Compounding matters for Paul Wulff is a university president, Elson Floyd, who is emotional, egotistical and no expert on coaching football.
Back when Jim Sweeney walked into a Cougar program that was in a shambles on par with the abyss Wulff inherited, he struggled through five straight losing seasons before getting the Cougars into the top 20 in his sixth. Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech won two games in his sixth season in Blacksburg and has since then won between 7 and 11 games every year. That was 19 years ago.
This season, Wulff's fourth, looked like six or even seven wins might be a possibility. The deep wide receiver corps looked hyper-special. This season could have been different. But Jeff Tuel went down with a broken clavical on this third snap of the season. His loss was devastating.
That can't be understated.
Marshall Lobbestael, while a great young man, an exceptional worker and a smart, savvy quarterback, is not a guy who can put his team on his back and carry them to victory – not in the Pac-12.
Saturday's washout in rain-soaked AT&T Park illustrated the problem. When receivers zigged, Lobbestael zagged. When the pass was 15 yards, he threw it 18. When the pressure came, he was like sphynx, not a fox. Lobbestael finished 15-37 for 155 yards, with no TDs and no interceptions.
THE COUG DEFENSE didn't exactly do their part, either.
They allowed Cal, on their first drive, to methodically plow down the field 66 yards on their way to the end zone. A 54- and 71-yard drive followed before halftime. In the end the Cougars surrendered 411 yards, many of those coming after first contact.
At the half, it was 23-0. The D's missed tackles and inability to get off blocks was painful to watch. So was the offense's inability to move the chains. The WSU o-line and d-line was losing the battle and frankly, it was a battle they should have been winning -- at the least, they should have been holding their own.
But this game looked nothing like the loss to Oregon, where WSU trailed 15-10 at the half and in the end outgained one of the most prolific offenses in the nation. This loss to Cal, on offense, defense and special teams -- it's not the way they are being coached.
Closing down on the backside gap was nonexistent. Pushing the wide-side rushers out of the lane was absent. And that's just the tip of the iceberg -- the execution upfront was god-awful.
But facts are facts. The Cougs are now 3-6, and Wulff and the Cougs need to win out to reach a bowl game. Just like their rival, UW, did last season.
No excuses, no explanations. Just win. Or else.
Wulff and the Cougars might need a miracle. And based on the Cougs' performance against Cal, after arguably their best practice week of the season coming into the game, there will surely be more doubters than believers.