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WSU Football: Another Look at Apple Cup 2009

Lew WrightSenior Writer IDecember 2, 2009

Sunday afternoon Washington State football coach Paul Wulff paused to reflect on the outcome of the Apple Cup and the performance of the Cougs.

Listening to coach Wulff respond to media questions, one didn't need the skills of a psychic to either read his mind or peer into the future of Cougar football. This has been a dreadful season for the Cougs. Mercifully, the final curtain has come down on a tragedy seemingly penned by Sophocles.

Greek tragedy? No, the 2009 football season for WSU was all too real.

Before heading forward to continue rebuilding the football program at Washington State, coach Wulff talked about the 30-0 loss to the Huskies last Saturday.

Wulff confirmed he had 14 defensive scholarship players suited up for the game. To say defensive coordinators Jody Sears and Chris Ball were limited in personnel would be a monumental understatement.

You may recall last week coach Wulff asked a wide receiver to take some reps during practice with the defensive backs. Not only did he accept the challenge, saw significant playing time against Oregon State making 10 tackles. Johnson remained on defense against Washington and turned in another good performance. He played so well, one had to ask if his future next season might be on the defensive side of the ball.

(Easton Johnson) sure played well and played physical. That was the thing that was encouraging, he played physical. If he’s comfortable with (defense), he definitely shows more promise there than he did at receiver. He played safety for us when he first got into the program, but he just wanted to change. We gave him that opportunity, to move to receiver and I think he felt a little out of place there and he was (injured) for a while. He was the only guy who had any experience on defense whatsoever, which is why we moved him (to safety) a week ago last Thursday. All of the sudden, he’s stepped up and done some really good things. Let’s hope it’s one of those ‘coming out’ stories and he takes a big step.—WSU coach Paul Wulff

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Setting aside the virtually non-existent depth chart, the intensity of the Cougar defense was exceptional. coach Wulff began his review of the Apple Cup with his assessment of the Cougs on "D."

Our defense played pretty darn good. We had some guys out of position, which happens at times, obviously because of the changes we’ve had. I thought our defensive front played very well. They did a week ago (against Oregon State). Looking at who we had out there playing, I’m very proud of Travis Long , (Anthony ) Laurenzi and Casey Hamlett . These guys are all first year guys playing in the program. They did some wonderful things. We did some great things on defense. Got a little worn down in the fourth quarter a lot like we did the week before.—Coach Wulff

For the observer obsessed with the scoreboard, losing any game 30-0 might seem to be a complete breakdown. In the case of last Saturday, there were numerous chances within reach of the Cougs to make a close game of it. Breakdown? No. Growing pains? Big time.

Offensively, we had a very good game plan. We had a lot of receivers open. We dropped nine balls that were huge in the ball game. It didn’t allow us to score points. It didn’t allow us to get first downs and keep the chains moving. Blocking wasn’t as good as it needed to be consistently.—Coach Wulff

Plan or no plan, coach Wulff had to use three different quarterbacks in the first half while the No. 1 QB, freshman Jeff Tuel, was reduced to signaling plays in from the sidelines because of a knee injury. That's been the storyline the entire season for Washington State.

We intentionally tried to slow the game down. When you only have three D-linemen who can truly function and are healthy, we had to shorten the game or else we would have been in a situation where they would have been gassed out by the second quarter or early in the third. It could have been a lot, lot worse. We had to manage the clock. It’s not what we wanted to do ideally but it gave us the best chance to keep our defense fresh. If we would have converted on offense the plan would have worked very well. We just didn’t convert with all the opportunities that were there.—Coach Wulff

No doubt scoreboard watchers don't want to be bothered with a "big picture" view of either the Apple Cup or this past season. Perhaps such a perspective shouldn't matter, but in the context of rebuilding a football program, the fact of the matter is ignoring coach Wulff's plan leads to unnecessary disappointment.

The Cougar game plan included throwing a few trick plays at the Husky defense. There is no question the trick plays were ineffective. When asked if the special plays were a new wrinkle just for this game, which might have explained why they didn't work, coach said:

We’ve had (trick plays) in our game plan a lot. For weeks we’ve been practicing those things. We just never were in a position to use them. We weren’t even able to use a couple more we had. They pretty much were all there and had the opportunity to be successful. We just didn’t execute them completely.—Coach Wulff

Offering perspective to scoreboard watchers, coach Steve Sarkisian has some very good football players sprinkled throughout the Washington roster. His quarterback, Jake Locker, is the best at the position in the nation this year, which is well documented. When Locker handed the ball off, it was to a very talented freshman, Chris Polk, who has improved as a player week after week.

Coach Wulff pointed out a couple of other players for the Huskies who are big-time contributors.

Donald Butler is definitely one of the best linebackers in the Pac-10. And Mason Foster , those guys right there are as good as any in the Pac-10. Those two guys in particular have been healthy all year. They’re good football players. One’s a senior and one’s a junior so they’ve got lots of seasoned experience and they’re good players. They know what they’re doing out there. The game is going to come a lot more natural to those guys because they’ve played and have a lot of experience.—Coach Wulff

Washington State has some up-and-coming linebackers of their own who are growing into the role of big-time contributors. The difference today is quite simple: Both are developing and maturing as players who haven't come close to reaching their potential as football players.

I'm very happy with the performance of (Mike Ledgerwood and Alex Hoffman-Ellis ) the last few weeks. Those guys have stepped up and played well which is very encouraging since Louis Bland has been out. It’s been good to see those guys take a big step. Both those guys are just sophomores. They played well in this game. They flew around and made plays. I was very proud of their effort and ability to tackle. They made some good, physical tackles. Very clean tackles. That’s what we haven’t had a lot of so that’s very encouraging.—Coach Wulff

In terms of the linebacker position for Washington State, coach Wulff was excited about the number of freshmen redshirts who will be vying for playing time next season. Myron Beck will be a junior next season that has played well the past two years. What's the big deal about these linebackers? All of them bring good speed to the position. That's the big deal.

Looking back at the Apple Cup, couldn't help but wonder if some of the issues with the offense executing plays was linked to the WSU quarterback situation.

I’ve never been through anything like this (with the injuries) in my first two years. On offense, it’s just so hard to have anything look really good when you have so much change rolling in and out. I’ve been around it. I’ve seen (offense) be able to perform at a certain level. You start missing a few parts here and there and you drastically change your ability to function. When you can stay healthy, a lot of times you can maintain a high level of excellence on offense or defense. But when you start losing certain parts, it’s really tough. We’ve just lost too many parts to keep the consistency or even grow to the level we want to. With Jeff Tuel being out, we stopped growing with him being in there and with the young receivers. Against Cal, he threw for 350 yards. Then we just struggled after that to build the consistency around him to help him keep growing. Then he got nicked up after the Notre Dame game and moving in to Arizona. It slowed up our growth. To wrap up the quarterback change, it does effect everything we try to do.—Coach Wulff

Will have news to pass along this week about the offseason for the Washington State football season.

PLAYER NOTES:

Both DT Toby Turpin and WR Kevin Norrell are expected to be fully reinstated to the team the first week of the year when everyone returns.

No additional news on the severity of the oblique muscle injury QB Kevin Lopina sustained late in the first half of the Apple Cup. Lopina had to be helped from the field.

Originally published in Lew Wright's column on Examiner.com

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