Hankwitz debuts as Wildcats' head coach at No. 14 Washington State

Updated: October 3, 2003, 2:37 AM ET

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Facing an opponent with four consecutive losses, player discontent and a new head coach normally would be a good thing.

But Washington State coach Bill Doba knows the turmoil of a coaching change can help motivate a team, something his No. 14 Cougars will have to guard against when they entertain Arizona on Saturday at Martin Stadium in Pullman.

Arizona interim head coach Mike Hankwitz, elevated from defensive coordinator after John Mackovic was fired, makes his debut with his team a 27{-point underdog.

The Wildcats (1-4, 0-1 Pac-10) had a good showing in a 13-10 overtime loss to then-No. 19 Texas Christian University that preceded Mackovic's firing last weekend.

"It's difficult to prepare for them now," Doba said. "I'm sure there had to be some problems, so obviously, there are going to be some players excited that he is not there. Most kids would think, `Well, now is our chance to prove it was his fault and we're good football players."

Hankwitz said his players have responded positively to the coaching change.

"I believe the players were surprised, but I do believe that young men are resilient, and I do believe that they are behind us 100 percent, and they will give us everything they have," he said.

Which is what worries Doba, also a former defensive coordinator who was elevated to head coach after Mike Price left last season for an ill-fated stint at Alabama.

The Wildcats' performance against TCU proves they can compete, despite being outscored 186-84 in five games, Doba said.

"They are a talented team. Earlier, in a couple of their ball games, they got behind early and they didn't really play hard," he said. "In the TCU game, they were in it the whole time and the guys just played hard. They played more up to their ability."

Last year at Tucson, the Cougars were ranked No. 9 and turned in one of their best defensive performances, limiting Arizona to minus-17 yards rushing and 207 yards total offense in a 21-13 victory. The Cougars had seven sacks.

It might not get any easier for Arizona's young quarterbacks this year, as WSU leads the nation with 13 interceptions, seven coming last week in a 55-16 rout of Oregon.

"Washington State is a team that is playing extremely well coming off a great season a year ago," Hankwitz said. "I've been very impressed with their offense; they look like a veteran, well-oiled offense. They are a very challenging offense to defend.

"On the other side of the ball, they are playing extremely well right now," Hankwitz said. "From what I have seen ... they are much more aggressive this year. With the way their offense is playing, they can afford to be."

Hankwitz said there isn't time to make wholesale changes in his own offensive and defensive schemes.

"I don't feel at this point that we can make major changes. I am going to continue to call defenses, and I am going to rely on the offensive staff to put together a game plan and call the plays," he said.

"We have to identify the things that we can do well, and we have to build on those. Defensively, we have tried to do less and get something that we can do well, so we can build on that."

Doba suspects Wildcats offensive coordinator Mike Deal will throw in some new wrinkles.

"There might be a lot more screens or reverses or runs or passes -- or less," Doba said. "We just have to wait and see."

A key will be how quickly the Cougars can get on the scoreboard, Doba said.

"The quicker we can score and try and get a lead and take them out of it the better it will be," Doba said. "Like any team, if you let them hang around and hang around, they will jump up and bite you."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index