High hits are discussion for Cougars, others

EVERY FOOTBALL SEASON seems to be marked with a new emphasis from officials and this year there's been a number of penalties assessed for high hits. Wazzu coach Paul Wulff discussed that Tuesday -- along with a number of players returning to their Bay Area roots -- when his team plays at 3:30 p.m. Saturday against Cal at AT&T Park (TV: Root Sports-NW in WA, and Comcast SportsNet California ).

The emphasis on high hits has received even more attention this week after the Pac-12 suspended USC's TJ McDonald for the first half of Saturday's game at Colorado. McDonald was called for a 15-yard personal-foul penalty for targeting defenseless Stanford wide receiver Chris Owusu in the fourth quarter of the Trojans' 56-48 triple-overtime loss last week. It was the fourth time McDonald has been penalized for that infraction this year.

Wulff confirmed that Pac-12 officials have examined some hits by sophomore safety Casey Locker. He applied a hit that knocked Owusu out of WSU's 44-14 loss Oct. 15 against Stanford, but was not penalized. That changed a week later when Locker drew a personal foul for his hit on Oregon State's Markus Wheaton. Wulff said both hits were reviewed and conference officials felt the first one was "clean," while the latter was not.

"I got a letter just stating that Casey has had some high hits and they wanted us to address it with him and the team," he said, adding that coaches are allowed to submit questionable officiating calls to the league office each week.

But Wulff said he never will ask his players to be more cautious on the field.

"We're doing our best to make kids obey by the rules without losing their aggressiveness," he said. "I understand what (officials are) trying to do, but it's not an easy thing to accomplish."

Wulff supports the idea that Pac-12 coaches and officials should meet during the offseason to clarify the rules. While Wulff said he does not want players intentionally knocking opponents out, he is worried that lower tackles could result in significant ankle and knee injuries.

"I don't think that's fair, either," he said. "It is football. Somewhere along the line we have to draw a line. Collisions happen."

THE COUGARS (3-5 overall, 1-4 league) will have a number of players competing near their hometowns at California (4-4, 1-4). Wulff particularly recruited Northern California hard when he signed a number of players from the Bay Area and Sacramento in his 2010 recruiting class.

"It was exciting to come back and play in an area where you are from," Wulff said.

Wulff, who is from Woodland, Calif., just outside of Sacramento, said Cal was his homecoming game when he played for the Cougars from 1986-89.

"Cal had offered me a scholarship and recruited me hard," he said. "It was just not for me."

Wulff said it is easier now to recruit players from a distance because their families cannow more easily watch them on TV each week.

ONE AREA WHERE Wulff feels his team must exploit the Golden Bears is turnovers. Cal has 14 turnovers this season, which ranks 57th among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

"We've got to get some turnovers," said Wulff, adding that applying pressure on the quarterback will be significant. "That has been the most effective thing when you play Cal."

That particularly was true during the Golden Bears' 31-14 loss at UCLA when quarterback Zach Maynard threw four interceptions and his team lost the ball five times. California coach Jeff Tedford has not declared whether Maynard or sophomore Allan Bridgford will start this week. The latter has completed 12 of 29 passes for 179 yards this season.

WSU struggled to adjust when Richard Brehaut was replaced by mobile quarterback Kevin Prince in the Cougars' 28-25 loss Oct. 8 at UCLA. Wulff said his team must prepare for "who we believe" will start for the Golden Bears, but added that the differences between the signal-callers creates a challenge.

"Zach Maynard is mobile and has the ability to bootleg," he said. "That's an added dimension that makes it challenging for a defense."

Perhaps an even bigger challenge will be California's defense. The Cougars struggled to move the ball during last year's 20-13 loss against the Golden Bears, and that obstacle figures to remain this season. California allows just 199.3 passing yards per game, which ranks 32nd among FBS schools. Its pass defense efficiency, which ranks 53rd, is not quite as strong.

Wulff said the Golden Bears feature experience and "NFL-caliber players" on the defensive side.

"They're very stout," he said. "It's going to be a heck of a challenge."

  • Because Memorial Stadium is being renovated, California is playing its games at San Francisco's Major League Baseball facility. Wulff said that means there are a few quirks, but he does not plan to extend WSU's pregame walkthrough.

    "I just know the back of the end zones are pretty tight to the end of the stands," he said.

  • Sophomore cornerback Damante Horton has interceptions in each of his last four games for the Cougars. Wulff attributed those to good positioning and fortune.

    "Can we make it five?" he said, laughing. "People get on runs and things happen to be there for them."

  • Senior quarterback Marshall Lobbestael threw interceptions deep in Oregon territory twice during last week's 43-28 loss. At least one came when there were about a half-dozen defenders in the area he attempted to fit the ball through.

    "A sack isn't a bad thing, especially when you're in field-goal range," Wulff said. "We talk about that all of the time. He made a poor decision."

  • Wulff said he is hopeful that redshirt freshman defensive tackle Kalafitoni Pole (pinched nerve) can practice either today or Wednesday.

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