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StarBulletin.com

Cougars look to regain their bite


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POSTED: Monday, August 24, 2009

Even after a 2-11 season, the “;nowhere to go but up”; cliche doesn't exactly apply to Washington State.

A double-overtime win over rival Washington kept the Cougars out of the Pac-10 cellar while capping the Huskies' winless season. Their other win came against FCS member Portland State.

The Cougars were picked 10th in the Pac-10's preseason poll entering Paul Wulff's second year as head coach. Wulff himself had to sit out the first three practices of fall camp, serving a suspension stemming from violations during his time at Eastern Washington.

; Exceeding the preseason expectations will require boosting an offense that was shut out three times and scored more than 17 points just twice last season. The defense, meanwhile, allowed 58 points or more on six occasions.

The Cougars ranked in triple digits nationally in 11 statistical categories, hitting bottom (119th) in rushing defense and turnover margin.

Injuries at quarterback fostered inconsistency in the offense. On the glass-half-full side, Kevin Lopina, Marshall Lobbestael and J.T. Levenseller all return with significant game experience.

Strengths

The Cougars return eight starters on offense, including leading rusher Dwight Tardy, center Kenny Alfred and tackle Micah Hannam. Senior linebacker Andy Mattingly moves over from defensive end, where he led the Cougars with eight sacks.

Weaknesses

The Cougars lost their top playmaker in receiver Brandon Gibson and are inexperienced at receiver and cornerback.