SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – Washington State got inside the UCLA 10-yard line three times in the first half Saturday and three times the Cougars had to settle for field goals. But coach Paul Wulff is not prepared to label that a major problem yet.
Wulff said his team has been quite good in the red zone so far this season, scoring touchdowns 60 percent of the time and at least a field goal 90 percent of the time. They dominated the Bruins in most phases last weekend.
”We played a really good football game,” he said of the 28-25 loss at UCLA. “You win that game 95 out of 100 times.”
If one of those field goals had been a touchdown instead, Washington State (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) would have beaten UCLA.
”That was the difference in the game,” Wulff said.
The Cougars are now preparing for their biggest challenge of the season as No. 7 Stanford (5-0, 3-0) and quarterback Andrew Luck come to Pullman on Saturday.
Most of Wulff’s players saw playing time last year when WSU lost 38-28 at Stanford, a final score made closer by WSU’s 21 fourth quarter points.
Asked if the Cougars might be awed by facing Luck, a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, Wulff said he did not think so.
”We faced him a year ago,” Wulff said. “We’ve been down the road with that.”
In fact, WSU needs to worry about Stanford’s rushing attack as much as Luck’s throwing, Wulff said.
Last year, Stepfan Taylor rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns in Stanford’s win. This season, Taylor has run for 459 yards and a 5.5 yard per game average.
But Luck is still likely to do the most damage. He has completed 73 percent of his passes for 1,383 yards in five games, with 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
The Cardinal average 46 points per game while holding opponents to 10.
Washington State has built up some gaudy offensive statistics of its own. The Cougars rank seventh in the nation in passing at 350 yards per game. They average 40 points per game while giving up 25.
Backup quarterback Marshall Lobbestael continues to perform well. He has completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for 1,570 yards, with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions.
His top receivers are Marquess Wilson (31 catches, 638 yards) Isiah Barton (26 catches, 317 yards) and Jared Karstetter (24 catches, 254 yards).
The Cougars have also found a running game this season, averaging 142 yards on the ground.
The status of starting quarterback Jeff Tuel, who suffered a fractured collarbone in the season opener, remains up in the air. Tuel has been cleared to practice but not to play in a game. He will get an X-ray on Wednesday that will help determine whether he is allowed to play, Wulff said.
”The X-ray’s got to be good and he’s got to feel good,” Wulff said.
Washington State will be playing its first home game since Sept. 10. Their two losses both involved fourth quarter comebacks at San Diego State and UCLA. Wulff is a little concerned about those late collapses.
”We are not a veteran, savvy defense,” Wulff said. “We’ve got to play better, and not give up the big play. It was an issue in those two games.”
The Cardinal will be looking to extend the nation’s longest winning streak to a school-record 14 games on Saturday.
Stanford leads the all-time series with Washington State 35-25-1 and has won three in a row. The Cardinal lead the Pac-12 in four defensive categories, rushing defense (61.8 yards per game), total defense (302 yards per game), scoring defense (10 points per game), and sacks per game (3.40).