Beavs present tough task for QB-uncertain WSU

WASHINGTON STATE allowed less than 40 points in each of its first four games this season. That might not sound like much of an accomplishment, said Paul Wulff, unless you compare it to last year when the team allowed at least 58 points in five Pac-10 contests. Wulff decides on Jason Stripling, talks about the QB situation and when a starter might be named and more.

The Cougars have not allowed that many points in any game this year -- their worst loss was 52-6 on Oct. 3 at Oregon -- but they have allowed at least 40 points in each of their last four games, including 43-7 last week against UCLA.

Given WSU's depth issues on the defensive line and Oregon State's strong running game, that under-50 threshold could be severely tested this weekend.

The ongoing series of lopsided losses, coupled with no prospect of a bowl game, means that keeping the 1-9 Cougars emotionally up can be difficult.

"It's not easy, (but) the game's fun," Wulff said. "It's still fun to play the games. If you're a competitor, you still want to go out and compete as hard as you can."

He said that is exactly what his team will need to do against the 7-3 Beavers on Saturday Kickoff is at 2 pm.

"They're balanced on both sides," Wulff said. "They've got a lot of people who know their system and execute well."

It all starts on offense with the Rodgers brothers. Sophomore Jacquizz Rodgers has rushed for 1,148 yards and 17 touchdowns on 215 carries. Junior James Rodgers, who also is 5 foot 7, began his OSU career as a running back but moved to wide receiver with the arrival of his brother last year. He has 832 yards and eight touchdowns on 71 receptions.

Last year, Wulff used James Montgomery to prepare his team for players such as California running back Jahvid Best and the Rodgers brothers during practice. But Montgomery is out for the rest of the season after having surgery in September to correct acute compartment syndrome in his left leg, and Wulff said there is no one within the program who is similar to the Rodgers brothers.

"They're special, talented guys," he said. "I think they're 80 percent of their offense almost combined. It's not going to be an easy game for us defensively."

The Beavers rank 58th among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total defense. They allow 355.4 yards per game. But OSU has held its last three opponents to 21 points or less and has won each game. Wulff said the Beavers have good speed on that side of the ball, and was complementary of defensive coordinator Mark Banker's schemes.

"They do a great job of mixing up stunts on with their linebackers and defensive line," he said. "(Junior defensive tackle Stephen) Paea completely disrupts teams in a lot of areas."

To counter that, the Cougars expect to start the same offensive line for a second straight week. Only senior center Kenny Alfred and right tackle Micah Hannam have started every game this season.

"Hopefully we can block better this week," Wulff said. "They're not quite as big (as UCLA), but they're quick. That's a challenge for their offensive guys."

The Beavers feature a couple of young starting safeties -- Cameron Collins and Lance Mitchell -- and allow 253 yards per game, which is 102nd nationally.

"They've got a couple of sophomore safeties," Wulff said. "For us, that would be an old player on our team. I see their safeties getting better."

Which quarterback will attack that secondary remains undetermined. True freshman Jeff Tuel did not play against UCLA after suffering a subluxed right kneecap Nov. 7 at Arizona. If Tuel is unable to play, either sophomore Marshall Lobbestael or senior Kevin Lopina will start. Wulff said a decision between the latter two might be made as soon as today if Tuel cannot play.

Another issue for Wulff said could be a poor atmosphere at Martin Stadium, because Thanksgiving break will be underway and most of the student body out of town. In a similar situation in 2007 against the Beavs, just 22,660 showed up.

The game will mark the final home appearance for more than a dozen WSU seniors, including Alfred, Andy Mattingly. Xavier Hicks and Dwight Tardy. Perhaps the highlight of their careers was the 6-6 season as freshmen in 2006 or two consecutive Apple Cup wins. But Wulff said this group of seniors that has survived the coaching transition from Bill Doba to himself deserve appreciation. He said the starting lineup against OSU will feature several seniors.

"Those guys have put a lot of work in here," Wulff said. "There's a lot of emotional things that go on inside you when your career is coming to an end. These guys have showed a tremendous amount of character."

  • The Cougars have not been consistent when winning the coin toss this year. They have elected to deter until the second half at times. Against UCLA, they took the ball first. Wulff said his decision usually rests on his offense.

    "Sometimes it depends if we feel we can move the ball on them," he said. "Sometimes it depends on weather decisions. Unless you can get up on someone really early, I don't know if it makes an impact."

  • Senior linebacker Jason Stripling is suspended for the first quarter Saturday. Stripling, who has started every game this season, was arrested by the Pullman Police Department early Sunday morning and charged with fourth-degree assault and obstructing a public servant, according to the police report. Wulff said he has "dealt with it already and we're moving forward." He declined further comment on the topic.

    He said he wants players back in their homes "as quickly as possible" after games, but understands that sometimes family and friends are around and want to visit.

  • The Nov. 28 Apple Cup at Husky Stadium will mark the third consecutive year that neither Washington or WSU will be playing for a bowl appearance. The last time that occurred was in 2006 when the 6-5 Cougars hosted the 4-7 Huskies. UW won that game 35-32.

    But Wulff said he still thinks the game holds significance.

    "It's the Apple Cup and it's a great rivalry game," he said. "Both programs are rebuilding and that's what happens. You're not going to bowl games."

  • Wulff was asked again about the rebuilding process at WSU. Since leaving Eastern Washington, where he had a 53-40 record, he has guided the Cougars to a 3-20 mark in two seasons.

    "After I was here four or five months, I knew the first two years were going to be tough," he said. "If you looked at our roster, depth, maturity ... I don't think this has surprised me at all."

  • After an injury-plagued start to his career, tight end Joe Halahuni has emerged at OSU. Halahuni, a Orting High School product who was not offered a scholarship by UW or WSU, has 418 yards and two touchdowns on 28 receptions this season.

    "He's an excellent receiving tight end," Wulff said. "He's got excellent speed and ball skills. It gives them another weapon to offset the Rodgers."

  • Wulff frequently has been effusive in his praise of true freshman defensive end Travis Long. The Gonzaga Prep graduate has a team-high six tackles for loss and leads all linemen with 40 tackles.

    "I find it hard that there's a better true freshman in the league," Wulff said. "I think he's had a phenomenal year. He's a guy who will have a big impact in this conference as we move forward."

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