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• Here’s the follow story…
PULLMAN – There was bad news and then there was more bad news from Washington State University’s 38-20 nonconference loss to Hawaii at Qwest Field last Saturday.
And WSU coach Paul Wulff will have to deal with all of it this week, as the winless Cougars prepare to take on the undefeated SMU Mustangs on Saturday in Martin Stadium.
The bad news?
“I didn’t even realize it when I was talking with everybody,” Wulff said Sunday of his postgame comments, “I thought we had six turnovers. We had seven. Between seven turnovers and, on defense, we had 21 missed tackles, that combination is deadly.”
The more bad news?
The Cougars may have lost as many as four starters to injuries during the game, added to the loss of starting defensive end Kevin Kooyman (knee) last week.
Starting safety LeAndre Daniels broke his leg early in the game and will miss at least eight weeks, putting the redshirt freshman’s season in jeopardy.
Wulff also said wide receiver Gino Simone (concussion) and guard Zack Williams (possible high ankle sprain) are doubtful for this week. Senior linebacker Andy Mattingly also has a concussion, but it might be mild enough that he’ll be back.
Even when something positive was pointed out, Wulff saw the half-empty side of the glass.
Asked about the Cougars gaining more than 400 yards in total offense, Wulff pointed out “there we so many things out there we didn’t convert or we just didn’t execute real well. We thought that 600 yards was extremely doable, going back and looking at the film.”
But Wulff wasn’t completely dour. He pointed out the specials teams performed better than they had in the opening week, he praised the play of James Montgomery, who rushed for 118 yards, redshirt freshmen defensive backs Daniel Simmons and 17-year-old Terrance Hayward and linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis, who was named player of the game.
“The more he plays, the better he gets,” Wulff said of Hoffman-Ellis, playing only his third year of football.
Wulff even had some positive news on the injury front, saying reserve safety Eric Block (concussion) and defensive lineman Dan Spitz (flu) would be back.
Plus, he noticed something different in how the Cougars handled the early adversity Saturday, though the response wasn’t helpful.
“Looking back on it, we lost our poise a little bit,” Wulff said. “We got down early and guys didn’t quit, but if anything they tensed up and tightened up a little bit, trying to press.
“That’s different for this team. It’s a good thing in a lot of ways. … We just got a little too tense, instead of the other way. It used to be the opposite, we would give up.”
Which is why, despite the seven turnovers, the missed tackles, the injuries, all the negatives, Wulff saw something to build on.
“Usually, if you ever get in that situation, you’re probably going to lose by 40 or 50 points,” he said. “We didn’t. And we actually had a chance to come back in the game.”
• And here’s our look back …
Hawaii 38, WSU 20
High point of the game
WSU moved the ball well at times in the first half, but a combination of turnovers and red zone mistakes kept the Cougars from the end zone. So the 15-play, 84-yard drive to open the second half was a revelation of offensive execution. The Cougars tore almost 7 minutes off the clock, converting two short fourth downs en route to their best scoring drive in two years. James Montgomery was the catalyst, starting the march with a 7-yard run, and the converter, finishing it with a 2-yard burst.
Low point of the game
When Rodney Bradley cut across the middle early in the second quarter and caught a bullet from Greg Alexander 15 yards downfield, it looked like the Warriors would have another first down in the 21-0 game. After all, Daniel Simmons was on his back and Xavier Hicks was coming over the help secure the tackle. But Hicks and Simmons made more contact with each other than Bradley, and the Hawaii receiver broke free as the two defenders hit the turf. Seventy-three yards later the Warriors led 28-0.
A pat on the back
When Montgomery transferred from Cal last year, he came with the hope that only talent can provide. From the first day of practice last fall, it was obvious his skill set was steps ahead of most of his new teammates. That skill set showed Saturday, with Montgomery running around and over Hawaii defenders en route to 118 rushing yards. But that’s not all. He also caught one pass in the flat, made a tackler miss and gained 10 yards. And, when called on to make the right read – and block – in blitz pickup, he did.
It may sound negative, but the biggest weakness revealed Saturday is not fixable this season. The Cougars don’t have enough speed in the secondary to defend a spread passing game featuring quick receivers. Hawaii’s trio of Greg Salas, Kealoha Pilares and Bradley looked like Usain Bolt while running through the secondary. But the players WSU had on the field are the best the Cougars can put out there. They didn’t quit chasing the Warriors either, and that helped keep the game from becoming a blowout.
• Three unanswered questions
• Is Kevin Lopina the man? Once again the Cougar offense moved more efficiently with the senior at the controls. Lopina was 18 of 32 for 191 yards and did run for a touchdown. But he wasn’t perfect, as his two interceptions and some unseen open receivers indicate The first interceptions was especially perplexing as there was no chance to get the ball to the intended receiver. The undeniable fact is, though, that WSU’s offense has executed better with Lopina at quarterback.
• Will the injured be back? With their depth – or lack of it – every starter WSU loses is important. But none might be felt more than linebacker Andy Mattingly, whose importance as a leader is hard to overestimate. So how quickly Mattingly rebounds from his possible concussion is crucial for the Cougars. We know for sure safety LeAndre Daniels (broken leg) and Kevin Kooyman (knee) won’t be back this week, and there’s a good chance Zack Williams (possible high ankle sprain) and Gino Simone (concussion) won’t either.
• What about SMU? A lot will be made about the Mustangs running the same run-and-shoot offense Hawaii sliced the Cougars with. But, as former WSU coach Jim Walden likes to say, it isn’t the Xs and Os, it’s the Jimmies and Joes. Coach June Jones is only in his second year at SMU and the Mustangs have yet to build up the speedy receiver talent the Warriors have. Still SMU is 2-0 after stopping a UAB two-point conversion with 13 seconds left and winning 35-33 at UAB on Saturday.
• That’s it for now. We’ll be back in the morning with our links and some more thoughts on Saturday’s loss. Until then …