First-play woes bring out coach's candor

PAUL WULFF NEVER will be confused with his predecessors when it comes to one-liners. But Washington State's coach had one during his Sunday teleconference that would have made Mike Price or Jim Walden proud. Also, just what the heck happened at the end of the game with the clock? Here's the answer to that mystery, too.

After watching the Cougars turn the ball over on the first play of their first two games, Wulff joked that it might be time to take a different approach when it plays at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Southern Methodist (TV: CBS College Sports).

"Maybe we do a quarterback sneak on the first play to make sure we don't turn the ball over, he said.

WSU (1-1), which scored 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to earn a 23-22 win Saturday against Montana State at Martin Stadium, continues to start slowly on offense. The Cougars have been outscored 23-0 in the opening period in their two games.

After sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel was intercepted on the first play, WSU's second series ended when senior running back James Montgomery fumbled on a reception that would have given his team a first down in Bobcats' territory. The Cougars then went three-and-out on their next series when sophomore wide receiver Gino Simone dropped a ball that would have resulted in a first down.

"That was tough," Wulff said. "We've just got to try and continue to improve our execution."

SO WHAT HAPPENED with the clock? A mistake was made where WSU was only given 25 seconds on the play clock when it should have been 40 seconds.

Had the proper time been put back on the clock, WSU could have run it out. But it was not to be. The error was never corrected.

Wulff and the WSU staff were incensed pleading their case, and the officials in turn got hot. Bottom line -- the officials did not change it back and MSU took over, causing a little extra apprehension on the sidelines and in the stands before the clock finally hit zeros.

WHILE WULFF CONTINUED to praise his team's effort and intensity, he believes some of the early struggles were a result of playing "tight." He think that stems more from internal pressure to perform well and his team's inexperience than external criticism.

"Most of these kids have come in the last year or two and they're trying to learn college football," Wulff said. "It's probably a little more overwhelming for some of them."

He also said some of the problems, particularly on offense, are the result of "10 doing it right and one not." Wulff noted that junior-college transfers Isiah Barton (wide receiver), David Gonzalez (offensive line) and Wade Jacobson (offensive line) and true freshman Marquess Wilson (wide receiver) all start or play significant roles.

"We're trying to speed up their learning curves as fast as we possibly can," said Wulff, adding that the coaching staff still is contemplating changes on the offensive line.

ON THE DEFENSIVE side, Wulff said the coaching staff probably was too conservative during the first half. MSU was held scoreless during the final 21 minutes, 26 seconds of the game.

"There's no question that when we blitzed, we made more things happen in this game," said Wulff, adding that increased blitz packages against future opponents will partially depend on the systems those teams use.

"Our backs were against the wall in the fourth quarter. We picked up our intensity and responded. That was a great sign from our football team. When we're confident and flying around, we can play dang good football."

Wulff, whose team defeated SMU 30-27 in overtime last year, hopes the victory against the Bobcats strengthens his team's confidence.

"If we can get a road win, it would be a great step for our young players," he said.

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • Wulff said both true freshman special-teams player Jack Wilson and senior defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm aggravated shoulder strains against MSU. It is unknown if they will be able to play against SMU.

  • The Cougars eschewed a field-goal opportunity on fourth-and-11 at MSU's 32-yard line during the second quarter. Wulff said that was because senior kicker Nico Grasu suffered a leg strain and he did not want him to kick a long field goal into the wind.


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