Prove Us Wrong, Washington State
By Paul Myerberg // Apr 20, 2011
Sit down, Washington State. Look into this mirror, if you please. Now, repeat after me:
I’m good enough…
I’m smart enough…
And doggone it, people like me.
Have some confidence, Cougars, as with history as your guide, you can take a measure of solace in the fact that things could not possibly get any worse. Or could they? Nope. No, they couldn’t — well, technically they could, but you’d really have to try in order to reach a lower level than rock bottom.
There was a time not so long ago, in fact, when winning football at Washington State ranked just below lentils among the Palouse region’s strongest exports: think back to 2003, when Bill Doba’s first team completed the program’s third consecutive double-digit win season.
If the wheels came off in Doba’s final years, Paul Wulff’s regime has seen the car stripped from bumper to bumper. The hope is that Wulff has done some bodywork, repairing this team’s structure as they struggle through the worst stretch in program history — if not the worst stretch in the history of the Pac-10.
How bad has it been? Five wins in three years, with as many against F.C.S. foes, two, as against conference opposition. A grand total of 544 points over this span, an average of 15.5 points per game, against 1,462 points allowed, or 41.8 points per game. That’s awful, but we know this. We’ve seen W.S.U. play, when given the somewhat rare opportunity, so we know how bad it’s been.
To find a similar period in the Pac-10’s history, you might have to think back to Oregon State from 1990-92: the Beavers went 3-29-1, averaging 13.3 points per game while allowing 33.3, though that’s a slightly better rate than Washington State’s since 2008.
Hidden in this ineptitude are slight signs of progress, if we gauge that word in the most generous way possible. After allowing 570 points in 2008, Wulff’s debut campaign, the Cougars allowed 435 a year ago. After scoring only 144 points in 2009, Washington State improved to 235 a year ago — adding more than a touchdown per game, which is a substantial improvement.
And there’s the competitive nature of a 2-10 finish to 2010, if we continue to dig deep for silver linings. The Cougars held tight to Stanford, California and Washington down the stretch; gave Arizona and Oregon some trouble before faltering late; and beat Oregon State on the road in mid-November, dealing a deadly blow to the Beavers’ bowl hopes.
So the spirit’s willing, even if Wulff’s team lacked the horses to hang with the rest of the Pac-10. What of 2011, you might ask? Washington State can hang its hat on quarterback Jeff Tuel, who turned in a strong sophomore season despite his team’s struggles. Among Tuel’s impressive numbers was his tendency to bounce back from his sour performances, such as he did against U.C.L.A. after a three-pick showing against U.S.C., or in the win over Oregon State after fouling up the joint against the Golden Bears.
Marquess Wilson quietly had the finest freshman season of any receiver in the country last fall, outplaying — statistically, at least — his more ballyhooed competitors at U.S.C., California and elsewhere. No one is denying the defense needs work, but it had moments in 2010 — 261 yards allowed against the Beavers, 383 against the Bears and 352 against Arizona, though the Cougars did give up 493 yards or more five times on the season.
Yet it’s the spring, so let’s raise those enthusiasms. And maybe our expectations, even if we’re in prove-me-wrong stage with W.S.U.: I’ll believe when I see it, you might tell Wulff and his team. In Washington State’s favor is a smooth schedule, one that opens with Idaho State and U.N.L.V. before turning its attention to the new-look Pac-12.
Could this be the year, when looking at this roster and this schedule? Wulff seems to think so, telling Bud Withers of The Seattle Times: “We should have a two-deep that’s very solid. We’re extremely more athletic, we’ve got a lot more length, and our football IQ has improved dramatically.”
Most importantly, however, Wulff told Withers the following: “I know we’re going to win games.” Contagious confidence? His faith has been passed onto his team and the fan base, but we’ll see come September. For now, however, firm in the knowledge it can only improve, Washington State can finally look in the mirror and like what it sees.
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Tags: Jeff Tuel, Marquess Wilson
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