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Originally published Monday, September 1, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Cougs have room for improvement

An adage in football goes like this: "The biggest improvement in a season is made between Week 1 and Week 2. " That's wonderful news for...

Seattle Times staff reporter

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WSU game leaders
Passing PC-PA-PI Yds. TD
Gary Rogers 12-24-1 82 1
Rushing TCB-Yds. Avg. TD
Dwight Tardy 18-59 3.3 0
Receiving No.-Yds. Avg. TD
Brandon Gibson 6-53 8.8 1
D. Blackledge 2-4 2 0
Tackles Solo Ast. Sa.
Greg Trent 4 5 1

An adage in football goes like this: "The biggest improvement in a season is made between Week 1 and Week 2."

That's wonderful news for the Washington State Cougars, who are still licking their wounds after a 39-13 defeat against Oklahoma State at Qwest Field on Saturday ruined Paul Wulff's coaching debut with his alma mater.

Despite the 26-point loss, most players and coaches were relatively upbeat after the game, perhaps anticipating a better outing this Saturday against California at Martin Stadium.

"I expect tremendous growth," quarterback Gary Rogers said. "We showed just a little bit of what we can do. We got a lot of potential on this team and I think we're only going to get better."

In order for the Cougars' hurry-up offense to work effectively, Rogers must develop a better rapport with all-Pac-10 receiver Brandon Gibson. Last year, he racked up 136 receiving yards against Cal in a 20-17 defeat at Memorial Stadium.

It was one of six games in which he had at least 100 yards receiving. He finished with a school season record — 1,180 yards on 67 receptions, including nine touchdowns.

Much like the WSU offense, Gibson is off to a slow start this season.

He was shut out in the first half Saturday and finished with six receptions for 53 yards. Rogers threw in Gibson's direction three times before halftime. One pass sailed high, but Gibson, a 6-1, 200-pound senior, had a couple of passes fall through his grasp because of Oklahoma State's harassing defense.

"I want to get him the ball as much as possible," Rogers said. "We were trying to establish the running game early and that started to come along a little bit. Eventually we got him the ball, but we definitely need to do a better job of getting him the ball early."

Gibson jump-started the Cougars' offense in the second half with a reverse run that gained 14 yards to midfield. Five plays later, he hauled in a 9-yard touchdown pass.

Still, the second half wasn't flawless. Tight coverage prevented Gibson from catching a 5-yard pass in the end zone and no WSU receiver made a reception in the fourth quarter.

"I'm not going to get down on a guy for dropping a ball," Rogers said. "You obviously would like for it not to happen, but it's going to happen. I have all the faith in the world in them."

Ideally, Wulff would rather start the season against a couple subdivision opponents before beginning conference play.

WSU (0-1) has little time to clean up mistakes on offense and special teams before facing California (1-0), which beat Michigan State 38-31 Saturday.

"We need the Pullman crowd to really make it extremely difficult for them," Wulff said. "If we do that and we improve our execution, then it ought to be a heck of a ballgame."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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