Offensive line starters likely won't change

CONTINUITY IS NOT something the Cougars have featured along their injury-plagued offensive line this year. But WSU coach Paul Wulff said Tuesday afternoon that although Brian Danaher will be returning to action, he likely will start the same five players as the week before when his team hosts Arizona State on Saturday at Martin Stadium.

That means true freshman Alex Reitnouer, who is listed at 6-foot-5, 253 pounds, and junior Joe Eppele will make their second consecutive starts at the guard positions. Redshirt freshman Tyson Pencer will make his third start at left tackle. Right tackle continues to be manned by junior Micah Hannam, while senior Kenny Alfred is the center.

Danaher, a junior from Colfax, missed last week's 52-6 loss at Oregon after suffering a concussion the week before against USC. He will be available this weekend, but Wulff said he wants to be cautious with him.

After the ASU game, the Cougars have a bye week before playing Oct. 24 at Cal. Wulff is hopeful that three linemen who all started before suffering injuries -- Steven Ayers (ankle), B.J. Guerra (sprained knee) and Zack Williams (high ankle sprain) -- will be available against Cal.

Wulff said Williams will practice this week, but said he is taking it slowing with Williams to avoid aggravating the injury.

THAT MEANS REITNOUER , who initially was targeted to redshirt, likely will make at least one more start. Asked if Reitnouer was the lightest starting offensive lineman he can remember, Wulff said he himself actually was lighter -- just 246 pounds -- when he started in 1986 against bulky Arizona State defensive tackle Dan Saleaumua, who played 12 years in the NFL.

Wulff said Reitnouer struggled on a few occasions -- notably a missed block when sophomore running back Logwone Mitz was stopped short of the goal line. But he said Reitnouer also made some important blocks.

"There were signs of him being an extremely athletic player," Wulff said. "There were things done by him that we haven't had. It was pure athleticism."

WULFF HAD SIMILAR PRAISE for Oregon and its team speed, but did not mince words when it came to Ducks coach Chip Kelly challenging sophomore quarterback Marshall Lobbestael's 1-yard touchdown keeper. The score came with 2:08 minutes left in the third quarter and put WSU down 45-6.

"We're down right now," Wulff said. "There's some chips that are being thrown on our players and coaches shoulders that we will carry for a long time."

That likely won't be the case against ASU. Wulff and Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson often are in touch. Erickson coached Wulff at WSU in 1987-88 before he left to take over at the University of Miami.

Wulff, who lost 31-0 last year against Erickson in Tempe, Ariz., has gone against his former coach a couple of times. Wulff almost guided Eastern Washington to an upset win against Erickson's Oregon State team in 2000 before falling 21-19. The Beavers won the Fiesta Bowl that year.

DESPITE THAT , going against his former coach feels "a little bit" strange to Wulff. He said that revolves around his respect for Erickson. Wulff said the two talk on the phone a couple of times each year in addition to several meetings at conferences and on the recruiting trail.

Wulff said Erickson even tried to lure one of his first recruits at WSU, tight end Andrei Lintz. He said the teams battle for about a half-dozen prospects each year.

* Many in Arizona are calling for Erickson to replace senior Danny Sullivan at quarterback with freshman Brock Osweiler. Sullivan has completed 74 of 145 passes for 839 yards and three touchdowns this season. He also has been intercepted twice.

"Right now in the Pac-10, there's only a couple of guys who have taken charge of their football teams," Wulff said. "They've got to find a guy to take charge. I think that's probably how they're feeling."

  • Wulff feels the Cougars play better against more conventional offenses than run-and-shoot teams such as Hawaii and Southern Methodist, or even Oregon. He cited the team's play against Stanford's Toby Gerhart, who only broke the 100-yard mark when he broke a 39-yard run late in the game during the Sept. 5 opener.

    He cited increased strength on the defensive line and at linebacker, but said that season-ending injuries to defensive backs LeAndre Daniels (broken fibula) and Tyree Toomer (pectoral) have hurt the Cougars' team speed.

    "When we get spread out because of our speed, that's an area we get exploited at times," said Wulff, adding that recruiting fast players is an emphasis.

    He said he still is concerned about the Sun Devils' spread offense and their speed at wide receiver in particular.

    "They have the ability to big play you," Wulff said.

  • Wulff said he was impressed with a pair of true freshman who saw their first action against the Ducks. Running back Carl Winston rushed for a team-high 56 yards on seven carries.

    "When he did run the ball, he found some nice creases in there," Wulff said. "He has good vision and good quickness. He's a tough kid."

    Pullman High graduate Jared Byers also impressed Wulff. The 6-foot, 207-pound Byers moved from linebacker to fullback.

    "We moved him over this week because we weren't getting consistent protection at the fullback position," Wulff said. "I think he'll do a great job moving forward."

  • Wulff said senior quarterback Kevin Lopina (calf) won't be available against ASU. He expects Lopina, who started the first two games of the season, to return against Cal. True freshman Jeff Tuel (back) will start against ASU if he's healthy, while Lobbestael will back him up according to Wulff. He said sophomore walk-on Dan Wagner is the No. 3 quarterback. True freshman walk-on David Gilbertson will travel with the team, but Wulff prefers to redshirt him.

  • Sophomore safety Eric Block, who has battled ulcerative colitis -- a disease of the large intestine -- throughout his WSU career, suffered another setback and is doubtful against Cal.

  • Wulff said he is apprehensive about challenging calls on the field. He said officials have told him that every play on the field is reviewed. If the officials do not stop the game after a particular play, "they aren't going to overturn it at that point." With that in mind, Wulff said it's pointless to waste a timeout contesting a ruling.

  • Junior kicker Nico Grasu has missed extra points the last two weeks.

    "Yeah, I'm concerned," Wulff said. "You've got to kick the ball through the uprights. He's got a tremendous amount of talent. His focus is not good enough."

    Wulff said he can sympathize after missing a putt in golf and continuing to struggle.

    "I try and refocus," he said. "I still can't hit the damn ball straight."

  • Wulff said he believes WSU defensive end Travis Long and ASU linebacker Vontaze Burfict, a five-star recruit and top ranked middle linebacker in the 2009 class by, are the top freshmen he has seen in the Pac-10 so far.

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