Cougars show progress, but not enough to win

PAUL WULFF wasn't kidding. He used the word "mad" multiple times during Thursday's teleconference, and then he showed it Saturday by repeatedly reading the riot act to the officials for a pair of missed pass-interference calls during the first half.

But as is almost always the case between official and football coach, Wulff's protestations were to no avail.

Everyone has heard the P word uttered frequently in Paul Wulff's 2 1/2-year tenure at WSU. Progress. And Wulff minced no words this week when talking about the importance of showing some at UCLA.

But there wasn't much of any progress shown by his defense during the Cougars' 42-28 loss, particularly when total running yards are the indicator. WSU (1-4 overall, 0-2 Pac-10) continued to look hopeless at stopping the run.

Saturday, it was Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman. The duo in blue combined for 401 yards on 45 carries. Before that, Oklahoma Stateand USC ran wild on WSU.

And for a second consecutive week, an opponent averaged more than eight yards per snap.

Until the Cougars show the ability to at least contain another team's running game, it is difficult to envision them winning.

But, as they showed against UCLA, it is not impossible.

THAT IS BECAUSE of the dramatic improvement the offense that is beginning to show. Offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy has entrusted sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel and his wide receivers the last two weeks.

Wise decision.

While the Cougars were not able to score on three consecutive plays from the Bruins' 1-yard with the score tied at 28 early in the fourth quarter, the results mostly were positive. If WSU had scored there, the outcome might have been different. Instead, UCLA drove 99 yards for a touchdown that was capped by a 1-yard run by backup quarterback Richard Brehaut, who started in place of the injured Kevin Prince, and took a 35-28 lead with 10 minutes, 8 seconds left in the game.

"It leaves a bad taste in your mouth," former WSU and radio analyst Jim Walden said.

Maybe even some anger for the Cougars, who now have lost 11 consecutive conference games, because of the lost opportunity to win. But in a sense it is refreshing to see the progress -- at least on one side of the ball -- that Wulff has talked so much about.

TUEL, WHO COMPLETED 20 of 37 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns, continues to show his maturation, although his internal clock for when he needs to get rid of the ball is still missing time. But his two-minute drill was the most efficient by anyone donning crimson and gray since Alex Brink found Brandon Gibson for a 35-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds left to lift WSU to a 42-35 win in the 2007 Apple Cup.

Tuel methodically guided the Cougars from their own 20-yard line with just 1:51 left in the first half -- and without any help from the officials. A seemingly blatant pass-interference call was missed by an official that would have put WSU near midfield. It wasn't the only one.

"How in the world do they not throw a flag on that play?" asked Fox Sports Northwest analyst Jason Stiles, who quarterbacked Western Washington in the early 1990s. "Two really, really poor calls from the officials on what were obvious pass-inference penalties."

Despite that, Tuel found senior Jeffrey Solomon for a 25-yard gain on the ensuing play. Four plays later, Tuel hit senior Daniel Blackledge for an 18-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds remaining in the first half.

"You can really determine the maturation of any quarterback at this level when you get put into a high-pressure situation," said FSN analyst Mack Strong, who played fullback for 14 seasons with the Seahawks. "He did a great job of not forcing the football."

WSU WIDE-RECEIVERS coach Mike Levenseller also deserves plenty of credit for that. The Cougars entered the season with the least experienced unit of Levenseller's 19-year tenure. But true freshman Marquess Wilson, who finished with 118 yards on five receptions, continues to evolve into a No. 1 receiver and junior Jared Karstetter improves each week.

It just needs to happen on both sides of the ball.

WSU PLAYER OF THE GAME: Sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel completed 20 of 37 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns. He also did not throw an interception.

MISLEADING STAT OF THE GAME: The Cougars did not run the ball nearly as poorly as the statistics indicate. WSU finished with 73 yards on 31 carries for a 2.4 average, but sacks count against the quarterback's rushing totals in college football. Tuel finished with negative 13 yards on 14 carries. Take those away and the Cougars averaged 5.1 yards per carry.

TACKLING LEADERS: Senior safety Chima Nwachukwu and junior linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis both finished with a team-high 11 tackles.

NEXT UP: The Cougars host Oregon, which was ranked fourth in the Associated Press poll entering Saturday's showdown against Stanford. The Ducks lead the series against WSU 42-38-7.

Cougfan Top Stories