Sports

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: WSU defense full of holes

The 100-yard rushing mark is the standard to a running back. Anything over a 100 is seen as good — unless you’re playing this sea-son’s Washington State defense. Given enough carries, it seems almost any running back can eclipse the century mark against the Cougs’ porous run defense, ranked second to last among 119 teams.

Need an example?

In the season opener against Oklahoma State, Kendall Hunter ran for 107 yards on 23 carries. The following week, Cal’s Jahvid Best ran for 200 yards in 14 carries. Against Baylor in the third game of the season, quarterback Robert Griffin rushed for 211 yards, while teammate Jay Finley added 117. The past two weeks, WSU hasn’t given up 100 yards to one player. But Portland State passed 50 times in its game, while Oregon had three players rush for more than 70 yards each.

Not surprisingly, the Cougars are ranked among the worst in the country at stopping the run. Still, if the UCLA Bruins were able to get a 100 yards rushing out of one its backs, it would be a major accomplishment, regardless of what defense they are going up against.

In four games this season, the Bruins have failed to have a player rush for more than 100 yards. In fact only one player — freshman Derrick Coleman — has rushed for more than 100 yards this entire season.

But perhaps things are starting to change. As a team, UCLA rushed for 234 yards last weekend in a 36-31 loss to Fresno State. One reason was that the Bulldogs were missing a couple of key defensive linemen, but another was the return of running back Kahlil Bell, who gained 75 yards on 20 carries after being knocked out of the season opener against Tennessee with a sprained ankle.

“Our running game was much better,” Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel said. “Kahlil being back helps us, not only from a talent stand-point, but he certainly brings an attitude with him.”

There’s never been any doubt about Bell’s talent. As a junior he rushed for a team-high 795 yards and five touchdowns, before torn ligament in his knee ended his season at eight games.

There were those who doubted Bell would be back and ready for this season. Of course, those people didn’t really know Bell’s atti-tude toward injuries and pain.

Bell worked to get himself ready for the season only to see a nasty high ankle sprain dampen his start. Even then, Bell tried to push his way back early.

“He wanted to play against Arizona,” Neuheisel said. “But I didn’t think he was 100 percent. I don’t know if he’s 100 percent now.”

It’s why Neuheisel limited Bell against Fresno State.

“He wanted to go in late in the game, but it was tightening up and it just wasn’t the prudent thing to do,” Neuheisel said.

Bell isn’t one to want to sit out because of injury.

“He’s kind of like the guy in the Monty Python movie who gets his arm cut off and says, ‘it’s only a flesh wound,’ ” Neuheisel said.

And that’s part of the attitude that Neuheisel likes. Bell likes to compete, and sitting out doesn’t allow that.

“He’s such a competitive guy,” Neuheisel said. “He kind of walks the fine line of being so competitive that he almost goes overboard, if there is such a thing.”

Perhaps the pushing and shoving scuffle Bell got into with one of his teammates earlier this week in practice was a reminder of that fine line.

Still, Neuheisel thinks his team is better when Bell is out there.

“As a senior, he’s a guy that’s done it before,” Neuheisl said. “He’s incredibly important to the guys who have not been out there be-fore. I like the swagger he brings to the offense.”

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