PULLMAN – The Washington State Cougars released an unusual injury report Tuesday.
In other words, it was actually somewhat encouraging.
Paul Wulff, coach of the injury-ravaged Cougars, said he expects four starters to return to action Saturday at California (1:30 p.m., no TV).
The four include center Kenny Alfred, offensive guard Zack Williams, defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm and middle linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis.
Countering that news was Wulff’s announcement that three other players who have started on WSU’s battered offensive line – tackle Tyson Pencer, guard B.J. Guerra and guard-tackle Steven Ayers – are questionable for Saturday due to ankle injuries. Pencer was hurt in the Arizona State game before last week’s bye.
Also, Wulff said he now expects starting defensive end Kevin Kooyman (out with a knee injury since the opener) to miss the remainder of the season and redshirt. In addition, part-time starting offensive guard Brian Danaher is out indefinitely after suffering his second concussion in three games.
If Pencer and Ayers can’t play at Cal, Wulff said Alex Reitnouer – a 253-pound true freshman who started at guard the past two games after giving up his redshirt status – will start at left tackle.
Terrance Hayward, a 17-year-old redshirt freshman, is set to make his first start at cornerback due to the broken leg of Daniel Simmons. Sophomore corner Aire Justin is expected back from a quadriceps injury. Wulff said safety Chima Nwachukwu will again see some duty at corner, and outside linebacker-safety Myron Beck will spend more time at safety.
Wulff said senior quarterback Kevin Lopina, who has not played since starting the first two games, may have recovered well enough from a calf injury to play Saturday if necessary. Lopina is the No. 3 quarterback behind true freshman starter Jeff Tuel and sophomore Marshall Lobbestael.
Hayward would become the 10th freshman to start for the Cougars this season. Inexperience and injuries have doomed WSU two straight seasons, but Wulff said the team remains upbeat.
“The attitude’s been great,” he said. “It’s been outstanding, to be quite honest. It’s just night and day from what it was a year ago at this time.”
Halfway through their 12-game schedule, the Cougars are 1-5 overall and 0-4 in the Pacific-10 Conference. Obviously, all the preseason talk in the Cougars’ camp about gunning for a bowl game has quieted down.
At this point, WSU likely just wants to win a second game to avoid tying last year’s school record of 11 losses (in 13 games). That won’t be easy with four road games left, including the next three in a row. WSU is 0-10 outside Pullman the past two years.
If the Cougars fail to win one of their five remaining Pac-10 games, they’ll finish 0-9 in conference play – the worst conference mark in school history.
The 2008 Washington Huskies are the only team that finished 0-9 in the Pac-10 since the league schedule expanded to nine games in 2006. WSU hasn’t gone winless in the Pac-10 since 1998 (0-8).
CBSSports.com, which ranks all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams each week, has the Cougars at No. 108. California (4-2, 1-2) is 29th. The lowest-ranked team left on WSU’s schedule -- and the only one with a losing record -- is No. 53 Washington (3-4, 2-2).
California, ranked sixth by The Associated Press before blowout losses to Top 25 teams Oregon and USC, is favored by 36 points Saturday. Wulff said he rates Cal’s Jahvid Best the nation’s best tailback.
The Cougars “lead” the Football Bowl Subdivision in quarterback sacks allowed per game (5.0) and tackles for losses allowed per game (10.5). The Cougars remain last in the Pac-10 and among the bottom feeders in the FBS in most major team statistics. WSU is 119th in total offense (269.3 yards a game) and 118th in total defense (489.7). … Kevin Frank, who left WSU after redshirting as a freshman cornerback last year, was sentenced to 14 days in jail after pleading guilty to third-degree theft in Whitman County District Court. Frank was involved in a dorm-room burglary last winter with Romeo Pellum, another ex-Cougar cornerback. Pellum is awaiting sentencing after entering a guilty plea. …Notre Dame has sold all 25,000 of its allotted tickets for next week’s nationally televised game with WSU in San Antonio. The Cougars have sold about 3,200 of their allotted 4,000 tickets. Notre Dame, the home team, declined to release overall ticket sales numbers. The Alamodome seats 65,000.