PULLMAN – As was the case for much of the Washington State University football season, the Cougars missed their opportunities Saturday against Washington in the Apple Cup.
Well, maybe missed isn’t the right word. Dropped might be better.
“I think we dropped eight or nine balls that were huge,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said in his last Sunday news conference of the 1-11 season.
“It didn’t allow us to score points, it didn’t allow us to get first downs, to keep the chains moving,” Wulff said before struggling for an explanation. “I don’t know. We hadn’t dropped that many. I don’t know if it’s nerves or what was the case.”
The result was the Cougars were shut out for the first time this season, and it came at the hands of a Washington team that was yielding 31 points a game. The Huskies came into the 102nd Apple Cup with the Pac-10’s second-worst defense, statistically, ahead of only WSU.
But both defenses earned Wulff’s praise.
“You’ve got to give Washington some credit,” Wulff said of the Huskies, 4-7 overall, 3-5 in Pac-10 play with a home game left versus Cal. “They lined up and they got after us pretty good there.”
And he wanted to do the same for the Cougar defense, which used just three substitutes all game.
“Our defense played pretty darn good,” Wulff said.
“We did some great things on defense, got a little worn down in the fourth quarter, a lot like we did the week before.”
The Huskies rushed for a season-high 265 yards, 94 of those, also a season-best, from quarterback Jake Locker, which played a part in the WSU defense wearing out.
But the Cougar offense’s inability to run the ball – 47 yards on 28 carries – also played a big part.
“We intentionally tried to slow the game down,” Wulff said. “When you only have three D-linemen that can truly function, that are healthy, we had to shorten the game. … We had to manage the clock. It’s not what we want to do, ideally, but it gave us the best chance to keep our defense fresh.
“If we had converted on offense, the plan would have worked very well. We just didn’t convert.”
The Cougars didn’t have many chances to win in a 0-9 Pac-10 season, falling behind after the first quarter by an average of more than two touchdowns in conference games.
Wulff is waiting until his player meetings are finished to rehash the season, but once again Sunday he held out hope for the future.
“There’s a lot of potential,” he said. “We just need to see how it all unfolds.”