PULLMAN – Paul Wulff spent Saturday afternoon trying to help his Washington State football team overcome a mountain of adversity in Boulder, Colo.
He spent Sunday decoding how they did it.
The Cougars – 1-0 in Pac-12 play for the first time since 2006 and 3-1 overall, halfway to the magic bowl eligibility win total – piled up much of the adversity themselves, being hit with 10 penalties for 125 yards.
Some of the calls, however, seemed to be of the phantom variety, most notably a pass interference flag on cornerback Daniel Simmons, thrown by side judge Bernie Hulscher with 2 minutes, 18 seconds remaining and WSU trailing by three points.
The 15-yard penalty gave the Buffs (1-4, 0-1) a first down at midfield and meant WSU would be forced to burn all of its timeouts.
“They throw the ball and it does two things,” Wulff said after the game. “It stops the clock, and we were trying to save time on, that was good, and it put them in third-and-10. I didn’t like the call, based on my view.”
After Colorado ran a play, Wulff called a timeout and started chewing on the nearest official. That prompted referee Land Clark to head over.
And Wulff erupted. He was pointing, gesticulating, offering his opinion of the call.
It was noticed.
“We could tell he was upset,” said receiver Jared Karstetter, who was standing on the sideline and hoping the defense would give his unit another chance. “That was great. We always love to see Coach Wulff get fired up. It was a rallying cry for us. He just cares so much.”
“It’s good to have a coach with such passion like that,” quarterback Marshall Lobbestael said. “But at the same time he’s able to calm us down. I feel like that’s a good combination.”
And the group on the field felt it as well.
“I saw him on the sidelines getting on the ref,” defensive end Travis Long said. “When Coach Wulff shows all that energy on the field, that boosts our energy even more. It makes us keep fighting and fighting.”
The defense did, stopping Colorado three plays later and forcing a punt. The offense took over at its 10 and scored in five plays, the final 63 yards covered by a Lobbestael-to-Marquess Wilson pass.
That’s the nuts and bolts of the improbable ending to WSU’s 31-27 win, but where did it come from?
“I think we were in a ball game in a fourth quarter,” Wulff said Sunday after watching video from the game, “and our defense made some key stops when we needed to in the fourth, particularly the last six minutes. And then the offense had the ball two out of the last three possessions of the game and we scored both of those opportunities.”
Sounds simple. But the Cougars could have made it simpler if they had played better throughout the game. Throughout his Sunday night conference call, Wulff mentioned having to get better at least three times.
“I thought our defense was solid,” Wulff said. “We didn’t play real well on offense. We’ve got to play a lot better. We had a lot of opportunities out there.
“Things we’ve worked on for a long time, we just didn’t execute very sharply. We’ve got to improve a lot in our execution.”
As for the calls that tapped so much passion, Wulff was able to see them in a clearer light. Some of the flags are things the Cougars need to work on.
“There were some things that are in are control and we have to fix them,” he said. “And then there were some things where the kids were just playing ball and they happened. It’s hard to be critical on those.”
Tuel cleared to practice
Quarterback Jeff Tuel was cleared Sunday to beginning practicing in full pads, clearing the way for a possible return Saturday when Washington State travels to Pasadena to face UCLA (2-3, 0-1 Pac-12).
“Yeah, I would leave that open,” Wulff said Sunday night of Tuel being available this week.
Tuel fractured his left (non-throwing) clavicle in the season opener against Idaho State a little more than four weeks ago. Last week he was cleared to begin throwing. After X-rays Sunday, the junior was given the green light to practice today.
The decision about when Tuel, who threw for 2,780 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, will return to game action will be made after consulting with a variety of sources, Wulff said.
“(It will be a) combination of medical and Jeff’s decision,” Wulff said.