WSU set for high-profile game against No. 25 Irish
The Cougars (1-6) for the second year in a row are one of the worst teams in the country, both on offense and defense. They are being outscored by three touchdowns per game, thanks to a slew of injuries and a roster filled with freshmen and sophomores.
But they are not without confidence.
"We want to come down and win," coach Paul Wulff said.
The game is in San Antonio, the first in a series of neutral site contests the Irish (5-2) will play over the next few years to reach far-flung fans and help recruiting.
The Irish are favored by 28 1/2 points - and for good reason. Of 120 major college teams, Washington State is 111th in total offense and 119th in defense. They are near the bottom in passing defense, good news for Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen and receiver Golden Tate.
Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis isn't looking past the Cougars, one of four teams from the Pac-10 the Irish will play this season. He began his weekly press conference Tuesday with a long analysis of the WSU roster and the team's recent trends, which include outscoring opponents in third quarters.
"That will be one of my areas of concern in this game," Weis said.
The game was scheduled in 2007, when Washington State was still basking in the glow of three straight 10-win seasons earlier in the decade. They have since gently slid into mediocrity.
The Cougars had gone into South Bend in the 2003 season, losing 29-26 in overtime in the only other meeting between the programs. The 2003 Cougars finished 10-3 and beat Texas in the Holiday Bowl, the last winning season at WSU.
The Cougars went 2-11 in Wulff's first season, arguably the worst in the program's history. They are nearly matching that futility this year.
The Cougars are not without weapons. The passing game is much improved since true freshman Jeff Tuel was named the starter three games ago. The offensive line is providing him better protection as several starters have returned from injury.
Tuel last week threw for 354 yards in a loss at California. Receivers Johnny Forzani, Gino Simone and Jared Karstetter are emerging as major playmakers. Forzani has scored on receptions of 99 yards and 68 yards the past two games.
They should find some success against an Irish pass defense that is 117th in the nation, giving up 282 yards a game, and is vulnerable to big plays.
Although WSU is improved from last season, the Cougars have still suffered some lopsided defeats. Cal last week jumped to a 35-3 lead midway through the first half and cruised to a 49-17 win. Those kinds of losses have Wulff focusing his young team on just improving.
"We're looking at taking strides and executing our goals each week," Wulff said. "We are not focusing on win, win, win, win.
"There is no question we want to win," he added.
Wulff also is trying to downplay the notion of playing a storied opponent in a nationally televised game in prime time. He noted WSU's game against Southern Cal, which they lost 27-6, was also nationally televised. But four of WSU's seven games were not televised at all, and the games against Hawaii and Oregon got only limited distribution.
All Notre Dame games are televised.
Can the Cougars win?
"All things are possible," Wulff said.
Notre Dame's last six games have been decided by one touchdown or less.
"We have to start fast and play hard," Wulff said. "We want to give ourselves an opportunity to win the game in the fourth quarter. That's where our energy has got to be."