Recapping the Apple Cup’s high and low points
High point of the game
In the Cougars’ first 11 games, only once did an opponent fail to score on its first possession. That came against Arizona State, when the Sun Devils killed a drive with a fumble. Saturday, the Cougars earned the stop, albeit helped by a 15-yard personal foul penalty on UW. Still, after five plays, the Huskies had to punt from their 32. That, combined with another UW 15-yard penalty on the return, gave WSU its second-best starting field position of the day, its 42-yard line.
Low point of the game
That came five plays and two first downs later. Seemingly poised to lead in regulation for the first time this season – WSU won the SMU game on the last play of overtime – the Cougars pulled out a trick play they’ve been practicing for weeks. It worked, too, as Gino Simone broke free inside the 5-yard line. The problem was Kevin Lopina’s throw was a bit long, Simone’s somewhat awkward attempt to catch it failed and the Huskies had avoided ignominy.
A pat on the back
The four seniors who played almost every down – linebacker Andy Mattingly and safety Xavier Hicks on defense, along with center Kenny Alfred and running back Dwight Tardy on offense – left all they had on the Husky Stadium turf. Then they dutifully answered questions about the game, about their teammates and about their senior season, none of which must have been easy. The four, along with the 10 or so others moving on, have suffered through a coaching change, four bowl-less years and two seasons in which the Cougars won a total of three games.
This is a category better covered with an entire story, not 50 or so words. Just one item to share: When asked in the hallway after the game when spring practice starts, one of the WSU assistant coaches answered “tomorrow.” All that needs fixing will be attended to immediately.
Three unanswered questions
•Did the Cougars improve this season? It’s hard to tell. The epidemic of injuries, along with a few suspensions, robbed WSU of playmakers and depth. The results on Saturdays were not that much better – the Cougars’ lone win this year did come against a 7-5 SMU team that is probably headed to a bowl – but the effort was – not only during games but practices as well. That could be considered a major improvement.
•Will there be changes made? Coach Paul Wulff will be back next year, athletic director Jim Sterk said. And, if Wulff has his way, at this point at least, so will all the assistant coaches. Wulff isn’t the type of coach who makes changes just to appease someone. If there is a change, it’s because he believes it’s needed to make the team better.
•How much pressure will there be next season? If you listened carefully to what Wulff said after the game, you realize he’s promising major improvement in 2010. Such promises have to be kept. And that equates to pressure on the staff, the players and the administration.