Commentary: Pros, cons of Wulff's first year

PULLMAN -- Touchdowns have been few and far between for Washington State this season. On offense, anyway. As difficult as it has been for the Cougars to score six points, many close observers of the Cougars don't find it nearly as difficult to come up with six things Paul Wulff and his coaching staff have done well this season, along with six areas that could stand for some improvement.

Listed below is the "Pick Six" of positives and negatives about Wulff's first season at the helm, a reflection of facts and opinions gleaned from players, coaches, media and fans over the past three months. Items are listed in reverse order of importance.



6. Wulff kept his poise and held his head high in the face of media and fan scrutiny that has often been extremely negative.

5. Wulff has gradually backed off after routinely questioning the caliber of his players in public. He made his point early in the season, and it holds more than a little bit of validity, as some players are the first to admit. You can only hammer away at today's college athletes for so long.

4. No doubt Wulff had to grit his teeth when he spoke in rather glowing terms about the progress WSU made in a 59-28 loss to Arizona two weeks ago. The Cougars did show more signs of life than usual, and Wulff picked up on the fact that his players were encouraged. That said, WSU gave up 59 points -- 59! -- and lost by 31 to a team that is one game above .500.

3. Despite a disastrous season, Wulff and his hard-working staff already have landed nine verbal commitments, all of whom are ranked among the top 100 high school seniors in the nation at their positions by Darren Markle of Meridian, Idaho, is the 25th-ranked middle linebacker, and receiver Gino Simone of Skyline is the top-rated overall prospect in the state of Washington.

2. Wulff bit the bullet this season and redshirted Zack Williams and Bernard Wolfgramm, two highly regarded junior college transfers. Williams (offensive tackle) and Wolfgramm (defensive tackle) play positions where WSU desperately needs help, but how many wins would the Cougars have gained by using them this year? The answer is: none. WSU's narrowest defeat was by 25 points, and the vast majority of JC transfers don't play up to their potential in a power conference like the Pac-10 in their first year out of juco. Wulff has a rebuilding plan and he's sticking to it.

1. Wulff really, truly loves Washington State. Loves Pullman. Loves his job. That love and appreciation for all things Coug comes through loud and clear to current and prospective players and staff.


6. Some personnel moves have been interesting, to say the least. For example, how can a player be good enough to start the first nine games and then not play a down in the 10th? Senior defensive tackle Matt Eichelberger found himself in that predicament against Arizona. No one is pretending Eichelberger is a great talent, and new starter Toby Turpin has certainly shown improvement since shedding the cast on his broken thumb. Still ... no subs when the defense gives up 59 points and 531 yards?

5. On a team desperately in need of leadership, Wulff names team captains on a game-by-game basis. Is that right by proud leaders like Greg Trent, Matt Mullennix and Kenny Alfred?

4. WSU "leads" the Pac-10 with 87 penalties. Even out-matched players can display more discipline and common sense.

3. Coaches repeatedly stressed how slow, weak and/or inexperienced WSU players are and how inadquately they had been trained and conditioned in the past. After awhile, the kids might play down to expectations. A steady stream of leg injuries hasn't helped the situation either.

2. Kevin Lopina was deemed so vulnerable to injury that he was ordered to barely run or throw the ball against USC. It was admirable to try to protect Lopina, but the Cougars suffered the most lopsided loss in school history, and the score would have been infinitely worse than 69-0 if not for the sportsmanship of USC coach Pete Carroll. Fans paid money to watch a white flag go up. Freshman J.T. Levenseller may have needed more practice reps at the time, but at least he could have chucked the ball downfield a few times.

1. No one questions that WSU lacks enough talent to beat most teams. However, 69-0, 66-3, 63-14, 58-0, etc. reflects badly on readiness to compete.

SUMMARY: From Jim Sweeney to Jim Walden, Dennis Erickson to Mike Price, it's a fact that first-year Pac-10 coaches learn on the job. Wulff is no different. The margins by which the Cougs are losing are head-turning, but it's also clear Wulff views himself as an architect and is steadfastly confident his plan will bring positive results, on a consistent basis, in the years ahead. His track record at EWU, where the obstacles to consistent winning are many, should be encouraging to the crimson faithful.

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