Joys of youth: Cougars psyched to battle Trojans
HOWIE STALWICK; Contributing writer
PULLMAN – The Washington State Cougars have lost 14 consecutive games to Football Bowl Subdivision rivals, 12 in a row to Top 25 teams and the past nine to Pacific-10 Conference opponents.
Throw in that the Cougars have lost seven in a row to USC and it’s no surprise the No. 20 Trojans are 22-point favorites in the Pac-10 opener for both teams Saturday in Pullman.
The Cougars are young and rebuilding, but coach Paul Wulff did not hesitate to voice support for his team when asked if he believes his players are confident they can knock off USC.
“Yeah, I do,” Wulff said Tuesday. “I think our players are excited to play the game.
“What I like about our team is that for the first time (in his three years as head coach) we’ve got that exciting youth. These guys love to play football.
“We’re not perfect in what we do yet, but we’ve got the right attitude, and I think every game is an exciting game for them.”
Some might argue that a few of the youngest Cougars get a little bit too excited at times, on and off the field.
After Washington State played to a 14-14 halftime tie with a young and rather ordinary Southern Methodist squad on Saturday, true freshman safety Deone Buchanan blurted, “What I saw in the first half is definitely a Pac-10 championship team ... we looked like a ranked team (in the first half).”
The Cougars wound up losing, 35-21. The week before, after WSU rallied frantically to edge Football Championship Subdivision foe Montana State, 23-22, true freshman linebacker C.J. Mizell was beside himself with joy.
“We’ve got enough talent to compete with anybody in the world,” Mizell said.
The enthusiasm of the young Cougars is certainly preferable to the lifeless bunch of veterans who dragged their way through a 69-0 loss during the Trojans’ most recent visit to Pullman in 2008.
That’s the most lopsided loss in WSU history, and then-Trojans coach Pete Carroll played everyone but the water boy to keep the score down.
Wulff said senior Chantz Staden, a reserve running back, has “an outside chance” of playing Saturday after missing the SMU game with a bruised knee.
Senior defensive starters Chima Nwachukwu (neck) and Bernard Wolfgramm (shoulder) should be back after being sidelined last week, Wulff said.
WSU freshman sensation Marquess Wilson averages 21.6 yards per catch.
That’s good for third in the FBS among the 86 players with 13 or more receptions, and first in the Pac-10 among players with five or more catches.
Wilson’s 94.7 receiving yards per game ranks fourth in the Pac-10 and 23rd in the FBS. He’s on pace to finish with 1,124 receiving yards. That would tie him for fourth in school history with WSU receivers coach Mike Levenseller, a Curtis High School graduate.
The school record of 1,180 receiving yards was set in 2007 by Rogers High product Brandon Gibson, now with the NFL’s St. Louis Rams.
Wulff said Rogers graduate Bennett Bontemps, a wide receiver and special teams player, could make his debut Saturday.
If so, Bontemps would be the ninth true freshman to play for WSU this season.
Wulff said wide receiver Kristoff Williams (toe) and defensive tackle Kalafitoni Pole (leg), two true freshmen who were expected to play this season, may wind up redshirting.
USC is 3-0, but first-year coach Lane Kiffin said the Trojans have yet to play “a complete game.”
The Trojans have dropped two spots in The Associated Press Top 25 poll every week since being ranked 14th in the preseason.
Four gifted running backs average between 4.6 and 8.4 yards per carry for the Trojans. WSU averages a league-worst 2.8 yards per carry.
Sophomore quarterbacks Matt Barkley of USC and Jeff Tuel of WSU are promising second-year starters.