March 25, 2010

Washington State still stuck in neutral

Having won just three times in the past two seasons, Washington State appears to have hit rock bottom.

Well, not quite. The Cougars actually managed just two total wins in the 1969 and '70 seasons. But unless Washington State gets at least two victories in 2010, the Cougars will endure the most futile three-year period in school history.

Woof. Or should that be Wulff?

Coach Paul Wulff knew he was facing a rebuilding project when he took over in Pullman after the 2007 season. But so far, only frustration is building. Obviously, the Cougars are facing an important spring. Gaping holes must be filled on the offensive line, which has given Cougars quarterbacks at-risk status. An almost non-existent pass rush has to be bolstered. Pass coverage must tighten up. A reliable running back needs to surface.

In short, dramatic strides must be taken for the Cougars to avoid a repeat of last season's 1-11 disaster and truly hit rock bottom.

Here's a look at the Cougars as they prepare to open spring practice.

WASHINGTON STATE AT-A-GLANCE
The struggle continues for Paul Wulff and the Cougars.
THE BASICS
COACH: Paul Wulff
LAST SEASON: 1-11 overall, 0-9 in the Pac-10
SPRING DATES: March 25-April 24
RETURNING STARTERS
OFFENSE (7): T Seven Ayers, G B.J. Guerra, T Micah Hannam, WR Jared Karstetter, WR Gino Simone, WR Jeff Solomon, G Zach Williams.
DEFENSE (7): FS Xavier Hicks, E Casey Hamlett, LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, CB Brandon Jones, E Travis Long, CB Chima Nwachukwu, T Bernard Wolfgramm.
SPECIAL TEAMS (1): P Reid Forrest
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

Hoffman-Ellis, who led the Cougars with 84 tackles in '09, heads a solid group of linebackers. Mike Ledgerwood and Myron Beck also have starting experience. LB Louis Bland didn't play much because of a knee injury last season, but was one of the Cougars' more impressive players two years ago as a freshman.

HELP IS NEEDED

Take your pick. Let's focus on the worst areas. Four starters return along the offensive line, but that's not necessarily good news - especially for Cougars quarterbacks. Last season, Washington State allowed 53 sacks (second-most in the nation) and all the quarterbacks missed time because of injury. If the line doesn't improve, the Cougars won't, either. On the opposite side of the spectrum, a lame pass rush has to be upgraded. The Cougars managed just 13 sacks (115th in the nation) and nobody had more than two.

THREE GUYS TO WATCH

OT Wade Jacobson: For the past two seasons, Cougars quarterbacks have been treated like piñatas; the line has surrendered 96 sacks. Think about how many other hits they absorbed. Coaches hope Jacobson, a junior college transfer who already has enrolled, should help reduce those. He has a great shot to take over at left tackle.

DE Sekope Kaufusi: Kaufusi, a redshirt freshman, was athletic enough in high school to play tight end and return kicks. Now that he's up to 6 feet 3 and 230 pounds, he's moving from linebacker to end in hopes of boosting the pass rush.

CB Nolan Washington: The Cougars were last in the Pac-10 and 115th in the nation in pass defense. Help is needed, and Washington could give some relief. A three-star recruit, he was the fourth-rated prospect in the state of Washington in '09. After sitting out as a redshirt last season, he'll get a chance to contribute.

THE PRESSURE IS ON

DT Toby Turpin: Turpin has 52 tackles and six sacks, good numbers for a defensive tackle. Unfortunately, those are his totals for three seasons. Turpin has to elevate his play this spring to convince coaches to keep him in the lineup rather than going with younger players.

THE BUZZ

QB Jeff Tuel was knocked out of a game against Oregon and endured a season-ending injury against Arizona. QB Marshall Lobbestael made three starts before being knocked out of the lineup with an injury. This spring, Washington State followers desperately want to see improvement along the offensive line -- especially in pass protection. Cougars quarterbacks want it even more. Determining progress in that area may be difficult. The offensive line will be working against a defense that has been unable to pressure opposing quarterbacks.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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