PULLMAN – Lost in the debris of an early deficit and a late scoring binge against No. 12 Stanford on Saturday was a statistic not seen at Washington State University this season.
When the Cougars called a running play, they gained more than 4 yards per carry. Nearly 5, in fact, with the four WSU running backs and quarterback Jeff Tuel combining to average 4.9 yards on 16 carries.
Only once this season, against UCLA, did the Cougars even come close to that kind of production.
But WSU’s rushing attack didn’t feature a coach’s dream scenario, getting those 4.9 yards on each carry. The average was built on two big runs – 27 from James Montgomery on the first possession and 26 from Carl Winston on the penultimate one – and a bunch of short ones.
“Like everyone has noticed we’re trying to find a definite answer at the running back position,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said Sunday afternoon. “We’ve been trying to find someone who will give us consistency at the position.
“We’re going … to continue to play the guys who give us the most consistency.”
The Cougars, who fell to 1-7 overall and 0-5 in Pac-10 play with the 38-28 road loss, used Montgomery primarily in the early going, Winston and Marcus Richmond much of the second half and Logwone Mitz not at all after his first-quarter fumble.
“Turning the ball over is huge,” Wulff said. “It’s pretty hard to want to play anybody that is struggling hanging on to the football. You just can’t. It hurts the team too much.”
Montgomery also fumbled twice, but the senior recovered his first one and guard Wade Jacobson the second, so possession was not lost. However, he didn’t get a carry following the second drop.
The running game was an afterthought again, however, as WSU passed the ball 28 times and called for Tuel to attempt seven more – two aborted by sacks and five that resulted in scrambles for no gain or positive yardage.
The positive running statistics and the two sacks in 35 attempts all came behind a rebuilt offensive line that featured freshman John Fullington taking every snap at left tackle.
“The offensive line did some pretty good things considering we made a move there at left tackle,” Wulff said. “I thought we ID’d people right, meaning we put our bodies on the right people most of the time, which was something we hadn’t done.”
Starting cornerbacks Nolan Washington (slight thumb fracture) and Daniel Simmons (concussion) could be able to play Saturday when WSU travels to Arizona State.