Mystery surrounds Cougs, Rebels as game nears

MARSHALL LOBBESTAEL

BOTH ALREADY HAVE played one game this season, but Washington State coach Paul Wulff suggested during his Thursday teleconference that he expects Saturday's game between the Cougars and UNLV to feature plenty of surprises. In addition to that, Wulff discussed WSU's storyline of the week -- the flu -- and provided a scholarship breakdown.

Some of the surprises that Wulff anticipates relate to teams not wanting to reveal too much during their first game. That was not necessary for WSU (1-0) as it built an early lead en route to a 64-21 victory Saturday against Idaho State. Meanwhile, the Rebels (0-1) quickly fell behind Wisconsin in their opener before a couple of late touchdowns brought the final score to 51-17.

One challenge in preparing for UNLV has been the amount of players that have missed practice this week because of illness. Wulff said the Cougars have practiced "against a lot of things" this week as he expects Rebels coach Bobby Hauck to use more of his playbook.

He said he does not expect quarterback Caleb Herring to scramble a lot, but noted he has the ability to gain yards that way and WSU must be prepared for it.

Wulff said preparation for individual opponents and their schemes is a greater concern than teaching players new concepts. He quipped that the last few seasons -- when his team routinely had far fewer players than the 85-man scholarship limit -- have prepared him well for being short-handed at practice.

"We're not really installing anything new," he said. "Usually we go into game week and pare things down ... or refine what we want to do."

UNLV also might adjust its strategy as WSU will start senior Marshall Lobbestael at quarterback after junior Jeff Tuel suffered a broken left clavicle versus ISU. That has led to speculation that the Rebels might focus on limiting the Cougars' running game to make Lobbestael prove he can be effective passing.

Wulff said he relishes that prospect.

"I don't have a problem with that," he said. "I hope they do. They have to stop our quarterback and wide receivers."

Wulff said there have been "just a few things schematically" that have changed with the transition from Tuel, who is expected to be sidelined at least four weeks, to Lobbestael. Of course, that will remain a mystery until both teams hit the gridiron.

"It's still early enough in the season that they've got to figure out what we're doing as an overall offense," Wulff said.

IN ADDITION TO discussing UNLV, Wulff also provided a breakdown of WSU's scholarship situation. He said the Cougars have 81 players on scholarship, including wide receiver Blair Bomber (knee), linebacker Louis Bland (knee) and offensive lineman Alex Reitnouer (back), all of whom are sidelined with season-ending injuries.

Reitnouer's situation appears the most dire of the trio. Wulff said the "best-case scenario" for the sophomore is that his back, which has required two surgeries, will heal enough to allow him to be a long snapper. He said Reitnouer never will be healthy enough to play the offensive line again.

Because WSU utilized less than the maximum scholarships allowed this season, Wulff said he was able to award those to four former walk-ons. Those players are fullback Jared Byers, offensive lineman Elliott Bosch, quarterback David Gilbertson and safety Kyle McCartney.

"All of those guys have been great program guys and have contributed," said Wulff, adding that each player understands that the scholarship applies only to this season. "That's why we gave them scholarships this year."

Wulff was asked about Portland lineman Alex Mitchell, who recently returned home after the NCAA Eligibility Center did not clear him. He said he could not talk specifically about Mitchell, but said "we'll apply" that scholarship in January.

That gives the Cougars 17 to 19 scholarships for the class signing in February, Wulff said.

"That will give us a full boat," he said. "It shows you how long it takes to rebuild when you have certain deficits. But we'll be healthy after this."

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • According to Weather.com, the high temperature for Saturday in Pullman is expected to be 91 degrees. Wulff said players, coaches and athletic trainers are preparing for it.

    "It's definitely something we're very aware of," he said. "We're going to make sure we have everything possible for our athletes from a hydration standpoint."

  • Wulff said true freshman cornerback Spencer Waseem (right knee) will not play Saturday and is out indefinitely. He said Waseem still is using crutches.

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