PULLMAN – As any husband knows, when your wife starts talking to you about something, it’s probably time to listen – and make a change.
“When I got on the bus, my wife (said to) me, ‘We’ve got to do something about starting off faster,’” Washington State football coach Paul Wulff said Sunday. “I’m like, ‘I know, everybody knows.’”
They know, yes, but they don’t know how to change it.
Wulff had to admit that to his wife, Sherry, and everyone else after Saturday’s 49-17 loss at California. Helped by poor special teams play, defensive lapses and offensive mistakes, the Bears jumped out to 21-0 and 35-3 leads.
“Our kids talk about it, we talk about it,” Wulff said of the slow starts that have plagued WSU all season. “We talk about what we’ve got to do different, what we can do to start faster.”
Though the self-examination hasn’t yielded answers, there are possible explanations.
“When you have some youth in there or you have an injury or two during the week, you’re going to have some ups and downs,” Wulff said. “When you’re building a program, it’s not always consistent.”
But such explanations are starting to wear thin, even to Wulff.
As the Cougars emerged from their bye week, practice took on a more demanding tone.
Expectations expressed quietly the first half of the season earned a more strident review on the practice field and in team meetings.
After Saturday’s loss, the emphasis in the post-game locker room was not just on getting better but building the belief they were better – and needed to start playing that way.
“We’ve got to the midpoint of the year and we’ve had reasons for where we’re at,” Wulff said of a record that’s reached 1-6 overall and 0-5 in the Pac-10. “But we want to take another step as a team and as coaches. I think in some areas we really did that Saturday. In some areas we didn’t.”
It’s those latter areas that were addressed after the game.
“We want to make sure we’re slowly raising the bar,” Wulff said, “and raising the bar of our own expectations. Really that’s all it is.”
The goal is to keep growing as a team, he emphasized.
“It’s important that we do that and it’s important that they all understand that’s where we want to head,” Wulff said. “Sometimes you’ve got to make it clear it’s important for all of us to do that.”
The Cougars’ next chance for growth comes Saturday in San Antonio. They’ll face national power Notre Dame at the Alamo Dome in an off-campus home game for the Irish, something the school wants to do often in the future. Oddsmakers have established Notre Dame (4-2) as a 30-point favorite in the nationally televised game.
“They’re a good team,” Wulff said, “but I like the opportunity for our team and our program right now. This is a great stage for our young football team.”
And, if that team wants to take a curtain call, it will need to hit its marks from the opening curtain.