PULLMAN – Jeff Tuel pulled up a chair and faced the microphone.
The first question in Saturday’s postgame was easy. Was this the first time all year he had smiled after a game?
The smile wavered, but only for a second. “Yes,” the Washington State quarterback said. “Yes it is.”
He wasn’t alone.
The Cougars, who came into the game with Oregon State 1-9 overall – with only a come-from-behind, one-point decision over Montana State in the left-side column – and 0-7 in Pac-10 play, left it whooping and hollering.
The noise that still emanated from the WSU locker room an hour after the final seconds came courtesy of a 31-14 domination of the Beavers.
And the celebrating, which began when Tuel took a knee three times to run out the clock, continued in front of the WSU contingent at Reser Stadium and reached a zenith in the dingy Gill Coliseum locker room, wouldn’t stop even after the Cougars got to Pullman following their hour-long charter flight.
“They were exhausted,” coach Paul Wulff said of his team on the flight home. “They were quiet. It was a more relaxed feeling.”
But that changed. More than 100 students and fans were standing outside Bohler Gym on Saturday evening to welcome home a team that won for the first time in Pac-10 play since 2008 and on the road since the year before that.
“It was a little strange at that point,” Wulff said, “but just like everybody else they had been waiting for us to come back with a victory.”
Now the Cougars get some time off.
With no games scheduled until Dec. 4’s Apple Cup in Pullman, the team will not practice again until Friday afternoon. Morning practices will be held Saturday, Sunday and Monday, then the players can head home for Thanksgiving.
They have to be back in Pullman on Nov. 28 to start preparing for Washington the next day.
“I think they all are more than ready for (a bye), I think we all are,” Wulff said.
As Wulff points out, the Cougars have not only played 11 consecutive weeks, almost every opponent is a highly respected team.
“Those are good football teams,” Wulff said.
“You take any team in America and put them in 11 consecutive weeks with that schedule and they’re going to lose a couple games, even if they are one of the best teams in the country.”
The Cougars’ schedule, which included a nonconference game with No. 12 Oklahoma State, continues to be rated the nation’s second toughest.
While the players are resting, most of the coaching staff will be on the road, shoring up commitments and talking with undecided recruits.
Wulff said three coaches left from Corvallis and there will be seven out this week.
With the rest period coming, Wulff was asked if any of the Cougars’ numerous injured players would be back against the Huskies. He said Gino Simone (concussion suffered versus California) and Mike Ledgerwood (headaches) would return and there was still a chance freshman cornerback Damante Horton (knee) would be available.
After a week of uncertainty, it was determined starting cornerback Daniel Simmons has a pinched nerve in his shoulder. Wulff said if he responds to therapy he could face UW.
But even without that group, the Cougars played their most complete game of the season, Wulff said.
“We played the kind of football we’ve been striving to play in this program,” he said.
“We were physical, we were tough and we executed in all three phases.”
And that’s enough to make even a coach smile.