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Washington State stumbles into its matchup with Oregon



Washington State comes into its matchup with Oregon amid a massive slump. The Cougars began 2011 by winning three out of their first four games@@schedule@@ and at the time appeared on the verge of taking a step forward in their first Pac-12 season. After beating Colorado 31-27@@schedule@@ to start their conference schedule, however, things have quickly turned ugly for a group hindered by injuries and a lackluster running game.

The Cougars have tanked in their last three games, falling to UCLA, Stanford and Oregon State in consecutive weeks. Although Washington State may be accustomed to a spot in the conference cellar, those losses sting — even for the most tough-skinned supporters of the program.

“People expect us to win,” head coach Paul Wulff@@http://www.wsucougars.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/wulff_paul00.html@@ said to The Associated Press. “That’s been a long time coming.”

Washington State head coach Paul Wulff leads a struggling team up against an Oregon offense rebounding from the loss of several key players. (Courtesy Art)

Worse news arrived on the program’s doorstep this week. Starting quarterback Jeff Tuel@@http://www.wsucougars.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/tuel_jeff00.html@@ — who had starred@@or started?@@ for the squad the past couple years — has been ruled out on Saturday with acute compartment syndrome in his right calf@@http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattlesports/2011/10/27/cougars-quarterback-could-be-out-for-season-with-bizarre-calf-injury/@@ and could end up missing even more time.

“He’ll be out this week,” Wulff said to The Associated Press. “We’ll evaluate his health at the beginning of next week.”

The silver lining is that senior backup Marshall Lobbestael@@http://www.wsucougars.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/lobbestael_marshall00.html@@ has a wealth of experience this season and has largely exceeded expectations so far. The Oak Harbor, Wash., native has completed 64 percent of his passes for 1739 yards and 15 touchdowns, with only five interceptions@@http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/individual/1002@@.

One factor that will benefit Lobbestael is the presence of three talented wide receivers at his side. Sophomore Marquess Wilson@@wsu roster@@ leads the trio with an impressive 41 receptions for 763 yards and 6 TDs so far in 2011@@http://www.ncaa.com/stats/football/fbs/current/individual/1006@@. However, seniors Isiah Barton and Jared Karstetter@@wsu rosters@@ don’t sit far behind, with 38 and 30 receptions respectively@@Barton: http://www.pac-12.org/portals/7/images/Football/2011-Stats/HTML/confldrs.htm#conf.wi2  no karstetter@@. In total, the trifecta has accounted for 13 touchdowns this year, anchoring the Washington State offense@@wilson+barton=10, can’t find karstetter@@.

The Achilles’ heel@@http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/achilles@@ for Washington State’s offense is their rushing attack. The Cougars are averaging a paltry 3.7 yards per rush this year@@http://www.pac-12.org/portals/7/images/Football/2011-Stats/HTML/confldrs.htm@@. The bulk of the carries have gone to junior Carl Winston@@wsu roster@@ despite an underwhelming season. Freshman Rickey Galvin@@wsu roster@@ has burst onto the scene in his first substantial action, averaging 6.4 yards per carry on his way to 356 yards and three touchdowns@@wsu pdf stats@@.

Oregon fans may be accustomed to seeing the Ducks attack teams primarily with their speedy running backs, but Washington State will likely see more passing attempts on Saturday than they would prefer. The Cougars are currently ranked 87th in the country in passing defense@@changed from 103rd: http://espn.go.com/college-football/team/_/id/265/washington-state-cougars@@, allowing 264.43 per game and 8.23 yards per attempt@@http://www.pac-12.org/portals/7/images/Football/2011-Stats/HTML/confldrs.htm#conf.wi2@@.

“We have got to be physical and we have got to make plays,” Wulff said to The Associated Press. “We have got to be very sound, very disciplined, very focused.”

Sitting at 1-3 in the conference (last place in the Pac-12 North)@@http://pac-12.org/SPORTS/Football/Standings.aspx@@ Washington State appears to be overmatched in a road contest against a highly favored opponent. If the Cougars hope to compete, a hot start for their passing game and an outstanding defensive effort will be in order.

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