PASADENA, Calif. - Washington State football coach Paul Wulff, who might be fighting to keep his job, pulled no punches when assessing his players this week.
Wulff, a gritty center during his playing days at WSU, said the Cougars aren’t tough enough. Aren’t vocal enough. Aren’t demonstrating enough leadership.
Wulff’s comments were aimed primarily at his young team’s older players, particularly on defense. Two seniors, linebacker Myron Beck and defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm, said Wulff’s statements were dead-on accurate.
“I agree with him totally,” Wolfgramm said.
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“Most definitely,” Beck said. “I take full blame for that, for not stepping up during a game when things are going bad and adversity hits. No one is stepping up and talking.”
The Cougars (1-3, 0-1 Pac-10) get a chance to step up, speak up and man up this afternoon against UCLA (2-2, 0-1). Kickoff at the Rose Bowl is set for 12:37 p.m. on FSN.
The Bruins struggled mightily during an 0-2 start, then knocked off Top 25 teams Houston and Texas the past two weeks. UCLA dominated on both sides of the ball in both games.
Sophomore quarterback Richard Brehaut likely will make his first college start today for the home team. Coach Rick Neuheisel said it will be a game-time decision on starting QB Kevin Prince, but Prince has barely practiced since injuring his right knee last Saturday at Texas.
Prince passed 45 times for 314 yards in UCLA’s 43-7 win at Washington State last year, but the Bruins have completed just 14 passes for 126 yards in their two wins this year. The Bruins are running the pistol offense of Nevada, which is akin to a veer operating out of a shotgun formation.
“It’s very effective,” Beck said. “I saw highlights versus Texas. It was nothing really special, too earth-shattering. Texas missed a lot of tackles, kind of like we did on Saturday.”
WSU coaches counted 32 missed tackles in Saturday’s 50-16 loss to USC. The Cougars’ practices, often light on hitting because of concern about injuries and the team’s lack of depth, included far more hitting than usual this week.
“As coaches, we can only put guys in position (to make plays),” Wulff said. “Then, ultimately, the players on the field have to make those plays.”
Prince has played a prominent role in the pistol with his pitches, handoffs and own running skills, but sophomore tailback Jonathan Franklin (409 yards and four touchdowns) is the leading rusher.
“This is a great offense for Jonathan, because he has great vision,” Neuheisel said.
Prince’s injury caused oddsmakers to slice three points off the original 27-point edge given to UCLA. … Wulff and Neuheisel raved about UCLA outside linebacker-defensive end Akeem Ayers. “You’ve definitely got to be aware of where he’s at,” Wulff said. Ayers might be slowed by a bruised shoulder suffered against Texas. … Ayers had two interceptions last year against WSU. Safety Rahim Moore, who led the nation with 10 interceptions in 2009, had one pick against the Cougars.
WASHINGTON STATE (1-3, 0-1 PAC-10) AT UCLA (2-2, 0-1)
Kickoff: 12:37 p.m., Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
TV: FSN. Radio: 850-AM, 1240-AM, 880-AM, 1300-AM.
The series: UCLA leads, 37-18-1. UCLA won last year, 43-7, in Pullman.
What to watch: One of the worst defensive teams in the nation must deal with UCLA’s newfangled pistol offense, which features plenty of running and misdirection plays. That sounds like a disaster in waiting for the many inexperienced players on WSU’s defense, but UCLA starting quarterback Kevin Prince is doubtful with a knee injury.
What’s at stake: This looked like a prime candidate for WSU’s first Pac-10 victory in two years when the Bruins fell to 0-2 after being blown out 35-0 by Stanford at home Sept. 11. After beating two straight Top 25 teams, UCLA’s toughest opponent this afternoon might be overconfidence.
TNT pick: UCLA 38, Washington State 24.
10Jeff Tuel (QB)6-3/214Sophomore Passed for 922 yards, 6 TDs, 4 interceptions.
17Alex Hoffman-Ellis (OLB)6-1/241Junior Lots of great plays, lots of blown plays.
86Marquess Wilson (WR)6-3/173Freshman Leads team with 20 catches, 340 receiving yards.
5Brandon Rankin (DE)6-5/281Junior Heralded junior college transfer has just 6 tackles.
21James Montgomery (RB)5-10/200Senior Just 59 rushing yards in 3 games versus FBS opponents.
23Jonathan Franklin (RB)5-10/198Sophomore Has 409 rushing yards behind patchwork offensive line.
10Akeem Ayers (OLB-DE)6-4/255Junior 2 interceptions, 2 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss.
3Rahim Moore (FS)6-1/196Junior Led nation with 10 interceptions last year.
66Ryan Taylor (C)6-3/298Senior Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Week.
12Richard Brehaut (QB)6-2/222Sophomore Likely gets first start; has played in just one game this year.
Howie Stalwick, contributing writer