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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Cougars making moves to help speed defense

PULLMAN – Change is coming to the Washington State University defense. And it’s coming fast.

“We’ll probably have to make a few moves with some personnel,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said Sunday night, talking about a defense that’s been gashed for 285 and 437 yards on the ground the past two weeks.

“We’re still mulling over the way we’re going to go with the personnel moves to help out our defensive unit a little bit,” he continued.

Though Wulff qualified his remarks with “we don’t have anything for sure set in stone” and “we haven’t come to a final conclusion,” he did add “we’re trying to move a few guys around to help us with some speed and obviously tackling.”

The goal, Wulff said, was to improve the defense’s ability to get to the ball.

“We’ve improved our speed,” he said, “but we’re still aren’t at the level we need to be. We’re making strides, but we need to continue to improve our speed.”

Speed is crucial this week because third-ranked Oregon, possessor of possibly the fastest offensive unit in the country, comes to Pullman this Saturday for a 2 p.m. Homecoming contest.

That will mean the Cougars will have faced, in order, the 15th-best rushing team in America (USC, 234 yards per game), the 10th (UCLA, 262.4), and the No. 2 team (the Ducks, 331).

“Everybody has to be involved in stopping Oregon and their running game because they spread you out,” Wulff said, “so your safeties and linebackers have to be good tacklers.”

The moves WSU can make are limited, though some possibilities include freshman Deone Bucannon playing more at strong safety, which would give Sekope Kaufusi, a former linebacker playing defensive end, a shot at his old position; possibly shifting outside linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis back inside, where he played last season; or using Jamal Atofau, a converted safety, more often.

All would increase the speed at their new positions.

“We’ll probably work more on that by tomorrow and have a better idea,” Wulff said, “once we’ve look at our game plan and what we want to do.”

One new addition to the defense has been true freshman Damante Horton, a cornerback who saw extended action Saturday and finished with eight tackles.

“He’s very coachable,” Wulff said. “It doesn’t take him a lot of reps, you know, you’re teaching him something and he seems to be able to apply it fairly quickly. He’s got good instincts.”

Not all was doom and gloom Sunday. The offense, which has moved up to 31st in the nation in passing at 253 yards per game, came in for some praise, though Wulff said “we left probably two or three touchdowns out there we could have had.”

“(Quarterback) Jeff Tuel did some really, really good things,” he added. “He put some balls in great spots and the offensive did some good things.

“The thing about is we can still be better and those are the things we keep driving (home). We’re not good enough but we know we can get better and better.”