Injury woes dampen solid win for Washington State

September, 22, 2009
9/22/09
4:57
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


Washington State posted a gutty, comeback win in overtime against SMU on Saturday, but it seems like there is generally a "but" after something positive happens with the Cougars these days.

That's the case again.

Junior running back James Montgomery is out for the season after undergoing surgery Sunday morning for acute compartment syndrome in his left leg.

“I feel terrible for James,” coach Paul Wulff said in a statement. “He has worked so hard since the minute he stepped on campus and is the complete package in terms of a student-athlete. He will be missed this season but knowing James he will continue to make a great impact on our program.”

Through the first three games, Montgomery is the Cougars leading rusher, including an 118-yard effort against Hawaii.

Montgomery, a transfer from California, had six carries for 10 yards against SMU. His bothersome knee and some injury woes on the line largely explain why the Cougars only rushed for 37 yards against the Mustangs.

The Cougars now will face USC on Saturday without Montgomery and their top three guards. B.J. Guerra sprained his knee against SMU and will be out four to six weeks, while Zack Williams is still out with a high ankle sprain. In the preseason, returning starter Andrew Roxas was lost to a liver infection.

Freshman Tyson Pencer will start at left tackle, displacing Steven Ayers, who moves inside to left guard. Junior Brian Danaher, a former walk on, will step in at right guard.

Asked if things were thin on the line, Wulff said, "Really thin."

Maybe not as thin as last year when USC obliterated WSU 69-0. The Trojans outgained the Cougars 625 yards to 116. The Cougars only had four first downs vs. 28 for USC.

Wulff isn't planning to play the redemption card to motivate his team this week.

"We haven't and we don't plan on it," he said. "We're a lot different team and they're a lot different team."

Wulff's primary focus at present is getting his out-manned squad to play hard for all four quarters, which it often didn't do last year. Part of that, he said, is "not getting caught up in the score." That might make some cringe, but the Cougs didn't let a 17-0 first-half deficit vs. SMU keep them from fighting back and finding creative ways to win -- such as returning two interception for long TDs.

Washington State was outgained 504-276. But it still won.

Further along those lines, Wulff also sees reason for optimism in two overtime victories in the last five games.

"I think we're starting to make some headway, and our players are starting to feel good about our improvement," he said.

If the Cougs could just stay healthy, they might show more improvement.

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