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Originally published Monday, November 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Cougars see progress after Saturday's loss to Arizona

Washington State coach Paul Wulff can look at Saturday's 59-28 drubbing to Arizona and see signs of progress, which says more about how...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Washington State coach Paul Wulff can look at Saturday's 59-28 drubbing to Arizona and see signs of progress, which says more about how far the Cougars have fallen than it does the small steps they've taken back to respectability.

Still, considering their offense had not scored more than 17 points against a Division I team and was riding a 10-quarter scoreless streak, the 31-point defeat doesn't look so bad after examination.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see everybody feels better about [the offense], even the defense," Wulff said. "You hope the defense now has some more hope that they're not going out there after every three-and-out on every series and they're not as tired."

Quarterback Kevin Lopina, who suffered a spinal fracture in his lower back Sept. 20 against Portland State, is partly responsible for the improved play offensively. The WSU coaching staff stripped the playbook and adopted a conservative attack two weeks ago because it was intent on not getting Lopina hurt.

If not for Lopina, who engineered each touchdown drive, true freshman J.T. Levenseller would have played more. Lopina finished with just 94 yards on 8-for-15 passing and two interceptions. Levenseller, who made his college debut two weeks ago, completed two of five passes and threw an interception.

"We thought we'd try to get him in the second quarter and it just didn't work out," Wulff said. "We were moving the ball and Kevin was doing some good things. We'll go into it again this week with the plan that J.T. will play in the first half and also in the second half."

With three games remaining in a woeful 1-9 season, Wulff seems intent on developing younger players.

Wulff said sophomore Toby Turpin has beaten out senior defensive tackle Matt Eichelberger, who started the previous nine games.

"Since [Turpin] got the cast off from surgery on his hand, he's turned the corner and he's playing a little bit better football," Wulff said. "I just thought he deserved the right to play more."

Without Eichelberger and junior defensive end Andy Mattingly, who sprained his ankle in Wednesday's practice and was unavailable Saturday, Wulff had less than two days to improvise and tinker with the defensive alignments.

The Cougars unveiled a new 3-4 defensive scheme that featured Matt Mullennix and Fevaea'i Ahum at the defensive ends, and Turpin, who got his first start, at nose tackle. The trio accounted for 12 tackles and one sack.

"We got to a point where we're so thin where we can't even line up four players that have a legitimate amount of experience at all on the defensive line," Wulff said. "So if you go to a three-down-line look, it at least helps us there and gives us at least an extra backup that we wouldn't have in a four-down-line look."

Notes

• TE Tony Thompson (concussion), TE Aaron Gehring (shoulder), DB Alfonso Jackson (pinched nerve), LB Myron Beck (broken hand) are questionable for Saturday's game at Arizona State. DE Andy Mattingly (ankle) and CB Tyrone Justin (ankle) are doubtful and DE Kevin Kooyman (pinched nerve) and LS Zach Enyeart (shoulder) are probable.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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