Beavers, Cougars to meet up in Seattle

SEATTLE — It's the unspoken number that will remain over the head of Washington State coach Paul Wulff throughout this season.

Just how many wins will be enough for Wulff to retain his job in 2012?

Only getting to three wins probably means a change. Six likely equals an extension for Wulff and four or five probably means continued uncertainty.

With an upcoming schedule that still features games against No. 9 Oregon, No. 24 Arizona State and rival No. 22 Washington, the Cougars (3-3, 1-2) can't afford a slip up tonight against slumping Oregon State at CenturyLink Field.

It's the resurrection of the Cougars' annual game in Seattle. Future plans are for the Cougars to sacrifice a game on campus in Pullman and play in Seattle instead when either Oregon school is scheduled to visit.

If the improving Cougars can't take care of the Beavers (1-5, 1-2) this time around then getting to the five- or even six-win mark will be a difficult proposition considering what lies ahead.

"Our football team is drastically improved. From a year ago to today, we have come a long, long ways," Wulff said. "We want to continue to find ways to win games."

But the Cougars enter tonight on a two-game losing streak after seeing a late lead slip away two weeks ago at UCLA and then getting blitzed in the second half last weekend by No. 7 Stanford in a 44-14 loss.

For a school that's had a combined eight wins in its previous 43 games, the challenge now is finding a way to stop the skid and rekindle the Cougars' fast start to the year.

"I thought we've played some pretty darn good football," Wulff said. "The games we lost to San Diego (State) and UCLA were fourth-quarter football games that we led and we lost. Outside of that we've played pretty dang good football."

If there was a bit of good to come out of last week's loss to Stanford it came in the return of quarterback Jeff Tuel after he missed the previous four-plus games with a broken collarbone. Tuel struggled against the Cardinal, completing just 17 of 30 for 145 yards, but the hope is any rust was knocked off and that Tuel will play more like he did a year ago against the Beavers.

It was a 31-14 win over Oregon State in Corvallis a year ago that likely helped save Wulff's job at that time. The Cougars improved throughout Wulff's third season, yet didn't have an impressive victory. It finally came in late November when Tuel threw for 157 yards and a touchdown and ran for another 79 yards.

"He was a big part of that (win), a huge part of it. His ability to convert on the throws that we had, but also scramble was big and in that particular game that had a big impact," Wulff said. "We won't come in with the same game plan. But there will be some similarities. We have got to do what we do well."

While there is a bit of optimism on the Palouse, the Beavers are slogging through the worst start of Mike Riley's career in Corvallis. Oregon State's never been a quick-starting team, but is usually playing its best the final two months of the season.

That's not the case this season. Thanks to injuries, inconsistency and youth, the Beavers are off to their worst start since 1996. They've already played 20 first-time starters and 10 true freshmen this season, including running back Malcolm Agnew, who became the first true freshman to start a season opener for the Beavers at running back. He returned from a hamstring injury in last week's 38-28 loss to BYU and is expected to get more playing time against the Cougars with second-leading rusher Jovan Stevenson likely out.

"It will take trust in it, because you know we've had some fumbles with that lately," Agnew said. "So it will take trust with the ball carriers carrying the ball, and then it will take some runs that we need to break. We need to break a few long runs. We'll get it going then coach will trust in it and it will be stable."

This will be the first neutral site game in the series since 1942, when the Beavers and Cougars played in Portland.

"We have a tough team and a conference matchup, and a new venue, which I think will be exciting for both teams and both sets of fans," Riley said.

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