Hard work pays dividends in Pullman
PULLMAN – Heady territory, this 2-0 stuff.
But the 59-7 whipping Washington State put on UNLV on Saturday at Martin Stadium was not the only win in coach Paul Wulff’s household last week.
Wulff’s daughter Katie showed her pig in the Palouse Empire Fair, and the animal won a reserve grand champion award, finishing second overall among the Future Farmers of America’s nearly 80 pigs in the show.
Though Wulff couldn’t be there to see the event – football duty called – he was as happy … well, as happy as a pig in mud.
“It makes you feel really good because you knew the excitement she had and the emotion she gets,” Wulff said. “She works hard at it. And it makes you feel really good.”
Which sounds a lot like the things Wulff said after Saturday’s win. And there’s a reason for that.
“There are a lot of similarities, a lot,” Wulff said of coaching and being a parent. “The age bracket of a college football coach is a window of 18-to-23 years of age, of course, but there are a lot of similarities.
“And I do feel like a lot of these players are my kids. In my heart I have the same hopes and cares that all the right things are going on for them. It’s vital to help them make good decisions.”
There’s no doubt quarterback Marshall Lobbestael made the right decisions on the field Saturday. The backup-turned-starter passed for a career-high 361 yards and five touchdowns as the Cougars rolled up 610 yards total offense.
“I was very happy for him personally, just because I know all the work he’s put in,” Wulff said. “That’s the bottom line. … This kid’s been through the rough times and he’s stuck it out. He’s played a big part behind the walls of our turnaround.”
That nascent turnaround gets an even bigger test this week as the Cougars hit the road to face another 2-0 team, San Diego State, and the nation’s second-leading rusher, Ronnie Hillman, who averages 153 yards per game.
“It needs to be,” Wulff answered when asked if he expects the intensity to ratchet up this week. “Things just keep becoming a bigger challenge for us.”
One of the challenges is San Diego State’s defense. The group has faced two triple-option teams this season under first-year coach Rocky Long, so how it will defend Washington State’s more passing-oriented attack is a bit of a mystery.
“We have to go figure out what they’re going to try to do to us, because we don’t have any film from this year,” Wulff said. “Triple-option teams have a lot different formations from what we’ll use.”
What the Aztecs will face is the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense (61.5 points per game) built on the fourth-highest total offense average (600 yards per game). And, with Jeff Tuel still sidelined with his broken collarbone, the offense is powered by Lobbestael, who leads the Pac-12 in passing efficiency (a 217.5 rating).
The WSU defense has also posted good numbers, as it’s 34th in total defense nationally, yielding 305.5 yards per game.
Though none of that really matters.
“We really don’t spend a lot of time paying attention to those numbers,” Wulff said. “Our focus is what we’ve got to do right in front of us. Obviously, winning games is a big deal to us. But playing well is very important.
“That really is our biggest focus. Just play well, the absolute best of our ability.”
And maybe that will mean bringing home some sort of ribbon.