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Cougars must win out to end bowl drought

PULLMAN – After Saturday’s deflating 30-7 defeat at the hands of a California team that came in sporting a .500 overall record and tied with Washington State at the bottom of the Pac-12 North, Paul Wulff was introspective.

“The performance today was not acceptable, and it starts with me,” he said in the leaky hallways under San Francisco’s AT&T Park, the soggy conditions matching the fourth-year Cougar coach’s mood. “We’ve got to play better than that.

“We’ll see what the character of this team is made of (from) here. We have to respond back home against Arizona State.”

After a plane ride back to Pullman, film study and nearly 24 hours, Wulff was asked if he felt the same way.

“Not completely,” he said in his weekly Sunday night news conference. “I go back and look at the game and our guys played hard. I thought Cal played one hell of a ball game. They got after us.

“Their offensive line and their receivers played a great football game. And our offense couldn’t get any first downs consistently.”

As senior receiver Jared Karstetter told his dad, Jerry, after the game, every game from here is a bowl game for the 3-6 Cougars. They must win out or not participate in the postseason, which would make it eight consecutive years without a bowl.

“My deal is really we just got this game and that’s all that matters right now,” Wulff said of Saturday’s matchup against the Sun Devils. “We’ve got to come out and play our tails off and play a great game. That’s all that matters.”

One player Wulff would love to see as part of that effort is junior quarterback Jeff Tuel, who suffered a calf injury and a aggravation of his previously fractured clavicle three weeks ago against Oregon State, midway through WSU’s current five-game losing streak that dropped its Pac-12 mark to 1-5.

But Wulff said Sunday that Tuel will not play this week and he’s not sure when he will return, if at all, this season. With Arizona State coming off a 29-28 loss at UCLA on Saturday and fighting for a Pac-12 South title, Wulff knows the Cougars need precise execution at every position, not just quarterback.

“We’ve got to create turnovers and we have to play great,” Wulff said. “We’ve got to tackle better than we did (against Cal). And offensively, obviously, we’ve got to score points. We’ve got to find ways to move the ball, get first downs and get the ball into the end zone.”

If there were any positive to be taken from Saturday night’s defeat, it was the injury report. For a second consecutive week WSU didn’t lose a player to injury.

But the Cougars did lose any margin of error.

“We’re just looking at Monday, that’s all we can look at now,” defensive end Travis Long said Saturday, referring to tonight’s first practice of the Cougars’ first “bowl week.”