PULLMAN – Washington State head coach Bill Doba walks just as tall today as he did 72 hours ago. But there’s no doubt that the weight on his shoulders has grown heavier.
Frustrated by his team’s poor play in a crushing home loss to Stanford the day before, Doba addressed the challenges facing his 3-2 team Sunday evening. He spoke of the fortitude that will be required, of changes that need to be made – though repeatedly fending off questions about a change under center.
Having lost two consecutive games and now facing a murderer’s row of Pac-10 opponents, Doba said it’s time for his team to hunker down.
“You’ve got to circle the wagons,” he said. “Our expectations were high. I think our fans are frustrated. I know our coaches are frustrated. Our kids are, too. We just haven’t performed as well as we thought we could.”
When queried about the play of sophomore quarterback Alex Brink – chosen in the preseason over 2004 starter Josh Swogger in a decision that has now come under fire – Doba was noticeably more defensive.
“I don’t think it warrants (a change) just yet,” he said. “It’s how you practice and I don’t think the quarterback’s the problem. We had 400 yards, I think, of total offense and he lost two of his receivers (Jason Hill and Chris Jordan) that he throws to.”
Then asked if there had been any consideration of switching quarterbacks on Saturday, Doba said: “No. Get off of it.”
While unwilling to discuss his quarterback situation at any length, Doba was candid in discussing sea changes on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, the head coach acknowledged a “good chance” of becoming a more run-oriented team with the continued success of Jerome Harrison on the ground.
And on defense, currently the No. 1 area of concern, Doba said he wasn’t sure what would be done. Before becoming head coach, Doba established an aggressive, blitz-oriented scheme. Under current coordinator Robb Akey that has continued, but this season the Cougars have cut back considerably. On many passing downs WSU has rushed just three players, dropping eight into coverage.
But no matter what they’ve done, the Cougars haven’t been able to find a scheme that successfully matches their players. And as a result, Doba finds himself trying to balance what has worked in the past with what might work in the present.
“We’re kind of in a quandary,” Doba said. “We ran some blitzes (Saturday) and we didn’t get there. One resulted in a touchdown.
“We’ll make some changes. Not necessarily personnel changes, but we’ve got to take a good look at what we’ve been doing and try to, you know, again – you make wholesale changes, you’re going to make things worse. We’ve worked on this for a long time, and we’re going to stay the course.”
The absence of Hill (quadriceps bruise) and Jordan (groin pull) on offense plus middle linebacker Will Derting (knee sprain) and defensive tackle Ropati Pitoitua (broken leg) on defense affected the Cougars, Doba admitted.
Hill had been expected to play much of last week but couldn’t go after trying to warm up Saturday. Doba said simply that he hoped to have the star wideout back next week. The same can be said for Jordan, who’s also battling knee soreness.
Defensively, Derting is out for at least one more week, probably more, and Pitoitua “might get a play or two” this week, Doba said.
As a result, it appears the Cougars could be shorthanded once again as the No. 12 UCLA Bruins, off to a 5-0 start, come to town.
The Cougars were in a similar tailspin last season, having lost all four October games, before upsetting UCLA on the road. Doba can only hope that the same is in store this time around.
“Who would’ve thought we’d beat UCLA down there last year? And we did,” Doba said. “I told the kids, the only ones who think we can win will be in this room. And you better all think that we can. We’ve got everything to gain and nothing to lose.
“It’s tough. It’s tough on us, tough on our kids and tough on our fans.”
While WSU’s special teams fared better against Stanford than they did the week before, two plays still have been held up to scrutiny. Punt returner Michael Bumpus fair caught a punt inside his own 1-yard line, and Doba said it was simply a mistake. WSU teaches its punt returners to stay outside the 7-yard line, but Bumpus apparently lost his place on the field. Also, a pooch kickoff into the wind drew heavy booing from the home crowd. Doba said the kick was another attempt to keep the ball away from Stanford returner T.J. Rushing. The pooch was supposed to land around the 20, but ended up being caught about 10 yards further upfield. … Doba said no new injuries of significance occurred during the game, though Bumpus did have a swollen knee and Harrison a minor toe problem. … Asked which players impressed him, Doba complimented defensive end Mkristo Bruce (two sacks) and outside linebacker Steve Dildine (11 tackles).