Without much success, Washington State must have patience and endurance, and at least the Cougars appear to have that.
In the post-mortem of a 30-0 Apple Cup defeat Saturday at Husky Stadium, WSU coach Paul Wulff made a wry observation on the seasoning of his football team.
“Our experience,” he declared, “is not very good.”
From that tangled syntax, you might also conclude this: The experience of playing Cougars football hasn’t been very good the past two years.
The loss to the Huskies dropped Wulff’s record to 3-22 at WSU. My research suggests he probably wouldn’t want to consort with the only two guys with worse two-year starts in the last 85 years of football at Pac-10 schools.
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Those two would be a couple of miscreants from Oregon State’s sordid, NCAA-record 28-year run of losing seasons. Joe Avezzano (1980-84) went 1-21 his first two seasons, and Jerry Pettibone (1991-96) began 2-19-1.
For openers, this is like having spinach hanging from your chin at the introductory press conference.
This latest affront to competitiveness, ironically, reinforced a lot of things Wulff has been saying about his program.
“Our players played hard,” Wulff insisted. “They’re giving everything they’ve got.”
Hard as it might be to decipher as you look at Washington’s 461 total yards, the Cougars flew around defensively. At the half, they had allowed two field goals and, in the Huskies’ only real burst of offense before intermission, a three-play, 85-yard spasm for their only touchdown.
At the break, WSU had given up a tenable 187 yards, and a 13-0 deficit would have been negligible, maybe non-existent, if the Cougars’ offense wasn’t backfiring against the Washington defense like an old Studebaker.
“Our defense played lights-out and competed all night,” said WSU offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy.
Most of the way, that defense was played by a three-man line consisting of Travis Long, a true freshman; redshirt freshman Tony Laurenzi; and Casey Hamlett, the transfer from Western Washington.
On offense, the Cougars were simply no match for Washington, underscoring the urgency for WSU to solve its continuing problems up front, both with injuries and lack of proficiency. Among other benefits would be, uh, keeping a quarterback ambulatory.
“It’s pretty clear the team’s crippled as far as injuries,” said WSU’s best player, center Kenny Alfred. “I know it’s a tired thing to talk about, but at the same time, it’s true.
“It’s really difficult to go out with a one-deep.”
Alfred, who played his last game at WSU, talked about a need going forward for more individual responsibility, more accountability, more maturity. He used a startling word for what needs to happen this winter.
“Players need to react violently,” he said. “They need to jump into the offseason with violent intent and attack every workout.”
When I asked Wulff if he expected his staff to return intact, he said, “It’s early to say anything, but the plan is yes.”
Meanwhile, he unleashed the best bit of injury news WSU has had in some time: The Cougars expect to get back James Montgomery. The tailback who might have been their best playmaker saw his season ended in September by a severe calf injury, but after arthroscopic knee surgery on the other leg, he could be good to go in 2010.
As WSU seniors submitted to final interviews, there weren’t a lot of discouraging words cast on the way out.
“I bleed crimson,” said tailback Dwight Tardy. “It’s going to hurt me not to be around my teammates. I love these guys.”
“I just believe in WSU, period,” said safety Xavier Hicks. “I’ve loved every minute of it.”
Alfred, who sometimes writes as a release, this time did it verbally.
“I have literally no regrets,” he said. “I can say really easily, I love the university, I love the professors, I love the fans that understand what’s going on — that get it. But more than anything, I love the team and I love who I’ve become as a person because of my time at Washington State.”
The love stops somewhere short of the record the past two years. Whether the Cougars hate that deeply enough will begin to reflect where this program is going.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org