Hope everyone had a great Sunday. The highlight of my day? Kim and I took the dog for an hour walk, the last few steps taken in a pouring rain. A great experience enhanced when Yogi shook the water off his back and onto me on the back deck. But I’m sure you would rather here about the Cougars’ day. Well, they didn’t practice. However, Paul Wulff was available for conversation, and that led to the story on the link. We also have our usual Monday morning feature looking back on the highs and lows of Saturday’s game. Read on.
• Here’s the unedited version of my story …
PULLMAN – No matter what happens between the lines Saturday, college football coaches spend the next day dissecting the results. Over and over again, in dark offices, they break down the game tape, going back and forth over each play.
They’re looking for teachable moments.
Paul Wulff thinks he found the mother lode this week.
“(It’s) possibly one of the better tapes we can use to learn off of,” the Washington State University coach said Sunday. “There’s a lot of good to show, and some things that went wrong for us that were our own demise.
“There’s some very good teaching stuff on this tape.”
Watching the season-opening 39-13 defeat by Stanford cemented Wulff’s post-game thoughts.
“We had a few missed assignments on special teams that really hurt us,” Wulff said. “We had some guys in the right positions, but just enough who were not that it really cost us.
“When we had the big plays against us we had a few mishaps, that technically, we just weren’t in position to handle.”
So, with Western Athletic Conference foe Hawaii on tap for this Saturday at Qwest Field, it’s back to the practice field this afternoon with those moments fresh in the players’ minds.
The Warriors are coming off a 25-20 home win over Central Arkansas, a Football Championship Subdivision school that led 20-19 late in the fourth quarter.
“This is just an important week to get back and fix some things,” Wulff said. “We’ve got to work extremely hard. This is a big week to take a big step.”
Whether the Cougars will take that step playing one quarterback or two, Wulff wouldn’t say. WSU used Kevin Lopina (above) and Marshall Lobbestael almost equally against the Cardinal.
“We haven’t decided that yet,” he said. “We just watched the film, graded it but we haven’t spent time yet deciding on that direction.”
Wulff wouldn’t even say if Lopina, who was 10 of 16 for 122 yards passing and led WSU to all 13 points, would start again this week.
But he did say he wasn’t satisfied with the offensive line’s pass protection – Stanford had three sacks and three quarterback hurries – and that would be a point of emphasis this week.
“I was not happy at the end,” Wulff said of the protection. “There were some things there we’ve been working on and we just didn’t quite get it done.”
Which was the case for everyone Saturday. And the subject of the teachable moments.
“There’s some drive because we know we can clean some things up,” Wulff said, “and we know there’s potential for a tremendous amount of improvement for our football team. I think we’re all anxious to get back to work to make those strides.”
And here’s our look back …
Stanford 39, WSU 13
• High point of the game
Facing a second-and-goal from the Stanford 5-yard line on the Cougars’ initial second-half drive, quarterback Kevin Lopina looked to the right side of the formation. There was 6-foot-4 wide receiver Jared Karstetter. Across the line in man coverage was 6-2 cornerback Richard Sherman. A jump ball. So Lopina threw it high and short, Karstetter won the battle and WSU had six points – and Lopina had his first collegiate touchdown toss. “It was a good throw,” Karstetter said. “He threw it behind the guy. It was kind of 50/50 but sometimes the DB’s really not looking back for a high floater like that.”
• Low point of the game
The very next play. The Cougars kicked off to the right side of the field, with the ball coming down at the Stanford 15. Wide receiver Chris Owusu, who already had a 63-yard touchdown catch, gathered it in. He sprinted back to the middle, found a hole and was gone. The return took away the momentum, killed the crowd noise and expanded the Cardinal lead to 29-10. “We told the players on the kickoff team, ‘hey they are going to bring the return back to the field,’ and that’s exactly what they did,” Wulff said. “We just got cut off, sunk too far into the hash and they brought it back on us.”
• A pat on the back
The last time Louis Bland played middle linebacker he wasn’t even a teenager. But not having manned the spot since Pop Warner didn’t stop Bland from being the anchor of the Cougars’ run defense. Bland, who professed his comfort with the position after the game, is a playmaker, one of those rare guys who almost always seem to be in the right place at the right time. Saturday it resulted in a game-high 10 tackles.
• Needs fixing
The obvious answer is the special teams play, what with a 59-yard punt return and a missed field goal added to the kickoff return. But the offensive line, which showed an ability to run block, especially early in the game, has to shore up its pass protection. Almost every lineman whiffed on a block at some point, with only Lopina’s size helping him avoid a sack and Marshall Lobbestael going down three times. “It needs to get a whole lot better,” said center Kenny Alfred of the pass protection, “and that’s a huge focus we will have.”
Three unanswered questions
• Will the two quarterback system survive? Wulff said Sunday night that he was undecided. The film had been graded but the decision would have to wait. Even though Lopina and Lobbestael had pretty equal statistics, it seemed the offense moved with more efficiency with Lopina at the controls. But why decide now? By waiting, Hawaii may have to spend time preparing for two quarterbacks with different MOs.
• Are the Cougars really better? Every player who made the trip to the postgame interview room seemed to think so. So did coach Paul Wulff and his staff. But leave it to Alfred to really explain how we can know its so. “I can’t think of one guy who isn’t totally excited and totally ready to get to practice on Monday,” he said. That wasn’t the case last year.
• How important are the next two weeks? The Cougars have six home games this season. After the SMU game in two weeks, they will be halfway done wearing the crimson jerseys. It’s imperative for WSU to come out of the stretch with two wins entering the meat of its Pac-10 schedule. “Every week’s important,” Wulff said.
• We have some more thoughts if you’re interested. … Wulff said his film study showed the running backs played pretty well, not just carrying the ball but fulfilling their blocking assignments as well. If you didn’t notice, with Marcus Richmond sidelined with a bad ankle, Logwone Mitz played some at the fullback position. … Wulff also thought the defensive line did OK, especially against the run. … Junior Toby Turpin, the defensive tackle who had slipped down the depth chart, played extensively and did well according to Wulff. Which brings up this week. “That’s the key,” Wulff answered when asked if Turpin had given the effort needed, “him playing at the highest level so he can play and help our team play well. It’s really turned back onto him and him executing the things he’s physically capable of doing because Toby’s clearly physically capable enough to be an awfully good player. Like everybody on our team, we want them to give maximum effort all the time and develop that trust that, you know, that he can be counted on and we know we’re going to get it from him all the time. He showed that in this game. We need him to do that in practice every day so we can trust he’ll be able to do that in every game.” … With the holiday tomorrow, and a lot of recruits in Pullman, the Cougars took Sunday off. They’ll return for a light practice Monday and start getting ready for Hawaii on Tuesday. … They might not have Daniel Blackledge, who developed a fever after the game and may have the flu. Kevin Norrell is expected to return to practice Tuesday. And Eric Block, who paid the price for his big hit Saturday with a shoulder stinger and a slight concussion, is expected back soon. … Whether Chima Nwachukwu stays at corner or plays safety this week might depend on the development of Daniel Simmons and LeAndre Daniels, Wulff said. … Some other players might see some time this week on the offensive line. The only change Saturday was Brian Danaher playing a series when B.J. Guerra’s back tightened up. But others, most likely Tyson Pencer or Joe Eppele at tackle, may see time this week.
• That’s it for tonight. We’ll be back in the morning. Until then …