DT Spitz vaults up depth chart

CALIFORNIA RUNNING BACK Jahvid Best ran wild in last year's win over the Cougs. And it will be a tall order to contain him this Saturday, said Paul Wulff. But the Cougar defense has some new faces and Wazzu has also shown a degree of improvement against the run in the season's first half. And for Cal, a rising DT has climbed the depth chart and will start on the interior for the Cougs.

ANOTHER LINEUP CHANGE has occurred at defensive tackle where junior Toby Turpin has been supplanted for the second time this season. Junior Josh Luapo initially took his position before suffering a season-ending knee injury against USC. Now, 6-foot-6, 268-pound redshirt freshman Dan Spitz has emerged.

Wulff said Spitz simply has been more consistent than others at the DT position. Spitz has seen considerable time on the edge this season with the injury in Week 1 to Kevin Kooyman but it would appear he may be spending increasing time inside.

"He's got a really bright future because he works really hard," he said. "His frame is going to get bigger and bigger. I think we have a bright young player on our hands down the road."

THE SCENARIO IS a little different on the injury-ravaged offensive line. At one point, six players Wulff projected to play at guard were out with injuries. He said the team also would have been without senior center Kenny Alfred, who required about 20 stitches when he fell on another player's cleat, if WSU had played last week. But he will start against Cal along with junior left guard Zack Williams, who has not played since suffering a high ankle sprain Sept. 12 against Hawaii.

Wulff said junior right guard Joe Eppele will start this week alongside classmate Micah Hannam. He said either sophomore Steven Ayers or true freshman Alex Reitnouer will start at left tackle. Redshirt freshman Tyson Pencer, who started the last three games at that position, is questionable with an ankle injury.

The injury situation along the line has been challenging for an inexperienced football team. Wulff said he is hopeful that players such as Ayers, sophomore guard B.J. Guerra and Pencer will be back at full strength within a week or two. He said Ayers and Guerra are "probably 60 to 75 percent" healthy now.

"It's really hard," Wulff said. "When you're shuffling your offensive line at any level of football, your consistency isn't as good."

LAST YEAR, Jahvid Best finished with 200 yards and three touchdowns on just 14 carries. Wulff said during Thursday's news conference that his team must contain Best to compete with the Bears on Saturday.

"This is our biggest test by far," he said. "We're defending a great runner."

Wulff believes his team has done a good job against some of the Pac-10's better running backs. In the 39-13 loss against Stanford in the season opener, running back Toby Gerhart rushed for 121 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. But take away a late 39-yard touchdown run and Gerhart averaged just 3.7 yards per carry in that game.

HE ALSO WAS PLEASED with the Cougars' run defense in a 27-6 loss Sept. 26 at USC. But WSU surrendered a couple of runs that went for at least 20 yards that pushed the Trojans' average to 5.4 yards per carry in that game.

Wulff said his team cannot do that against the Bears.

"The first priority for our defense, we've got to be very gap sound," he said. "If they hit full speed, it's pretty tough to stop. We've got to tackle well."

The latter did not occur last year, and Wulff joked that his "safeties had whiplash" from trying to tackle Best.

"I offered a neck brace for them this year," he quipped.

THE SECONARY ACTUALLY IS one of the more stable areas on the defense. Veterans Xavier Hicks and Chima Nwachukwu, who also is expected to play cornerback, are listed as the starters at safety. Junior Brandon Jones has started every game at cornerback, but his counterpart will be different this week as redshirt freshman Daniel Simmons suffered a season-ending broken leg Oct. 10 in the Cougars' 27-14 loss against Arizona State. Freshman Terrance Hayward is listed as the starter at right cornerback.

Wulff also might have to start his third different middle linebacker of the year. Sophomore Alex Hoffman-Ellis (staph infection) might be limited against Cal, while Wulff said Louis Bland (knee) is "highly, highly questionable." That means sophomore Mike Ledgerwood, who has seen most of his time on special teams this year, might make his first start.

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