PULLMAN - Reid Forrest, searching for a ray of sunshine in the gloom that is the Washington State Cougars' football season after a 42-0 loss at Arizona State on Saturday, looked forward to getting home to face California.
“It definitely helps playing in Martin Stadium,” the senior punter said. “It’s a good environment. Teams don’t like to come play us there.”
The Cougars are 1-3 at home this season – they rallied to edge Montana State, 23-22, in the home opener – but they’re 0-7 in Pacific-10 Conference home games the past two years.
Even California, riding a six-game road losing streak (0-4 this season), has every reason to expect to win Saturday in Pullman. The Bears have won the past five meetings with WSU, including 66-3 and 21-3 romps on their most recent trips to Pullman.
The Bears (4-4 overall, 2-3 Pac-10) lost starting quarterback Kevin Riley to a knee injury last week, but WSU is 0-3 against teams that played their backup quarterback most or all of the game.
Meanwhile, the Bears have one of the best running backs (Shane Vereen) and pass rushes in the Pac-10, and the Cougars have struggled mightily on defense and the offensive line.
CBSSports.com ranks California 47th and WSU 107th among 120 Football Bowl Series teams. The Bears are 141/2-point favorites, even with inexperienced junior Brock Mansion at quarterback.
Mansion recently passed Beau Sweeney on the Cal depth chart. Sweeney, the grandson of former Cougars coach Jim Sweeney, preceded WSU’s Jeff Tuel as quarterback at Clovis West High School in Fresno, Calif.
Game time is 1 p.m. (FSN). The Cougars, who average fewer than 25,000 a home game, will join fans in donating tickets to veterans and active service members on Armed Forces Day.
According to an old joke, the Cougars (1-8, 0-6) would be in first place if fans read the Pac-10 standings upside down.
The same can be said for national statistics. The Cougars rank last (120th) in three of 37 categories the NCAA lists for the FBS: Total defense (487.7 yards allowed), tackles for losses allowed (9.4) and first downs allowed (25.3).
The Cougars also rank last in quarterback sacks allowed (36), but their per-game average of 4.0 ranks 119th, ahead of Rutgers (4.7). WSU is next to last in rushing defense (224.3) and red zone scoring percentage (58.6 on 17-for-29 success).
Only 0-9 Akron has lost more than the Cougars, one of five teams with eight losses.
For all of WSU’s statistical woes, only San Jose State allows fewer yards per kickoff return than the Cougars (15.9).
Marquess Wilson ranks ninth in receiving yards per game (first in the Pac-10) at 98.3. Forrest is 18th in punting (fourth in the Pac-10) at 45.2. Tuel stands 27th in passing (fourth in the Pac-10) at 248.1 yards a game.
Wilson is on pace to tie Brandon Gibson’s school record of 1,180 receiving yards. Forrest is threatening the punting record of 45.4 yards per kick held by Jason Hanson. Tuel appears destined to finish in the top 10 in several major passing stats, and Alex Brink’s sophomore record of 2,891 passing yards is in jeopardy. Tuel has 2,233 yards.
The Cougars have a number of banged-up starters and top reserves, but former starters Chima Nwachukwu (safety) and Mike Ledgerwood (linebacker) look like they’ve recovered from their hamstring injuries enough to return to action.
Coach Paul Wulff has not ruled out any recently injured players for Saturday. If James Montgomery can’t play with his bruised quadriceps, Wulff said fifth-year senior Marcus Richmond – who played fullback in his first college start last week – “probably” would start for Montgomery at running back.
With 15 yards on 10 carries, Richmond is WSU’s sixth-leading rusher behind Montgomery (333 yards), Logwone Mitz (165), Carl Winston (88), Tuel (66) and Chantz Staden (54). Staden is doubtful with a lingering rib injury, but Wulff hopes Winston can shake off a hamstring injury.