PULLMAN - Week after week, month after month, year after year, Washington State keeps losing college football games like few other teams in the history of the sport.
The only thing the Cougars never seem to lose is hope.
“It sucks that we’re losing, but we’re going to keep fighting, and those wins are going to come,” said Kevin Kooyman, a senior defensive end out of Tahoma High School.
“It’s dark times,” sophomore safety Tyree Toomer said. “We’re looking up and searching for that light.
“I believe that light is becoming brighter around here. Good times are ahead.”
It’s a familiar refrain at Washington State, even though the Cougars haven’t had a winning season or gone to a bowl game since 2002. The “good times” at WSU don’t seem likely to begin anew today, since 17th-ranked Arizona is coming to town (4:30 p.m., Versus).
The Cougars (1-5, 0-3 Pacific-10 Conference) will likely be underdogs in their six remaining games. They could lose a school-record 11 games for the third consecutive year.
“It’s a learning experience,” Toomer said. “You learn from it, learn from your experiences.
“Not a lot of people will go through in life what we’re going through. It really shows the true character of a person or athlete of who you really are and how bad you want something. How (hard) are you willing to work?”
The Cougars have routinely drawn praise from opponents the past two years for their determined play. In 2008, Paul Wulff’s first year as coach at his alma mater, WSU players and coaches openly discussed the lack of effort, discipline and pride displayed by some players.
“A couple years ago, it was pretty tough,” Kooyman said.
“There wasn’t a lot of leadership, and it definitely felt like people were laying down when times got tough.
“But this year, we’re sticking in there. We’re fighting back.
“We’re throwing punches when they’re throwing punches. It’s good to see.”
Punter Reid Forrest, one of the few seniors (along with Kooyman) who play key roles on the freshman-laden Cougars, said he has cherished his time at WSU.
“When you’re in a rut,” Forrest said, “and you have to work for things and look for a way out, I think you learn more.
“You can relate football to life, about having to get up every day and continue to grind even if things aren’t going your way.
“If you can just stick in there, it teaches you to be a good person. I’ve met a lot of guys here that I’ll stay in touch with for the rest of my life. A lot of smart guys, too, that’ll really do good things with their lives, so they’ll be good people to know.”
The Cougars’ young secondary must face Pac-10 passing leader Nick Foles without Chima Nwachukwu. The senior safety will miss a second consecutive game with a hamstring injury. ... WSU offensive right guard Micah Hannam, who has started every game since 2007, will sit out due to the concussion he suffered Saturday against Oregon. John Fullington, a true freshman out of North Mason High School, has split time with Hannam and will make his first start. ... WSU linebackers Alex Hoffman-Ellis (back), Sekope Kaufusi (thigh), Mike Ledgerwood (neck) and Arthur Burns (knee) may be slowed or sidelined. ... Arizona is expected to start a true freshman cornerback, Shaquille Richardson, if standout junior Trevin Wade can’t play with his deep thigh bruise. Richardson was kicked off the UCLA Bruins after being arrested in connection with an alleged dorm theft in the summer. ... The temperature may dip into the 40s most of the game on Dad’s Weekend in Pullman.
ARIZONA (4-1, 1-1 Pac-10) at WASHINGTON STATE (1-5, 0-3)
Kickoff: 4:30 p.m., Martin Stadium, Pullman
TV: Versus. Radio: 850-AM, 1240-AM, 880-AM, 1300-AM.
The series: Arizona leads, 24-13. Arizona won last year, 48-7, in Tucson.
What to watch: WSU coach Paul Wulff said the Cougars’ defensive line had its best game of the season last week against powerful Oregon. Arizona’s Nick Foles leads the Pac-10 in passing, so the D-line has to deliver to help out WSU’s young secondary and banged-up linebackers. “We’ve just got to get to him (Foles) as much as we can, get our hands in his face,” said defensive end Kevin Kooyman, a Tahoma High School end.
What’s at stake: The No. 17 Wildcats, playing on the road for the first time since their Sept. 3 opener, can ill afford a letdown against the 231/2-point underdogs from WSU. Arizona coach Mike Stoops said “this is far and away” the best team in Wulff’s three years on the job. Arizona offensive tackle Ryan Grant, a Puyallup High graduate, said Wulff “has definitely instilled a tough work ethic. You can tell they play hard for him.”
TNT pick: Arizona 34, Washington State 24.
8Nick Foles (QB)6-5/245Junior
Completing 74.9 percent of his passes for 1,529 yards, nine TDs.
82Juron Criner (WR)6-4/210Junior
Averages 17.1 yards per catch; WSU last in nation in defense.
42Brooks Reed (DE)6-3/262Senior
Veteran pass rusher will test true freshman tackle John Fullington.
44Ricky Elmore (DE)6-5/260Senior
Provides a quality pass rush from opposite side of Reed.
5Nic Grigsby (RB)5-10/190Senior
Could break out against nation’s worst run defense.
10Jeff Tuel (QB)6-3/214Sophomore
Has topped 200 passing yards every game.
79David Gonzales (LT)6-6/275Junior
Must protect Tuel against nation’s 13th-ranked defense.
84Jared Karstetter (WR)6-4/208Junior
Team leader with 31 receptions, four TD catches.
86Marquess Wilson (WR)6-3/173Freshman
Averages 17.8 yards per catch, 85.8 receiving yards per game.
17Alex Hoffman-Ellis (OLB)6-1/241Junior
Leads team in tackles (40) for second consecutive year.
Howie Stalwick, contributing writer