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Wulff looks back at ASU


COUGARS

Want to read some more about Saturday's loss to Arizona State? We've got it on the link. Then we have some news for you. Not about WSU, but our schedule for the week ahead. Read on.
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• Here's the follow story ...

PULLMAN – A day later Paul Wulff's thoughts hadn't changed.

The defense had played pretty well in the 27-14 homecoming loss to Arizona State on Saturday, Washington State University's football coach said.

The special teams, other than one faux pas on a punt, had been solid as well.

But there was no way to get around it. The ASU defense had its way with the Cougars' line.

"Our protections broke down, we really struggled," Wulff said Sunday night. "(We) got manhandled up front and it just blew everything up in regards to protection in our passing game, for any kind of consistency in our running game."

"When we did have a little bit of protection, our quarterbacks just didn't have the confidence to keep their eyes downfield when things would come open."

With a week off halfway through the schedule, the Cougars (1-5 overall and 0-3 in the Pac-10) have a chance to shore up the offensive line. That's if players get healthy.

Wulff said he expects starting guard Zack Williams to be ready to go against Cal on Oct. 24. Two other line starters, tackle/guard Steven Ayers and guard B.J. Guerra, "have a shot to be back," Wulff said.

"If we could get two of those guys back, or all three," he added, "it would be just huge."

Wulff also feels defensive lineman Bernard Wolfgramm (hip) and linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis (staph infection) have a shot to be back as well.

One who won't return is redshirt freshman defensive back Daniel Simmons, who broke his leg against ASU.

"He's been playing as our best corner," Wulff said.

While the bye will allow some players time to get healthy, it also will allow the WSU staff to hit the road recruiting.

Washington State will practice Tuesday and Wednesday morning at 6, giving the players time to get to class and their afternoons free.

It also allows the seven road-bound coaches to be in West Coast high schools first thing Thursday morning, trying to build on a recruiting class that already has 14 commitments.

"This (group) has a chance to be one of the best that's been here," Wulff said.

After the two early practices, WSU's players will get the rest of the week off before beginning preparations for Cal next week.

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• And here's the look back ...

Arizona State 27, WSU 14

• High point of the game

There can be only one choice. Trailing 27-7, the Cougars were backed up against their endzone, with the ball barely outside the goal line. Facing a second-and-14, the ASU defense was sure Washington State was going to run, trying to eke out enough room for Reid Forrest to punt again. That strategy left junior Johnny Forzani in single coverage on the left side. He took off, Jeff Tuel lofted the ball to his outside shoulder, Forzani won the battle with Josh Jordan, stayed upright and took off. The 99-yard touchdown pass, can be equaled but it will always be WSU's longest play from scrimmage.

• Low point of the game

Trailing 7-0 midway through the second quarter, WSU took over at its 20. Helped by a couple major penalties on ASU, the Cougars moved down to the Sun Devils 34 where they faced a fourth-and-4 with a little over 2 minutes left before halftime. Too far for a field goal and too close to punt, WSU took time out and decided to try to keep the drive alive. Marshall Lobbestael, in for Jeff Tuel, looked over the middle and found Daniel Blackledge for a first down. As Blackledge tried for more yards, however, Jamarr Robinson knocked the ball loose and Ryan McFoy covered it. Nine plays and less than 2 minutes later, ASU had scored again.

• A pat on the back

The defensive line is young – three freshmen, Dan Spitz, Travis Long and Tony Laurenzi, started Saturday – and inexperienced – senior Jesse Feagin and junior Casey Hamlett haven't played much at this level. Among the group that's healthy, only Toby Turpin could be considered a veteran. Still, this unit held its own with Arizona State's physical, if underperforming, offensive line. Take out Kyle Williams' 53-yard reverse and the Cougars put together one if their better run-stop efforts of the season.

• Needs fixing

We've been here before, but the single biggest area that is holding WSU back is up front on the offensive line. Now senior mainstay Kennt Alfred has suffered a cut on his leg and will have to rest the injury for a while. However it's quite possible Alfred, Zack Williams, B.J. Guerra and Steven Ayers, all starters, could be back for Cal in two weeks. But how mobile and effective will they be? Unless they can find the form they displayed in spurts against Stanford, the WSU offense will sputter – no matter who is playing quarterback.

Three unanswered questions

• Will Jeff Tuel get gun shy? Arizona State's rush was so relentless, Tuel began to look like, well, a true freshman. So offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy pulled him for a while, letting him see the game from another angle. When he returned, he played better – 6 of 10 for 153 yards and two touchdowns – though he was sacked another six times. One thing Sturdy was worried about was how the rush was affecting Tuel's attitude. "(When) your quarterbacks are taking some pressure, you always worry about them now looking at the rush and those things," Sturdy said. "It's something we've got to continue to work on." Expect a lot of that work over the next two weeks.

• Not to sound crass, but what's next? When Wulff was told Saturday after the game defensive back Daniel Simmons had fractured a bone in his leg, his facial expression was one part sympathy and one part disgust. It's a feeling he and the rest of the Cougars have had too often this season. At least eight players who were counted on to help in a great degree this season will not play again until 2010. The string of misfortune has to end sometime, doesn't it?

• How important is the bye? When asked Saturday if the bye week was the most important week of the season, Sturdy answered succinctly. "Yes," he said and he's right. The Cougars are 1-5 overall and 0-3 in Pac-10 play, maybe just a win or two from the best-case scenario. But it's how they've arrived at this point that's troubling. The injuries have piled up to such a degree certain areas are having trouble competing. No amount of time will bring back James Montgomery or Josh Luapo this season, but others, from the offensive linemen to linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis, can use the time to heal up and get ready to go for the last half of the season.

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• That's it for tonight. Here's what we'll be doing during the bye week. ... We'll post tomorrow morning with our usual links. Tuesday and Wednesday, the Cougars practice at 6 a.m. in the indoor facility, and we will be there. But we won't put up our usual morning posts either of those days (because of the practice time) or on Thursday (we're taking the latter off). Friday we'll be in Pullman for the basketball practice opener, or Midnight Mayhem if you will. Then Saturday and Sunday we'll be off as well. ... Remember, I send out a twitter message (c'mon, tweets just sounds too weird) when I post, so if you use it, search for my name and get the messages (c'mon, tweets just sounds too weird). Until later …




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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