“It’s an easy thing for people to say,” Wulff said this week. “We’ve taken a step.
“In terms of what the ‘corner’ means, I know we’ve taken a step in the right direction. We’ve notched something in our belt. We’ve proved we can win on the road with this year’s team, doing it in a conference game and coming back late in the game.”
If Washington State beats UCLA on Saturday at the Rose Bowl (ROOT, 7:30 p.m.), the Cougars will be 4-1 for the first time since the 2003 team started 7-1. The ’03 Cougars were the last WSU team to go to a bowl game (beating No. 5 Texas in the Holiday Bowl) or post a winning record (10-3).
“We haven’t accomplished a lot yet,” Wulff cautioned. “We’ve accomplished a few really good things, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do. But I like the direction where we’re headed.”
THE COUGARS’ WINNING TD AT Colorado, which happened at the 1:10 mark of the fourth quarter, got former WSU All-American safety Paul Sorensen to reminiscing about the day in Boulder 30 years ago when Jeff Keller blocked a Buffalo punt that Sorensen picked up and returned 43 yards for the winning TD with 1:21 left on the clock.
The similarities between then and now don’t end with the opponent, location or dramatics at the end. Like this year’s Cougars, the 1981 team was coming off a series of losing seasons. “We were talented in ‘81, but winning at Colorado the way we did convinced us we were the real deal,” says Sorensen. “That victory set the tone for the whole season.” The Cougars came within one win of going to the Rose Bowl, and they did go to the Holiday Bowl, ending a 51-year bowl drought for the school.
AT THE RATE HE'S GOING, Cougar linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis is going to need to invest in a paper mill because his resume is getting so long. Through four games, he's already collected five awards that the coaching staff gives out after each game. Against Idaho State he earned the "big play" award and was the defensive MVP. Against both UNLV and San Diego State he claimed the "big hit" award, and against Colorado he shared defensive MVP honors with Travis Long.
MARSHALL LOBBESTAEL HAS PASSED the ball superbly this season, but the senior quarterback might be even more impressive off the field than on. Long before Lobbestael regained his old starting job by default when Jeff Tuel broke his collar bone, the balding redhead from Oak Harbor was well respected among teammates and coaches for his work ethic, upbeat personality and team-first attitude.
Even though Tuel beat out Lobbestael for the starting job midway through the 2009 season, the two have remained close friends. Lobbestael has repeatedly said Tuel should and will regain his starting job when he’s ready.
The Cougars’ offense as a whole and Lobbestael in particular rank among the national leaders in several stats. Still, Lobbestael says there’s more gold to be mined once the faster, more elusive Tuel returns to the lineup.
“Our offense – just wait until Jeff comes back,” Lobbestael said. “I’m not ‘ragging’ on what I’ve done. It’s not a lack of confidence in me. But I’m excited to see what he can do this year. Everybody else should be, too.”
Paul Wulff said Lobbestael will start Saturday and “it may be a game-time decision” if Tuel sees action.
DESPITE HIS GAME-WINNING, 63-yard touchdown catch with barely a minute left at Colorado, WSU sophomore Marquess Wilson dropped from first to fourth nationally with 137.5 receiving yards per game.
In 16 college games, Wilson has six TD catches of 50-plus yards (four this year). Tim Stallworth holds the school record of seven TD catches of 50-plus yards.
Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson, speaking on the Pac-12 teleconference Tuesday, said Wilson “might be one of the best (college receivers) I’ve seen in a long time.”
FOR THE SECOND-STRAIGHT WEEK, the Cougars will be playing a team with an injury-plagued secondary and suspect special teams. The Bruins rank 73rd in passing yards allowed per game (231.2), 98th in total yards allowed (418.2), 105th in points allowed (33.6), 99th in net punting (34.7 yards), 93rd in kickoff returns (19.9), 89th in kickoff returns defense (23.3) and 109th in punt returns (2.7).
UCLA (2-3, 1-1 Pac-12) has played a tougher schedule than Washington State. The Bruins’ only lopsided losses came against teams that are currently 4-0 and ranked high: No. 7 Stanford (45-19 last Saturday) and No. 11 Texas (49-20 on Sept. 17).
In case you missed it, freshman receiver/return man Rahmel Dockery is leaving WSU with plans to return in January. Click here for details.