WSU arguably has played its best games in conference against the league's best teams -- No. 4 Stanford and No. 6 Oregon, which defeated the Cougars 43-28 on Saturday. But WSU also has lost against San Diego State, UCLA and Oregon State. Those teams have combined for a 10-13 record.

"We came off an emotional game against Stanford," said Wulff, referring to the subsequent loss to OSU, where WSU was favored. "These guys have never been in that situation. We have great kids, but they're still youthful. We have good character and our kids came back to fight."

Can the Cougars on Saturday (TV: Comcast SportsNet California) avoid against Cal (4-4, 1-4) a similar scenario? Wulff thinks so.

"I think we'll grow from that," Wulff said.

He said the same applies to the loss against the Ducks (7-1, 5-0). Three breakdowns on special teams -- a blocked punt, kickoff return for a touchdown and a missed field goal -- cost WSU 18 points. There also were four first-half possessions where the Cougars were inside Oregon's 25-yard line, but they only scored three points on those drives.

"I know as coaches we're all disappointed," Wulff said. "We had opportunities to win this game."

HE SAID WSU had some "bumps and bruises" against the Ducks, but said none are too significant. Wulff said the team added some offensive depth at Oregon, where redshirt freshman tight end Aaron Dunn played after being sidelined with a quadriceps injury.

"Aaron Dunn coming back has allowed us to do a little more of the tight-end stuff," he said.

As previously reported by CF.C, Wulff said he was reticent to use junior tight end Andrei Lintz too much in the passing game because, with only one healthy tight end, having one-third of your game plan hanging on a possible injury at that position is a bad way to fly. Given that Lintz was the Cougars' only healthy player at that position then, Wulff said the potential for injury was too great of a risk.

Lintz, who only had one reception this season entering Saturday's game, caught two passes for 29 yards.

"We'll continue to mix that in as part of our offense," Wulff said.

On the defensive side, redshirt freshman tackle Kalafitoni Pole, who suffered a pinched nerve in his neck during Wednesday's practice, did not play Saturday. He was replaced in the starting lineup by senior Brandon Rankin.

One reporter noted that Oregon seemed to take advantage of WSU's depleted depth at that position with multiple long third-quarter runs. But the Bears are not one of the better running teams the Cougars will face this season -- they rank 80th among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams with 135.8 rushing yards per game. Still, Pole's return likely would enhance WSU's run defense.

"It is important to get Toni back in there, especially against this team that is more power-oriented," Wulff said. "We're hoping by Wednesday he can get more practice time."

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