Cougars get some key players back after bye

ZACK WILLIAMS

INJURY ISSUES ALONG WSU's offensive line have been a major focus for weeks. That has not necessarily changed, but coach Paul Wulff said the news is somewhat better.

He said junior guard Zack Williams, who has not played since suffering a high ankle sprain Sept. 12 against Hawaii, "will be back for sure" Saturday at California.

Wulff said the bye week after the Cougars' 27-14 loss against Arizona State on Oct. 10, which dropped the team's record to 1-5 overall and 0-3 in conference, was what he hoped for -- with the exception of the injury front.

Sophomores Steven Ayers (ankle) and B.J. Guerra (knee) and redshirt freshman Tyson Pencer (ankle) are questionable for Cal (4-2, 1-2). Junior Brian Danaher will be out indefinitely with repeated concussion issues. Wulff said he won't play again until he is cleared by a doctor.

Wulff, who played on the offensive line at WSU from 1986-89, said injuries to the lower body are difficult for football players to recover from.

"It's really hard for all players because you use your lower body with everything," he said. "There comes a point where you're going to have some soreness and you're going to have to push your way through it."

THE DEFENSIVE LINE will regain a starter as junior Bernard Wolfgramm is back. Wolfgramm started the first five games at defensive tackle before suffering a hip injury Oct. 3 against Oregon. His return might allow Wulff to move redshirt freshman Dan Spitz back to defensive end.

Spitz, who is listed at 6 foot 6 and 268 pounds, started two games at left end before moving inside after junior Josh Luapo suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament Sept. 26 at USC and Wolfgramm went down. Luapo will not return this season -- Wulff said his surgery was successful and did not require any work beyond repairing the ligament -- but Spitz still might be needed at end.

That is because Wulff is not optimistic that senior Kevin Kooyman, who has not played since the Sept. 5 season opener against Stanford, will be back this season. Kooyman, who still has a redshirt year available, and sophomore linebacker Louis Bland both tore the posterior cruciate ligament in their knees during spring ball, but Wulff said it is an injury that affects everyone differently. Bland started at middle linebacker against ASU.

"If it stays the same, he's not going to be able to play the remainder of the year," Wulff said. "Sometimes people can adapt in a month, sometimes it's six months. It doesn't look promising this year."

AFTER MISSING THE ASU GAME, Wulff also expects sophomore Alex Hoffman-Ellis (staph infection) back against Cal. He said both Hoffman-Ellis and senior center Kenny Alfred had stitches removed Monday. Wulff believes Alfred suffered the injury when he fell on another player's cleat and required about 20 stitches.

The Cougars have not been hit as hard by injuries at linebacker as other positions, which has enabled Wulff to move junior Myron Beck back to safety. Beck initially played safety for the team last year before moving linebacker. Wulff said Beck's presence allows him to alternate junior Chima Nwachukwu between cornerback and safety.

Redshirt freshman cornerback Daniel Simmons suffered a broken leg against ASU that will end his season and sophomore safety Eric Block (ulcerative colitis) remains out, but Wulff said Beck's move also means the team won't need to use any of the freshmen defensive backs, such as Jamal Atofau, Anthony Carpenter, Casey Locker and Nolan Washington, who are redshirting.

The Cougars have played six true freshmen -- fullback Jared Byers, defensive end Travis Long, offensive lineman Alex Reitnouer, wide receiver Gino Simone, quarterback Jeff Tuel and running back Carl Winston -- but does not anticipate playing any more. All except Byers are on scholarship.

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Wulff is not certain whether junior running back James Montgomery will travel with the team. Montgomery, who played at Cal in 2007 before transferring to WSU, rushed for a team-high 167 yards in three games before undergoing surgery to correct acute compartment syndrome in his left leg. Wulff said he had never heard of the injury before Montgomery's prognosis.

    "It was a surprising blow for us and him," Wulff said. "The nice thing is his attitude is great like always. If someone can overcome something like this, I really believe he has the ability."

    Wulff said Montgomery still is wearing a boot to protect the leg and has limited range of motion. He is not sure whether Montgomery will be able to continue his football career.

  • Some themes during the bye week were refresh and reflect.

    "Let's take some big strides as a football team and as individuals," Wulff said. "We have to take a big step in our performance this week. The attitude has been great ... it's night and day from this time a year ago."

    Wulff said the team obviously cannot become bigger or faster, but said it can improve its mental approach during the final six weeks of the season.

    "We're on pace to break the record for most freshmen starts in school history," he said. "When you have a team where the core of it is very young ... it's a learning process. I think that mentally we can be more mature in our approach."

  • True freshman Jeff Tuel will make his third start at quarterback against Cal. Tuel has completed 26 of 46 passes for 308 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions this season. Wulff likes Tuel's raw ability and expects him to continue to improve as he gains more experience and strength through work in the weight room.

  • Cal running back Jahvid Best had 200 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries during the Bears' 66-3 win last year in Pullman.

    "He's got good vision and patience through the hole," Wulff said. "That's what makes him maybe the best tailback in the country. In my eyes, he clearly is. He makes a 2-yard gain by most backs into a 93-yard gain."

  • Some considered Cal a favorite to win the Pac-10 before consecutive losses against Oregon and USC. The Bears were outscored 72-6 combined in those games. After a bye week, they returned to earn their first Pac-10 win, 45-26, last week at UCLA.

    "I think that Cal got put on their heels a bit," Wulff said. "They had two teams that came up, played extremely hard and executed well. They had a week off, kind of regrouped and went back to some basic fundamental things. It showed up against UCLA."

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