CORVALLIS, Ore. – Paul Wulff stood in the visiting locker room in the basement of Oregon State’s Gill Coliseum, tying his tie.
A long Jeff Tuel pass away, down a driveway and a somewhat-steep hill, sits the Reser Stadium field where, about an hour earlier, Wulff’s Washington State team had exited, yelling, screaming, clapping hands with their fans en route to the locker room.
The Cougars, 23.5-point underdogs, had just upset the Beavers, 31-14, sending much of the 45,389 in attendance home shaking their heads.
But the win, and the ensuing celebration, may have done more than that.
It quite possibly ensured Wulff, embattled after nearly three seasons and 31 losses, another year as his alma mater’s head football coach.
Asked about it as he was putting the final touches on the knot, Wulff took a page from Tuel’s playbook and sidestepped.
“We’re building a program here,” he said, sticking to a script he’s followed since taking over from Bill Doba after the 2007 season. “I say that over and over.”
And his athletic director, Bill Moos, has said over and over he’ll evaluate Wulff’s performance and determine his future following the Apple Cup.
But Moos, who guided the committee that recommended Wulff’s hire and who took over earlier this year from the man who made it, former A.D. Jim Sterk, has also said he wants to see progress.
No matter how it’s parsed, Saturday’s win was just that.
“I think, just playing better and better football like we have all year and winning a conference game on the road,” Wulff said, “I think that hopefully shows that things have been continually moving toward this all year. … Hopefully, that’s what people see.”
The Cougars fans who witnessed the victory – the first Pac-10 road win Wulff’s teams have earned – gathered in Reser’s southwest corner afterward, where the WSU band was playing.
The players started to flow that way, first slowly, then with a flood. Wulff and his staff joined them. The band played the fight song, the players and the fans shared the moment, and Wulff took a second to reflect.
Asked later what he was thinking, Wulff said it was “how the fans have deserved this as much as the players.”
“I was so happy to see so many Cougar fans happy,” he said. “I cannot have enough gratitude for their support and what they’ve been having to go through the last few years.”
Tuel takes a shot
Tuel’s running – he finished with a career-high 79 yards on 18 attempts – almost had dire consequences for WSU. With a little less than 6 minutes left before halftime, the quarterback scrambled to the goal line, where safety Lance Mitchell met him.
The sophomore didn’t bounce up.
“It could have been my head hit the ground, I’m not sure,” Tuel said. “I just got my bell rung a little bit.”
And he was out, replaced by Marshall Lobbestael, who got the Cougars into the end zone. But Tuel couldn’t get back in the game on WSU’s next possession.
“I was pretty aggravated, actually,” he said. “I just wanted to be on the field. They ask you some pretty tough questions, actually, to test you for a concussion, so I was getting a little frustrated.”
The seeds of Saturday’s victory were probably sown October 11, 2008. That’s when Oregon State defeated an injury-depleted WSU team 66-13 here. The Beavers scored on a 39-yard pass with 7 minutes left and threw another late pass.
“It really shows how Oregon State has no class, in my opinion,” cornerback Romeo Pellum said then. “In that big of a win usually teams run the ball and obviously (OSU) coach (Mike) Riley showed that he didn’t have no class.
“That’s just a thought for us to remember for the next time we play Oregon State, have that nasty taste in your stomach.”
Pellum is gone, transferring after that season, but a few Cougars remain. No one talked about it except Casey Hamlett, who was still playing at Western Washington that year.
“It was mentioned a couple times that they kinda gave it to us when they had the chance,” Hamlett said. “For the guys that were here then, that was probably a motivating factor.”
It seemed to be for Wulff as well. He said he learned something that day.
“What I learned was, when you have a lead, a big lead in a game at the end, you kneel on it,” Wulff said.
That’s exactly what the Cougars did, when they led by the final score with 1 minute, 48 seconds left.
“It feels good to win,” Wulff said. “It feels good to be ahead late in the game and be able to kneel on it.”
Rodgers wrapped up
The Cougars’ defensive game plan was predicated on controlling Jacquizz Rodgers, the Pac-10’s second-leading rusher coming in. The 5-foot-7 junior did roll off one 28-yard, disappear-from-sight, tackle-breaking run, but finished with just 93 yards on 15 carries.
“We knew we had to stop (Rodgers) and that starts with tackling,” defensive coordinator Chris Ball said.
That meant being aggressive Ball said.
“With this type of running back, as good as he is, we felt like we couldn’t sit back. We needed to attack and get after him,” Ball said. “You wait for him and he’s going to make you miss.”
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