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Originally published Sunday, September 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Bud Withers

WSU, as shown in Cal demolition, has a long way to go

Cal used a ridiculous passel of big plays to smoke Paul Wulff's Washington State Cougars, 66-3. It was the most points scored by an opponent in history on WSU's turf. Two words keep coming to mind more than any other: Rebuilding job.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

PULLMAN — Word was, members of Washington State's 1988 Aloha Bowl team — in town for a 20-year reunion — were to meet late in the morning at Valhalla, a campus watering hole, to draw up the day's game plan.

They should have called on veteran experience and stayed, rather than journey down the hill to Martin Stadium. There, the fits and starts of a new coaching regime were in full, frightful regalia on a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon.

Cal used a ridiculous passel of big plays to smoke Paul Wulff's Cougars, 66-3. You read it right. By margin, it was the worst loss in the history of the school, and the second-most points allowed.

"I don't think I've ever gotten my butt kicked this bad," Wulff said.

If it wasn't apparent before that this is a rebuilding job, not just a handoff from Bill Doba, Cal clubbed the point over WSU's head with a tire iron. The Bears had 20 first downs — fairly pedestrian for today's high-tech offenses — but that doesn't measure how many acres they gashed from the Cougars.

At WSU, this will be a growing year, a foundation year — polite euphemisms for a bad year. It's going to be dedicated to improvement and advancement, and moving toward the future.

That was rammed home a couple of minutes into Wulff's postgame comments, when he explained why the Cougars pulled fifth-year senior quarterback Gary Rogers and turned the second half over to Kevin Lopina and Marshall Lobbestael.

"We forced throws that aren't acceptable," Wulff said. "We've got to have somebody, ultimately, that can perform at that position."

So after Rogers waited four years behind Alex Brink, there's no soft landing. He has a lot invested in the program, but the coaches don't have a lot of investment in him — about nine months' worth. So Rogers is likely to have to compete this week for the starting job, and he might not keep it.

Rogers will be gone in a year. Wulff and his staff won't be.

"We talk about coaching these players on the sideline during the game," Wulff said. "Just keep coaching, because that's what these guys need right now. Every opportunity is an opportunity to get better. That's how we've got to look at it."

Wulff said Rogers had some open receivers and didn't find them in his 10-for-21, two-interception first half. On the first interception in the game's initial minute, Rogers was forced out of the pocket prematurely against a three-man rush, rolled left and threw across his body.

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Meanwhile, what the Cougars do right, they quickly infect with missed blocks, blown defensive assignments and a simple inability to match up where their inexperience and injuries are most telling.

These were four of their motion penalties, a couple that backstabbed good gains: two by sophomore receiver Jeshua Anderson, who practiced this week for the first time after missing all of fall camp following a hernia operation; one by Marcus Richmond, moved to receiver from running back a week ago; and one by Kevin Norrell, a true freshman.

"The bottom line was, we were outmanned by a team a lot bigger, stronger and faster than we are," Wulff said. "And their X's were a lot better than our O's."

It was a hard day on the crimson faithful, except for the spiffed-up stadium itself, on which WSU just spent $27 million.

On the cover of the game program was defensive tackle A'i Ahmu, who didn't enter until his team was behind 42-3.

Ahmu was being disciplined for his failure to appear in Whitman County court in Colfax on a minor-in-possession charge. Ahmu said he had no car to get there, so police took him there at midweek, and in a fairly unbelievable sidelight, he began walking the 16 miles back to Pullman, getting maybe a mile before a motorist picked him up.

Ahmu is no Sedrick Ellis, but Cal took advantage of Ahmu's replacement, senior walk-on Adam Hineline of Newport High School in Bellevue. On Shane Vereen's 39-yard touchdown run that made it 21-0, All-Pac-10 center Alex Mack rooted Hineline 4 yards back.

Then again, Ahmu was available in the third quarter, when Jahvid Best ran 86 yards on an "iso" play similar to the one when he trucked 80 yards on Cal's opening snap of the game. The Bears now have three 80-yard-plus runs in two games.

So the clouds moved in, the fans turned it into a half-empty stadium after the third quarter, and this was the verdict: Wulff and his staff are going to have to recruit on a promise, not on any sort of sizzling first season.

You know the old Chinese proverb: The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But, hey, as Ahmu will tell you, so does the walk from Colfax to Pullman.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

Worst Washington State home football losses
Year Opp. Score Margin
2008 California 66-3 63
1955 UCLA 55-0 55
2000 Washington 51-3 48
*1974 USC 54-7 47
*1970 Stanford 63-16 47
*played in Spokane

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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