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Cougars making changes

Mon., Sept. 15, 2008

Paul Wulff spent his Saturday watching football.

With his Washington State Cougars having the day off, courtesy of a Friday night game in Texas, Wulff was able to watch some college football on television.

In the evening.

During the day, Wulff and his staff reviewed the Cougars’ 45-17 loss at Baylor. And then they decided to make some major changes in personnel.

“We evaluated where we’re at,” Wulff said on his Sunday conference call with reporters. “We spent about five hours up here just taking care of the game and where we wanted to head from here, what adjustments and things we needed to do.”

The answers they came up with? It’s time to make changes.

What Wulff saw on the defensive side were breakdowns against the run, from the front four through the linebackers to the secondary. The result: The Cougars gave up 426 yards on the ground, part of 817 rushing yards yielded the past two games.

“To stop the run, one, you have to be very disciplined,” Wulff explained. “And you also have to be athletic and you’ve got to be fast. And the combination needs to be there for you to have success.”

Though those things have been a unit-wide problem, Wulff said, “we have been burned by not making the play in space from the safety position. That’s the last line of defense and that’s where we’ve been exposed.”

Xavier Hicks, finished with his three-game suspension for off-season transgressions that included jail time, could start at safety this week.

“From a mental standpoint, he knows the defense better than anybody on that field, period,” Wulff said. “He has done everything, everything right since we have come to camp here.”

But there are other changes as well.

Alfonso Jackson, moved to cornerback last spring after starting every game when healthy last season at safety, moves back to the middle.

The combination, Wulff said, should “shore up some of the big runs plays we’ve had some issues with.”

With the additions, Myron Beck, the starting free safety the first three games, moves up front, joining the linebacker corps on the weak side.

The offense has its own issues – five turnovers and seven sacks against Baylor a major part of them – meaning changes will be made on that side as well.

“On offense, (we had) way too many breakdowns, more so on the offensive line to create some issues with protection,” Wulff said.

To deal with that, senior Vaughn Lesuma, the starting left tackle all last year and when healthy this year, is moving inside to left guard and will challenge redshirt freshman B.J. Guerra for a starting spot.

Another redshirt freshman, Steven Ayers, will move out to tackle and battle sophomore Joe Eppele, who has recovered from off-season knee surgery, for the start Saturday against Portland State.

“I don’t care who we’re playing. … If we don’t take care of our own business and learn how to execute,” Wulff said, “and line up right and tackle and play with great effort, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing.

“Our focus isn’t on our opponent, our focus is on what 11 guys are going to do it right and take great ownership in it, because that’s what we’re battling right now. We’re battling ourselves, not any opponents.”

And that’s not much different than what he’s told his team.

“We’re the coaches and we’re trying to figure out who we got mentally, who we got physically and what their strengths are,” Wulff said. “You got through so many practices and make your assessments, then you get in real games and your assessment changes, because they do in real games.

“And we’re in that process. We’re finding some answers out. Whether we like those answers or not, we’re finding them out. So we’re going to make our adjustments accordingly.”


Wulff said Kevin Lopina’s right wrist was swollen and sore Sunday. Though he didn’t throw, Wulff expects him to be ready to go Saturday. If he can get enough practice time this week, he’ll start. But nothing is set in stone. “We’re still stuck in the quandary just a hair,” Wulff said, “where we’re still trying to get some answers.” … Matt Mullennix will continue to play inside at times, but not every down. “He gives us some action in there,” Wulff said. “By action I mean speed and quickness, a little better dynamic in there.”


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