Cougars' coach says Washington State 'drastically improved'
Washington State (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12) has already matched the combined win total of the previous two years with six games left to play.
While a 3-3 record has not obviously taken Wulff off the hot seat in his fourth season, there is plenty of room for optimism. The Cougars play Oregon State in Seattle on Saturday in what is shaping up as a must-win game for making a postseason bowl.
"We've played some pretty darn good football," Wulff said Tuesday. "Our football team is drastically improved."
For instance, Washington State's offense is producing nearly 120 yards more per game than at the midpoint a year ago and the Cougars are allowing 137 fewer yards per game. The Cougars also are scoring 15 more points and allowing 14 fewer points than at this time a year ago.
Wulff was asked to grade his team's performance so far, and gave it an overall score of B.
That's pretty good considering starting quarterback Jeff Tuel fractured his collarbone on his first series of the season and did not see action against until last weekend's loss to No. 7 Stanford.
The Cougars raised expectations by jumping out to big wins over Idaho State and UNLV in their first two games. They squandered a lead in losing to San Diego State, came back for a thrilling win at Colorado, and dominated at UCLA until the closing minutes before losing 28-25.
Stanford pounded them 44-14, which Wulff said was simply the result of the Cardinal being a better team.
Wulff gives the best grade to his offense, a B-plus.
The Cougars are averaging 36 points per game. They rank 11th in the nation in passing at 326 yards per game, and 26th in total offense at 453 yards per game. Most of those gaudy numbers are the work of backup quarterback Marshall Lobbestael and receivers Marquess Wilson, Isiah Barton and Jared Karstetter.
But the rushing attack has dropped off after being strong early. The Cougars rank 88th in rushing at 126 yards per game. Rickey Galvin leads the running backs at 319 yards and a 6.6 average per rush.
The defense, which was pushed around in the second half against the Cardinal, still earned a B-minus at mid-season from Wulff.
"They've progressed," Wulff said. "They've gotten better and better."
The defense is giving up 382 yards per game. It ranks 73rd in the nation in giving up 28 points.
The special teams earned a grade of B-minus to C-plus, Wulff said, in part because he wasn't happy the Cardinal's Ty Montgomery returned the last play of Saturday's game 96 yards for a touchdown.
There is no doubt that the schedule gets a little tougher the rest of the way.
The Cougars face Oregon State (1-5, 1-2) in Seattle on Saturday. But then they play at No. 9 Oregon (5-1, 3-0), California (3-3, 0-3), host No. 24 Arizona State (5-2, 3-1) and Utah (3-3, 0-3), and close with No. 22 Washington (5-1, 3-0). They need three wins to qualify for a bowl.
Much of the second half success depends on Tuel, who was understandably rusty against the Cardinal.
"We feel when he is at full strength we are a better football team," Wulff said.
Lobbestael is now firmly in the backup role, Wulff said.
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