Stepping forward, stepping back

PAUL WULFF FELT pretty good coming out of the bye week, that the Cougs had some traction headed into Stanford. "We really felt, for two weeks, I think the players felt it, and the coaches definitely felt it, that we got better these last two weeks. And in practice it really showed. It didn't show on Saturday."

In a conference call with reporters Sunday, Wulff said reviews of game tape showed, in the first series on offense and defense, some collectively good football on the part of the Cougs. It didn't last long.

"What slowed us down both times was individual big mistakes that cost us a little bit," said Wulff. "They were playing well and then, man, we just kept making another mistake that hurt us... that's the thing that frustrates us as coaches and I think the players a little bit. We really did make progress as a football team. But it didn't show up on Saturday."

What has become evident over the course of the season and with four games left, is that there remain players who have not bought in to how Wulff and the coaching staff are going about rebuilding the program. Following Sunday's workout session, Wulff said he again spent some time talking with the players about overcoming adversity, mental toughness and that the improvement that's being made has to show up when it counts, on Saturdays.

"We have no trust or confidence right now," said Wulff. "And we can't overcome mistakes. They just seem to flatten their play and their belief in winning right now is not there. We spent a lot of time talking about that as a team (Sunday).

"Everything is new to these guys, and the older guys they're struggling with the change of what we're asking these guys to do -- because they've done it a certain way for X amount of years. The new guys that are playing are just that, they're new.

Wulff said the No. 1 thing he was looking to find out when he was named the Cougars' head man back in December was how mentally strong the group as a whole were, how well they would overcome adversity as a team. Through Week 9, it would appear a safe bet to say Wulff's been disappointed in that regard. But he's also resolute in his belief about the future.

"What's happening to us really does not surprise me-- a little bit in terms of the scoring and the amount we're losing by-- but in terms of how we truly handle it, it doesn't necessarily surprise me. We're going to work ourselves through it. And there are going to be brighter days ahead. I guarantee it."

What has also become evident in this first season is that Wulff will candidly assess his players' performances -- on and off the field. Two of the veterans on the team, DE Andy Mattingly and RB Dwight Tardy, were mentioned by Wulff on Sunday night.

"After (Tardy) fumbled, he didn't respond very affected his performance. He needs to bound back off of that -- like our whole team does. We don't respond very well when bad things happen to us," said Wulff.

Mattingly did not play against Stanford until the second half. Wulff did not go into details as to why but he did offer a broad explanation.

"We're still trying to get players to learn how to focus and how to prepare for games on Fridays and Saturdays. And sometimes when coaches see players they don't feel are very focused, that you don't think are going to be able to perform because their mind isn't right, we as coaches have to educate them on the importance of being focused so you can go out and play, and perform. We've got a lot of education in that (remaining) with the team still. And (Mattingly) would fit under that category for this particular game," said Wulff.

The Cougs have had 24 players register the first start of their college careers this season, a number, said Wulff, that has contributed greatly to Wazzu's inability to compete this year.

"A big part of our problem has been the inconsistency in personnel that we've had to line up all year, and it even goes back to fall has really slowed our team's progress at growth -- more so than I've ever, ever been around in all my years of coaching," said Wulff.

The one area Wulff said there has been some appreciable consistency, after the first couple games, has been on special teams.

"And a lot of that (is because) our personnel has been a little bit more settled there than it has been on other spots on the team," he said.

* In the early line from oddsmakers, Arizona is favored by 38 against the Cougs this weekend.

* Wulff said he expects to get J.T. Levenseller more series than the three he had Saturday, with the caveat that if Kevin Lopina and the offense are moving the ball well and hitting their stride on offense, that could alter things.

* OL B.J. Guerra, DE Kevin Kooyman and LB Myron Beck all came out of Stanford with pinched nerve injuries, (stingers). Wulff said he was optimistic all three would be ready for Arizona this week.

* CB Tyrone Justin (ankle) should be ready to practice on Tuesday. Markus Dawes started in his place on Saturday.

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