Wulff discusses the Apple Cup

WASHINGTON STATE COACH Paul Wulff explained the rationale behind the Cougars' slow-paced offense in the Apple Cup. He also examined the myriad issues on that side of the ball, talked about some impressive linebacker and defensive play, delved a bit into the recruiting picture, talked about the return timetable for Kevin Norrell and Toby Turpin plus much more.

WSU offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy's no-huddle offense is based on precision and timing.

Neither was present during Saturday's season-ending 30-0 loss Saturday against Washington at Husky Stadium, but coach Paul Wulff said the latter was by design during his Sunday teleconference with the Cougars so thin due to injury.

"We tried to slow the game, which we had to do with three linemen," said Wulff, whose team had possession for 27 minutes, 7 seconds. "It's not what we want to do ideally, but we had to."

WULFF SAID WITH only three defensive linemen, a fast-paced game would have worn down his defense early and could have resulted in an even uglier result.

Instead, the Cougars were only down 3-0 entering the second quarter and 13-0 at halftime.

But WSU, completing their season 1-11 overall and 0-9 in conference, could not move the ball for a variety of reasons. True freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel missed the final three weeks of the season after he suffered a subluxed right kneecap Nov. 7 at Arizona. Senior quarterback Kevin Lopina replaced him, but left in the second quarter after suffering a torn oblique muscle. He completed 4 of 9 passes for 28 yards and was intercepted once.

He was replaced by Marshall Lobbestael, who completed 9 of 22 passes for 71 yards. Lobbestael also left in the second quarter after suffering concussion-like symptoms after a helmet-to-helmet hit with Washington safety Jason Wells. He was replaced by walk-on sophomore Dan Wagner.

"I've never been through anything like this," Wulff said of the injury count over his first two years at WSU. "On offense, it's just so hard to have anything look good when you have so much change. When you have a few missing parts, it drastically changes your ability to function. We've lost too many parts to change the level of consistency."

THE RUNNING GAME, which lost junior James Montgomery early in the season after he underwent emergency surgery in September to correct acute compartment syndrome in his left leg, struggled to run the ball throughout the season. That was no different against the Huskies as the Cougars finished with just 47 yards on 28 carries.

Asked if it was more a problem with the running backs or offensive line, Wulff said both areas need improvement.

"I think it's a combination of both," he said. "We need to block a lot better than we have and we need guys to hit the holes."

Wulff said the Huskies also deserve credit for that, citing the play of senior Donald Butler and junior Mason Foster.

"Donald Butler definitely is one of the best linebackers in the Pac-10," he said. "They're good football players. They've got a lot more seasoned experience."

ONE ADJUSTMENT CAME early after sophomore left tackle Steven Ayers was replaced by redshirt freshman Tyson Pencer after two false-start penalties by Ayers. Wulff said he sees Pencer and true freshman Alex Reitnouer battling for the tackle position next year.

That is not because he does not like Ayers' ability. Wulff just feels he is "more suited athletically" to play an interior-line position. That includes center, where Ayers could possibly battle Andrew Roxas, who redshirted this year after contracting viral hepatitis this summer, to replace graduating four-year starter Kenny Alfred.

In addition to some issues on the offensive line, Wulff was perplexed by the "eight or nine" dropped passes. The most notable came on the Cougars' first drive where true freshman Gino Simone could not haul in a pass from Lopina in the end zone. That would have given WSU a 7-0 lead.

"We hadn't dropped that many before," said Wulff, adding that the only other game where drops were an issue was the 30-27 overtime win Sept. 19 against Southern Methodist. "I don't know if it was nerves or what was the case. I think every skill guys on offense dropped something. We haven't had a lot of that this year."

ON DEFENSE, WULFF said he was proud of the way linemen Casey Hamlett, Anthony Laurenzi and Travis Long held up with the team's lack of depth at the position. Sophomore linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis was moved up at times, which Wulff said gave the three linemen "a more comfortable setting to rush the passer."

Hoffman-Ellis had seven tackles, including one for loss. But he was overshadowed by sophomore middle linebacker Mike Ledgerwood, who had a team-high 14 tackles -- one for loss.

"I'm very happy with their performance the last few weeks," Wulff said. "It's been good to see those guys take a big step. They flew around and made plays. There was some good, physical tackles out there."

SOPHOMORE LOUIS BLAND will probably miss the spring with cartilage problems in his right knee, but Wulff said he is excited about the returning corps. In addition to Hoffman-Ellis and Ledgerwood, a freshman who redshirted this season, Darren Markle, also can play middle linebacker. Wulff said that gives the staff the flexibility to use Hoffman-Ellis at outside linebacker if necessary. He also cited some of the ability of some other redshiriting linebackers, including Andre Barrington.

"I'm just anxious to see where all those guys could play," Wulff said. "There's a lot of potential, we just need to see how it all unfolds. Our speed on defense will drastically improve."

He also was impressed with the play of walk-on junior safety Easton Johnson, who moved to wide receiver earlier this season after initially coming to WSU as a safety. Wulff said he believes Johnson has more potential at safety, but he was not comfortable at that position initially.

"He sure played well and played physical," he said. "He stepped up and has done some really good things. Let's hope it's a coming out story."

  • Wulff said he expects sophomore wide receiver Kevin Norrell and junior defensive tackle Toby Turpin to resume activities with the team around New Year's Day. Turpin, who stood on the sidelines during the Apple Cup, was suspended two weeks ago for the remainder of the season for an unspecified violation of team rules. Norrell redshirted this season after he was arrested in September in Pullman for driving under the influence and other infractions.

  • Wulff said after the Apple Cup that if all goes right, WSU could fill up (or get close to filling up) its 2010 recruiting class this coming weekend. CF.C discussed on the Luxury Suites message board earlier that WSU was pointing towards a big recruiting weekend the Saturday after the Apple Cup. Today, Wulff said he expects about 10 official visitors this coming weekend, though some of those will be current verbal commitments. Wulff said there are about 5-6 spots left to fill in this class, and that several assistant coaches flew out last night and this morning to hit the road recruiting and visit with recruits. CF.C's projection earlier this month was that WSU will take 23 this class, (not including any potential grayshirts.) They currently have 17 known verbal commitments for the '10 class.

  • Tuel was limited to six games this season. He initially was targeted for a redshirt season before seeing his first action Sept. 26 at USC. Wulff said Tuel's injury "slowed down our growth." He cited Tuel's game Oct. 24 at Calfornia, where he completed 28 of 42 passes for 354 yards and two touchdowns 49-17 loss.

  • The trick plays, including the first-quarter pass to Dwight Tardy, who flipped the ball back to Lopina before the incomplete throw to Simone, was designed eight weeks ago.

    "We were never really in a position to use them," Wulff said. "They pretty much were all there and had an opportunity to be successful."

  • How decimated was WSU by injury? After suiting up 13 scholarship players on defense for the Nov. 21 against Oregon State, Wulff said that number improved by one -- to 14 -- for the Apple Cup.

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