PASADENA – Saturday night’s game is not really a homecoming for Washington State coach Todd Howard, but when you spend five seasons working in a building, it has some of those earmarks.
For those five years, Howard sent the UCLA defensive line out to do its work on the Rose Bowl turf, first for head coach Karl Dorrell and then for Rick Neuheisel.
And the Bruins did pretty much what he asked of them.
A couple, Justin Hickman and Brian Price, became All-Americans, true enough. But his greatest legacy may have been Howard’s charges played hard throughout his tenure in Westwood, according to some veteran UCLA observers.
That’s not always been the case for the Bruins.
Still, after helping Cassius Marsh and Owamagbe Odighizuwa earn All-Pac-10 freshman honors, Howard and Neuheisel came to a parting of the ways.
Even before the split could be announced, WSU coach Paul Wulff swooped in and hired the 21-year coaching veteran. The move is paying off.
“He’s developed a tremendous amount of consistency and he’s (developed) a lot of confidence from the players,” Wulff said. “He’s done a nice job not just playing four guys. We’ve got enough kids to work with and he’s developed them enough to make them functional.”
For his part, Howard says there’s no ill will because of Neuheisel’s decision – and the circumstances don’t give him any extra motivation.
“I don’t have any animosity toward UCLA,” he said. “We didn’t win and in this profession, you don’t win, you’ve got to look for another job. I understand that.”
There is, however, a desire – almost a necessity – to see his new defensive line do well.
“I want to go down there and I want us to play well,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to go down there and play a football game, simple as that.”
Toward that goal, Howard’s philosophy is to play more guys, keeping everyone fresh and allowing them to go 100 miles per hour on each play.
“You have some coaches who say, ‘suck it up,’ “ Howard said. “I don’t ever say that. When you’re out there, tell me you’re going to go 100 percent, because I believe you, at 85 percent, aren’t better than the guy playing behind you, who has 100 percent effort to give.”
The Cougars may have to play near 100 percent tonight.
UCLA has the second-best rushing attack in the conference, statistically, and tries to pound Johnathan Franklin (5-foot-10, 193 pounds) and Derrick Coleman (5-11, 240) throughout the game, as they did last season.
“They’re very talented,” defensive coordinator Chris Ball said of the Bruins. “They’re scary to watch on tape. Their running backs run downhill and run hard. Their offensive line has gotten better each week. They’ve got big wideouts.
“We’re definitely not going to win the warmups.”
The Cougars might be a bit shorthanded as well, at least on the offensive side.
Quarterback Jeff Tuel had not been cleared to play as of Friday, though he did practice this week. And starting right tackle Wade Jacobson missed much of this week’s practice with a bad back. Whether he’ll play is a game-time decision.
If Jacobson can’t go, redshirt junior Dan Spitz will take his place in the lineup.