By Nicholas Geranios
Washington State football coach Paul Wulff is not planning any immediate changes in his kicking game, despite a terrible performance by special teams in the season-opening loss to Oklahoma State. A series of special teams blunders helped Oklahoma State beat the Cougars 39-13 last weekend in Seattle. On Saturday, the Cougars (0-1) host California (1-0) in Pullman in the Pacific-10 opener for both teams. Wade Penner will remain the place-kicker, despite missing an extra point attempt. Converted quarterback Dan Wagner is likely to continue punting, even though his line-drive kicks allowed the Cowboys to average nearly 25 yards per return. Wagner was pressed into duty because of an injury to Reid Forrest.
The Cougars also gave up a touchdown on a kickoff return. "It's a work in progress, like I thought," Wulff said Tuesday. "Special teams obviously can get a lot better." Washington State's defense played well for much of the game, despite constantly being left in a deep hole by an offense that managed only 196 total yards.
"They are going to keep us in ball games," Wulff said. The defense will likely get a severe test from a Cal offense that opened with a 38-31 win over Michigan State. Cal quarterback Kevin Riley and running backs Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen had great games against Michigan State. The no-huddle offense that Wulff brought from Eastern Washington this season failed in its first test. Quarterback Gary Rogers threw for only 82 yards in the first start of his career, although receivers dropped numerous balls. Running backs Dwight Tardy and Chris Ivory did well, however. "Offensively we can do a lot better," Wulff said. "We knew we were not executing great in practice, and knew it wouldn't occur in a real game." His players are still learning the fast-paced offense, Wulff said. Injured left tackle Vaughn Lesuma may be recovered enough to play this weekend, Wulff said. But receiver Jeshua Jackson and linebacker Jason Stripling are questionable.
Washington State has won seven straight openers at Martin Stadium, and 14 of their past 16. For Wulff, it will be his first time on the stadium sidelines as a participant since he graduated in 1989. Wulff, in his first season as Cougar coach after coming from Eastern Washington, played football at WSU from 1986-89 and is the first alum to coach the Cougars since Phil Sarboe left in 1949. Fans coming to Martin Stadium for Saturday's game will see many changes. A new video screen in the west end zone is a dramatic improvement over the fuzzy, smaller screen. The new screen is approximately 53 feet wide by 25 feet high, over double the size of the previous board. There's also a new sound system, and new scoreboards in the west end zone and in the southeast corner. There are new restrooms in the east end zone. along with new concessions and new entry gates. One thing that isn't changing is the booze policy. Recent news that hard liquor will be sold at WSU's new Palouse Ridge Golf Course clubhouse and at a new restaurant in the Compton Union Building should not confuse people, athletics director Jim Sterk said. "We are maintaining our practice in the field house and corporate tent area of making only beer and wine available to those 21 and older with valid ID," Sterk said.