PULLMAN – It was just two weeks ago Washington State was coming off a strong first-half effort in a loss to then-fifth-ranked Stanford.
Coming up was a matchup with Oregon State, the first time in Paul Wulff’s tenure the Cougars would be favored in a Pac-12 game.
“We came off an emotional game with Stanford and some people were patting the players on the back,” Wulff said of the leadup to the OSU contest. “We go into a game we’re expected to win, predicted to win, and these guys had never been in that situation.
“They are great kids, but they’re still youthful. I think that was a letdown a little bit at the Oregon State game.”
That letdown resulted in a 44-21 defeat.
Run the DVR forward to today. The Cougars (3-5 overall, 1-4 in Pac-12 play) are coming off a tough-fought, 43-28 road loss to now sixth-ranked Oregon. On the immediate horizon, a matchup looms in San Francisco with California, 4-4, 1-4 and coming off a surprisingly one-sided 31-14 loss at UCLA.
So what’s to stop the Cougars from repeating the OSU fiasco?
“I think we’ll grow from that,” Wulff said of the earlier experience. “Our goal is to keep growing each week to improve.”
The Cougars failed to improve in one area against the Ducks: exploiting opportunities. In seven trips to what they consider the red zone they came away with just two touchdowns and two field goals.
“We’re all disappointed,” Wulff said. “We had a lot of opportunities to win this football game. We didn’t take advantage of those opportunities, as many as we had.
“We should be kicking ourselves in the butt and come back that much harder and fix it.”
It has to happen quickly. With just four games left, WSU needs to win three times for an opportunity of a different sort, a bowl game.
That can’t figure into the equation against the Bears, Wulff said.
“(We need to) look at this week and this week only,” he said. “We’re not in a position to globally look at all four. We need to get better this week and we need to focus on this game and this game only.”
One positive to come out of the Oregon game is the injury list. Wulff said there were a few guys banged up, but no one with anything that should cost them time.
And it’s his hope to get three players back who missed the game against the Ducks, most notably defensive tackle Toni Pole. He may be back at practice by Wednesday, Wulff said.
“It is important to get Toni back,” Wulff said. “We need him in the rotation at the D-tackle position especially against (the Bears). They are a little bit more power-oriented, pound the ball at you more directly.”
One player who won’t be back this week is quarterback Jeff Tuel, still sidelined by calf and shoulder injuries that may keep him out the rest of the season.