One game into the 2010 football season, it's already reached critical mass at Washington State.
STILLWATER, Okla. — Paul Wulff, the Washington State football coach, strode into an interview room made icy by an air conditioner turned on high.
For those in search of a bad metaphor, this was it. This could be a long, cold winter for the Cougars, if it’s going to start on Labor Day weekend.
“We have to first realize, we can be a good football team,” Wulff said doggedly. “I believe it, our coaches believe it, our players do. We’re gonna be.”
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But it’s now past the point where words matter. Only actions will persuade the college football world that this WSU season isn’t going where the past two did, after the Cougars were clotheslined 65-17 by Oklahoma State here on the prairie Saturday night.
By pretty much anybody’s standards, even Wulff’s backers, this was awful. He seemed to be saying it was a different kind of awful than the past two years, coming with a young team that doesn’t fully know how to compete, and perhaps carrying the deer-in-the-headlights baggage of 2008-09 with it.
“We’re fragile enough, young enough, we get in spells that when things go against us, we (don’t) respond very well,” Wulff said. “We played tight early. We just didn’t play. We really want to do great, the attitude is great that way. But we played tentative. We played not to make mistakes.”
However you parse it: Awful. The 65 points allowed are the worst ever surrendered by a WSU team in a season opener, by more than two touchdowns.
Understand, this is an Okie State team that opened with four new starters on the offensive line, a new guy in Brandon Weeden at quarterback and eight fresh regulars on defense. There are people forecasting that OSU will have a losing record when December arrives.
But it’s obvious that a mature program, even if it’s rebuilding, is far more than WSU’s seedling variety can contest right now.
There was a difference out there in speed and quickness, especially in the person of Kendall Hunter, the outstanding Cowboys running back. Hunter was the Big Eight rushing leader in 2008, had an injury-plagued ’09 season, and looked like he might match his ’08 total of 1,555 yards in one night.
Hunter had 208 yards in the first half, leaving after one series of the second half with 257. WSU mostly saluted him going by, failing to shed blocks, missing tackles and coming up wanting on run support.
“Didn’t tackle, didn’t get off blocks,” said WSU defensive coordinator Chris Ball tersely.
The Cougars had some bursts of brightness, coming back from a 17-0 second-quarter deficit with 10 straight points, including a 48-yard touchdown reception by freshman Marquess Wilson. But from that point, Oklahoma State outscored WSU 48-7.
Asked if this is reflective of where the Cougars are, linebacker Myron Beck said, “The score doesn’t tell the story at all. We’re a whole lot better team. We’ve got a lot to show now because a lot of people are going to think that.”
And of course, the Cougars, the most injured team in big-school football in 2009, continued that confounding theme. Freshman running back Rickey Galvin, whom Wulff believes could have added significant zip, tried to soften his fall on the first carry of his career in the opening five minutes — and broke his forearm. Out for the season.
The first two openers of Wulff’s regime were matching 39-13 losses to Oklahoma State and Stanford, both games in the state of Washington. In each of those, WSU at least was hanging around well into the third quarter, within two touchdowns.
By that measure, this night was a figurative haymaker to the jaw in the rebuild at WSU.
“We’ve got to have games where we can compete and win, and then we can have success, and then build off success,” Wulff said.
“We’ve got to start winning some games.”
And very likely, he does, too.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org