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Originally published Sunday, October 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Notebook | Where's the emotion, Cougs?

Decades ago, when the expansion 1962 New York Mets lurched through a 120-loss season, their manager, Casey Stengel, coined a phrase that...

Seattle Times staff reporter

PULLMAN — Decades ago, when the expansion 1962 New York Mets lurched through a 120-loss season, their manager, Casey Stengel, coined a phrase that reflected the ineptitude: "Can't anybody here play this game?"

Paul Wulff, the first-year Washington State coach, is co-opting the concept. Can't anybody here make a play?

"They're competing, they're not quitting," he said doggedly after WSU's 69-0 shutout by USC here Saturday. "But what happens is, we get down by quite a few points, and the emotion leaves us.

"Somewhere we have to have some players make some plays so the emotion level can pick up. This team has struggled making plays. After a while, they lose that emotional edge and it gets worse."

Wulff referred to the second quarter of last week's Oregon State game, when WSU intercepted three passes. For that window of several minutes, the Cougars looked like a competitive team on defense.

When WSU falls behind, Wulff said of his players, "Their emotional level drops, and they lose faith that someone's going to make a play."

Asked what he can tell his 1-7 team, Wulff said, "You tell 'em they've got to grow up and mature. You have to learn how to fight a little more. Learn how to compete, and not have a glazed look in their eyes."

Said offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy, "The No. 1 thing we've got to do is continue to stay positive. I think we have a great plan. We can't deviate from that plan.

"We've got to continue to work hard. We've got to coach, we've got to teach and get better every day."

New backfield

Receiver Brandon Gibson, one of the few Cougars who would fit on the USC roster, took a couple of direct snaps Saturday. In fact, he touched the ball that way more than he did as a wideout. He made a catch for the 31st straight game — one for zero yards.

Referring to the direct snaps, on which he rushed for four yards, Gibson said, "Hopefully, we can improve on it next week. I think I run pretty well with the ball in my hands."

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Gibson didn't appear happy with the Cougars' ultraconservative offense. But he said philosophically, "You're fighting and digging and scratching, but you don't have anything to fight and dig and scratch with. We really couldn't take [downfield] shots."

Gibson had another new role. Twice, he was a "gunner" on the punt team and made one tackle.

Notes

• Washington State's 28 yards passing were its fewest since 26 in the 1975 Apple Cup. That was the 28-27 loss to Washington, when the Huskies scored a couple of long, late, stunning touchdowns.

• The four first downs were WSU's fewest since at least 1967.

Randal Simmons, WSU player from 1976-78, was honored posthumously at halftime. He was a Los Angeles SWAT team member killed in the line of duty in February.

The crowd, including USC fans, gave Simmons' family — his parents, wife, two children and a sister — a standing ovation, and the family accepted plaques from Cougars athletic director Jim Sterk and WSU president Elson Floyd.

• By halftime, USC's Mark Sanchez had tied a school record with five TD passes, while WSU quarterback Kevin Lopina had completed five passes.

• The crowd of 25,118 was the smallest to see USC play since the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl (22,385) in Pete Carroll's first year, and the smallest regular-season crowd since 23,065 in Pullman saw Paul Hackett's (eventual) 6-6 team meet WSU's 3-9 club in 1999.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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