Cougars big no-shows against Cal, and now left to pick up the pieces
California takes it to WSU early and often in winning 30-7
Seattle Times colleges reporter
SAN FRANCISCO — Here at AT&T Park right now, the game is done and the modest gathering of fans is gone. The wind is whipping steadily off the bay and it's still drizzling, and seagulls are encamped on the field where the Giants play.
Or are those vultures?
The Washington State football team invited that possibility here on a gray autumn day, succumbing against California, 30-7. The truth is, the Cougars were never really in it from the time the ball was kicked off.
They went three-and-out on their first two possessions. Cal scored touchdowns on its first two for a 13-0 lead. For all practical purposes, game, set and match.
"When we kicked off, we weren't there," said a nonplused Paul Wulff, the WSU coach, referring to an absence of focus and emotion.
This doesn't do anything positive for Wulff's chance of returning for a fifth season. The Cougars are 3-6, have lost five in a row, and would have to win their last three — against Arizona State, Utah and Washington — to become bowl eligible. Hold those reservations.
"Their performance today was not acceptable," said Wulff. "It starts with me."
WSU had had a sharp week of practice — which led, naturally, to a lead-balloon performance.
"We do immature, dumb things," Wulff said. "We don't act very mature at times."
Perhaps this is too simplistic, but think back to Sept. 6, 2008. It was the second game of Wulff's regime, and it was against Cal in Pullman, and it was the first real crunching realization of the enormity of the rebuilding job the Cougars were about to face.
Cal won 66-3, Jahvid Best had touchdown runs of 86 and 80 yards, and WSU threw four interceptions.
Three and a half seasons later, the Cougars are still getting blown out by Cal, if less emphatically. They're significantly better than they were back then, but still miles behind the Bears (themselves an underachieving 5-4 and 2-4 in the Pac-12), at least on this day.
It seems to me Wulff and Co. have done a much better job recruiting skill-position personnel than guys in the trenches, who are so crucial. I'm convinced Jeff Tuel (still hurt, by the way) will play in the NFL and so will receiver Marquess Wilson, and maybe wideout Isiah Barton.
It's harder to see excellence up front, aside from the steadiness of defensive end Travis Long. The offensive line is mostly a creation of the last two recruiting classes, because there's only one fifth-year holdover playing from the Bill Doba days (guard B.J. Guerra), and a single lineman from Wulff's first two recruiting classes still around to block people.
That's tackle Dan Spitz, filling in for injured Wade Jacobson. The point is, you don't assemble a quality offensive line in the span of two recruiting classes, and the groundwork for that should have been laid back in 2009.
Long story short, the Cougars got mauled both ways. They amassed only 224 total yards, rushed for a meager 69, and allowed 288 on the ground.
"Our defensive front and our linebackers clearly did not play very well today," Wulff said. "We did not get off blocks, and we did not tackle."
There was an overall WSU malaise, reflected in the Cougars' first possession of the second quarter. They were at the Cal 30, about to try a 47-yard field goal, when kicker Andrew Furney let the play clock run out. Backed up to the 35, the Cougars were deployed to try it again when holder Dan Wagner couldn't handle Zach Koepp's high snap and the thing bounded all the way to the WSU 37.
At this point, it probably doesn't matter that WSU ran up against a Cal team that has quality players all over.
"They're the best-looking football team I've seen in this conference this year, period," Wulff said flatly. "Chip Kelly (coach at Oregon, where the Cougars played last week) told me he thought they were. They probably have the best talent, top to bottom."
Now the Cougars have two home games, at long last, which will be sparsely attended as the season winds to an uneasy conclusion.
"We need to get back to playing Cougar football," Wulff said.
I'm not sure what that is anymore.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-12.
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