PULLMAN - His football team is young, battered and fighting desperately to avoid a 1-11 season.
No biggie, Jeff Tuel says. It’s homecoming at Washington State, and the freshman quarterback says there’s no better time to start the revival of Cougars football than today against Arizona State.
“We all feel like we should win this game,” Tuel said. “Our goals are set high, and we expect to win.”
That seems like fairly bold talk for a true freshman whose college playing experience consists of parts of two games on a 1-4 team. Tuel’s first start ended quickly because of a hip pointer last week at Oregon, but he says nerves won’t be a problem in his Martin Stadium debut.
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“I wasn’t too nervous (at Oregon),” he said. “I try not to hype it up too much about my first start.
“I’m just doing something I’ve been doing my whole life. I’m just out playing a game.
“People are bigger, stronger, faster (than in high school), but so are our guys.”
There was no shortage of energy and enthusiasm at WSU’s practices this week, even though the Cougars are coming off a 52-6 loss and continue to be haunted by injuries.
“I think we’re in a good place (mentally) right now,” said defensive end Travis Long, one of WSU’s seven freshman starters. “I mean, we all want to battle and continue the season.
“The season’s not over. They’re not going to stop the games for us just because we’ve got some losses.
“We’ve got to battle through it. We’ve got half of the season left.”
The Cougars are in last place in the Pacific-10 Conference at 0-3. CBSSports.com ranks WSU 102nd out of 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Arizona State (2-2, 0-1) is 57th, the lowest ranking of any team left on Washington State’s schedule.
ASU coach Dennis Erickson said he’s not worried about preventing his players from taking the Cougars too lightly.
“I don’t know if we have to prevent it at all with what we’ve done, to be very honest with you,” Erickson said. “I mean, we came out and laid an egg at home (losing 28-17 to Oregon State last week). If our guys don’t realize they better be ready to play, they’ve got their heads in the sky.”
Sunny skies and low-40s temperatures are in the forecast. Arizona State is favored by 21 points.
Two more WSU starters, defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm (hip) and middle linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis (staph infection), are sidelined. Wide receiver Jared Karstetter (hip pointer) is questionable. Senior defensive end Jesse Feagin and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Anthony Laurenzi are expected to make their first WSU starts. Louis Bland replaces Hoffman-Ellis, and Jeffrey Solomon likely would cover for Karstetter. True freshman Alex Reitnouer will start again at offensive guard, but Brian Danaher is back from a concussion. … Ferdinand’s Ice Cream Shoppe on the WSU campus is offering the “Dennis Erickson Sundae” this week. Ferdinand’s, taking note of Erickson’s brief stay at WSU (1988-89) and numerous other coaching stops, described the Erickson Sundae as: “Here today, gone tomorrow. It’s good, but you can’t rely on it to be around too long.” Cougars coach Paul Wulff played for Erickson at WSU.
ARIZONA STATE (2-2, 0-1) AT WASHINGTON STATE (1-4, 0-3)
Kickoff: 2 p.m., Martin Stadium.
TV: None. Radio: 1240-AM, 1030-AM, 850-AM.
The series: Arizona State leads, 21-12-2. ASU has won five straight, including 31-0 last year.
What to watch: Arizona State quarterback Danny Sullivan, a first-year starter as a senior, probably relishes the opportunity to play on the road. He was booed at home last week despite passing for a career-high 338 yards (on 58 attempts). Coach Dennis Erickson said freshman QB Brock Osweiler will see some action today. The Cougars might have a chance if ASU’s running game and pass rush continue to struggle. However, both WSU lines are inexperienced and vulnerable.
What’s at stake: The Sun Devils, who opened the season with easy wins over lightly regarded Idaho State and Louisiana Monroe, need a victory to ease the heat on Sullivan and Erickson. This might be the best chance for WSU to ensure that it will avoid tying last year’s school record of 11 losses as well as the team’s first winless Pac-10 season since 1998. The injury-hampered Cougars are looking forward to next week’s bye before three straight road games. First, however, they hope to score in the first quarter for the first time this year.
TNT pick: Arizona State, 31-17.
Howie Stalwick, For The Olympian