Sorensen breaks down the Wulff system

IF ANYONE HAS has had the perfect vantage point to observe the maturation process of Paul Wulff at Eastern Washington, it is Paul Sorensen. An All-American safety at Washington State in the '80s, Sorensen has had unique access and insight into the staff at Eastern as the Eagles' radio color commentary man the past four seasons. In Part I, Sorensen covers the offense, defense and special teams.

Sorensen, broadcasting the Big Sky Game of the Week on Fox more years than he can count in addition to serving as the EWU color commentator the past four seasons, says Wulff and his no-huddle offense will be a big hit at Washington State, and it will present new challenges for Pac-10 defensive coordinators.

"Defenses have caught up with the spread offense over the last several years, but the hurry up re-establishes the advantage," said Sorensen. "In effect, it's comparable to what Bellichick did when he filmed the Jets to see what defense they were in. Now he got in trouble for that, but it was a huge advantage. And that's very much what a no-huddle offense does to a defense. It limits situational substitutions and it attacks you at your weakest points."

Forcing a defense during practice week to work exclusive to a particular opponent is also beneficial, and that's where Sorensen says Wulff and Todd Sturdy, who is expected to be WSU's offensive coordinator, have stayed ahead of the curve.

Sorensen can cite chapter and verse on any number of Eastern plays over the last four years to illustrate the point, from a check off made in the hurry up that ended up being the play of the game, to running a "fumblerooski" that goes for six on fourth-and-one from the Eagles' own 45 yard line.

"That's the kind of insight that Sturdy and Wulff have on offense. And they're willing to take chances. Plus, Todd Sturdy would bring in a new wrinkle or two every game. He would change it up, they didn't run the same stuff week after week."

What about Oregon's hurry up attack this year? It was unstoppable but only until QB Dennis Dixon went down with a torn ACL. The Ducks closed the season with three straight losses, including being shut out against UCLA. Sorensen said Eastern's hurry up offense wasn't dependent on having a great running quarterback.

What Wulff and Sturdy did last year was look to throw first and run second because that was what the personnel dictated. And that also opened up the running lanes -- having multiple receivers in multiple sets spread out with motion will do that -- said Sorensen.

"What they did was they went against other team's tendencies -- and they had pretty good balance, maybe 48-52 (run to pass). Eastern had a guy who was a very good thrower, and that's comparable to what you have at Washington State," said Sorensen.

The Cougs haven't had a winning record the last four seasons and Wulff didn't promise a quick turnaround on Tuesday, cautiously saying there was work to be done and culture changes that needed to be made. Offensively, however, Sorensen was upbeat on the both the short term and long term.

"He'll build a helluva staff and Cougars are going to be proud. They'll love this offense, it's awesome, and I would not want to play against it. And he'll get the athletes to make it happen."

DEFENSIVELY, SORENSEN SAID Jody Sears, expected to be officially named the Cougs' defensive coordinator, runs a 4-3 and is "more of a zone guy" in secondary coverage, with one caveat -- he will adjust to match the strengths of the personnel.

"I think Jody Sears is very comparable to Bob Gregory from Cal. Eastern didn't have corners that could lock down this year so they ran a lot of (cover-2, 3, and 4) zone team. he's like a Todd Sturdy but on the defense -- he adjusted his game plan to the personnel. If he has great corners who can lock down, then he could play more man, he could blitz more, bracket a receiver or put your best corner on him and take him out of the game. But it's hard to find guys like that."

Sorensen said he expects a Wazzu defense under Wulff and Sears to take away the run, stress the fundamentals day in and day out and, on Saturdays, look to surprise the opponent after the ball is snapped.

"They like to stop the run and make you pass, to show one thing and then jump into something else. They will show you man (coverage) and play zone, then zone and play man. They'll show you zone and play zone on the front side, but man on the backside. They do a lot of different things to try and confuse the quarterback. And that's good coaching.

SPECIAL TEAMS, a crimson deficit the past four seasons, is one area Sorensen thinks could see immediate improvement. In Eastern's playoff loss to Appalachian State, who will play in the championship game this weekend, Sorensen said Eastern couldn't stop the Appy State offense, but stayed in the game because of big special team plays.

"Appalachian State was running up and down the field on them, they were just killing them. But Eastern was killing them on special teams," said Sorensen, noting Eastern scored on a fake punt and returned a kickoff for a touchdown. "They were doing stuff on special teams where you were just looking around saying, 'You've got to be kidding me.'

"They're very explosive, and they're very well coached."

But there's another more critical component to special teams, and it has to do with speed and ultimately, about recruiting. "Special teams are totally about recruiting," said Sorensen. "It's all about getting guys that can run. You get a half dozen Andy Mattingly's out there and you're pretty damned good on special teams. So you've got to find guys like that and you've got make it an emphasis and that's one of the three components Paul Wulff always talks about: Offense. Defense. Special teams. And he knows what it takes to get it down in the Pac-10 conference."

Part II continues with Sorensen's observations on Wulff in the areas of recruiting, coaching and what it means in going forward for the Cougs. Look for it tomorrow morning.

Paul Sorensen played safety for the Cougars from 1980-81, earning first-team All-American honors as a senior. He later played in the NFL and USFL. From 1985-98 he was the color commentator on radio broadcasts of Cougar football. A long-time assistant coach in the Greater Spokane League, he's also been writing periodically for CF.C since 1999.

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