PULLMAN – In a season in which victories have been tough to come by, Washington State University football coach Paul Wulff unearthed one this weekend.
“As a coach, it was so painful for us the last two years,” Wulff said Sunday on his weekly conference call, “with injury after injury, with multiple ones every game almost.
“To be able to go another game without the serious in nature injuries, against a physical football team like USC, I know people on the outside don’t look at this, but that’s a good thing. That’s a victory for us.”
The Cougars, who dropped to 1-3 overall after the 50-16 Pac-10-opening loss, did have a couple of minor injuries – receiver Jeffery Solomon and offensive guard B.J. Guerra both bruised their knees – but did not lose a player for the second consecutive week.
“You can kind of tell our size and strength is improving enough to where we are not facing these kind of injuries often,” Wulff said. “That’s a good thing, that’s a step.”
Injuries aside, the film of Saturday’s defeat didn’t improve with age. The Cougars still missed tackles – 32 by Wulff’s count – and still missed offensive opportunities.
“We played probably our worst game in the sense of our ability to be extremely aggressive and make physical tackles,” Wulff said of the former. “The tackles we did make a lot of times were arm tackles, we didn’t really get our bodies on them and get them down.”
Wulff admitted the linebacking corps played “very poor. Just didn’t play very well at all.”
He cited Alex Hoffman-Ellis as having a few bright spots, and a few not-so-bright spots. “Other than that,” Wulff said, “we’ve got to do a better job.”
Asked if there were any changes contemplated Wulff said “we we’re talking about all that and it’s kind of one of those things where it’s a work in progress.”
That might be the case at strong safety, where senior Chima Nwachuckwu was replaced after two series by freshman Deone Bucannon.
Bucannon came up with an interception and led WSU with eight tackles, but also was burned twice for touchdowns in man coverage.
“It’s part of that deal when you are playing youth,” Wulff said. “You get some really good things and you get some things where you are like, ‘Oh crap.’”
Wulff felt the offense moved the ball well but left some big plays on the field. In looking at quarterback Jeff Tuel’s three interceptions – he had tossed one in the previous three games – the first was a misread, the second occurred when he threw long and the receiver didn’t finish the route and the third happened because “the receiver just took too long,” Wulff explained. “It was a deep ball, a corner-post double-move. I thought Jeff actually threw it very well in terms of being on time and in the hole it needed to be.”
The running game never got going, with the Cougars averaging 3.6 yards on their 23 running attempts.
“It was kind of a combination of a few things,” Wulff said, saying at times the offensive line was too high and other times the back didn’t hit the right hole.
Washington State will travel to UCLA (2-2, 0-1) this Saturday to face a Bruins team coming off a 34-12 upset of then-No. 7 Texas.