MOORE: Positives elusive after that clunker

SEATTLE – I suppose there were positives that came out of Washington State's 38-20 loss to Hawaii Saturday night..

  • Two students who sat in front of me in section 128 at Qwest Field were encouraged that the Cougar defense played better in the second half, as did the team in general.
  • James Montgomery appeared to take the starting job away from Dwight Tardy by rushing for 119 yards on 17 carries.
  • Kevin Lopina played fairly well, completing 18 of 32 for 191 yards.
  • The Cougars fought to the finish. Last year a 35-0 lead after 20 minutes would have turned into a 70-0 defeat.

    And if you want to look at factors that contributed to the loss:
  • Injured Kevin Kooyman didn't play, lessening the Cougs' ability to rush and harass Hawaii QB Greg Alexander.
  • Coach Paul Wulff noted that 28 of the 60 players that came to Seattle had never been on a trip before. "That might tell you about the experience level," Wulff said.
  • The Cougars committed seven turnovers, otherwise known as football suicide.

    But come on. Are you kidding me? I blame some of it on the garlic fries but not all of it – Cougar football was back to being hard to stomach again.


    Right when you thought it was safe to be encouraged about this team, they roll that dud out there and it was so hard to take that I almost left at halftime.

    As Cougar fans, I know we need to have patience and give Paul Wulff time to rebuild the program, but that game resembled too many of last year's games. And I can handle it if one of this year's games looks likes one of last year's games if we're playing USC or Cal and maybe even Notre Dame.

    But Hawaii? That's not acceptable. Last year's team lost 24-10 to the Warriors, and that game was played in Hawaii.

    THIS YEAR's Cougar team is supposed to be better than last year's, and it could be argued that this year's Hawaii's team is supposed to be worse than last year's that qualified for a bowl game. In the preseason media poll, the Warriors were picked to finish fifth in the WAC this season.

    Plus, for whatever it's worth, maybe not much, oddsmakers favored Hawaii by 2 ½ points over WSU, suggesting the possibility of a close game at Qwest Field, not a rout that was out of reach by halftime.

    WAC teams occasionally beat Pac-10 teams, but they don't usually blow them out, and make no mistake, Washington State was blown out by Hawaii, a team that was 14-34 against Pac-10 teams coming in.

    Yet another reason to think Washington State would match up with the Warriors - Hawaii needed to come from behind late to beat Central Arkansas 25-20 last Saturday.

    In addition, if I'm not mistaken, I've seen Hawaii go crazy-wild offensively in their home games, but when they're on the road, they're frequently not the same team. I figured that would be the case at Qwest Field.

    I ARRIVED AT the game fully expecting the Cougs to win. After watching whatever that was, I wondered how I could have felt that strongly and been so wrong.

    Yes, the turnovers didn't help, but the Warriors had four of their own, three inside the Cougar 10. Throw the turnovers out, say they didn't happen, the Cougar defense still couldn't stop the Warriors.

    If you missed the numbers, Alexander completed 26 of 36 for 453 yards and three TDs. Greg Salas caught seven of his passes for 195 yards and one TD, and Rodney Bradley caught seven for 150 and two TDs.

    Hawaii rolled up 626 yards in all, which was an improvement over what it could have been. In the first 20 minutes, Hawaii had already gained 321 yards.

    IF YOU SAW the game, you know that the Cougs just couldn't keep up with the much quicker, much faster Warriors. The coaches sounded as if they were surprised by Hawaii's team speed. Whatever the case, there were examples all afternoon long of receivers either getting open or breaking tackles and outracing Cougar defensive backs.

    I jotted down a note to myself that the Cougs were off to a rough start when they trailed 14-0 and had to take a timeout because they weren't prepared for the start of their next drive. At the time I thought they were poised to rally and get back in the game. I didn't think it would get a lot worse.

    It did. A guy behind me mock-cheered when Hawaii had a rare incomplete pass. A WSU student in the last row of section 128 had passed out and appeared to be snoozing comfortably, oblivious to the goings-on, and I was in some ways envious.

    (Security goons and police officers went out of their way to wake this kid up and haul him out after handcuffing him. I'm sure the kid was breaking some kind of law for being publicly intoxicated, but he wasn't bothering anyone, and it seemed to be a shared sentiment – the officers were showered with boos as they took the hammered student out of the stadium.)

    THEN, WHEN WE were trailing 35-0, the Qwest Field song-pickers inexplicably played James Brown's "I Feel Good" over the loudspeakers.

    When we brought the field-goal team out on a 4th-and-goal from the 2, I couldn't believe it. Maybe that's what you're supposed to do when you trail 35-0, to come away with points or whatever else the coach might say to put a positive spin on it, but for the second time in this column, come on! Are you kidding me? Wulff said he thought about going for it but decided to take the three.

    Defensive coordinator Chris Ball said if he could play the game over again, he would bring more pressure and not allow Alexander to pick the Cougs apart.

    "Our biggest obstacle now is that we've got to learn how to start faster," Ball said. "The toughest thing we have to do as a staff is convince the kids that they can win football games. You can't expect coaches to come out and get them fired up. Players are responsible for getting themselves ready to play mentally."

    Wulff liked the fight in his players and reminded them to stay the course and to keep grinding and to stay positive.

    "Their effort is going to pay off someday," he said. "They've got a good attitude right now. They want to work, they want to get better."

    I HATE IT when I lose faith in the Cougs, but I did Saturday night, and the seeds of doubt are back again. I'm still hoping for three or four wins but that seems a long ways away.

    Maybe those seeds of doubt will be replaced by hope next week when Southern Methodist shows up at Martin Stadium. Surely the Mustangs are a beatable opponent.

    Then again, they run a spread offense like Hawaii's, and the Mustangs' QB, Bo Levi Mitchell, threw for 353 yards and 3 TDs in a 35-33 win over Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday.

    It's truly a must win for the Cougs.

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