PAUL WULFF was adamant on Tuesday afternoon that his team is heading in the right direction as the Cougars prepare for No. 7 Oregon at noon Saturday (TV: Root Sports). And the players, he said, well they're in a fighting mood. Jeff Tuel, meanwhile, went from being doubtful to officially out over the space of a couple hours.
Wulff said fans are justifiably upset about Saturday’s 44-21 loss against Oregon State at CenturyLink Field.
“I understand that,” he said. “Emotionally they were excited to go into a game and win a game we thought we could win. They have every right to be upset. We’re mad, too.
“We’re going to fight back and we have a good, tough, young team. We’ll respond.”
But Wulff said that also is an indication that WSU (3-4 overall, 1-3 Pac-12) is heading in the right direction. He said fans previously had no expectations for success as the Cougars have had four consecutive losing seasons and have not reached a bowl since 2003.
“We’ve got games on the schedule that we can win,” Wulff said. “We’re still talking about a bowl game. When was the last time we were able to talk about that?”
Many fans felt that the program took a step backward in the loss against the Beavers (2-5, 2-2), though. Wulff disagrees with that sentiment.
“Just because you lose a game doesn’t mean you lose your program or take a step back,” he said. “I don’t buy that.”
Wulff insists that the talent level also is improving. The final class that former coach Bill Doba signed in 2007 features just four players on this year’s team.
“It’s a big-picture deal here,” Wulff said. “We’ve got to continue to recruit and develop the guys we’ve got. We’re going to be just fine.
“What does it look like moving forward? This program is in a great position. We’ve got kids that work hard. That’s the kind of character we have.”
WSU FIGURES TO be tested against the Ducks (6-1, 4-0). They can't play like they did against OSU, that's for sure. After all, the Ducks average 537 yards of total offense per game, which ranks sixth among Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Meanwhile, WSU allows 406 yards per game, which ranks 77th among FBS schools.
“I guess my response would be that we played Stanford better than anyone in the country by a long, long ways,” said Wulff, referring to a 44-14 loss Oct. 15 against the undefeated Cardinal. “Oregon State executed extremely well. We just didn’t make the plays we needed to make. It’s the team that plays the best (that wins) on any given day.”
Both Stanford and Oregon use talented offensive lines to create openings for their running backs. But the systems they use are drastically different.
“Stanford packs you in and tries to run between the tackles or off tackle,” Wulff said. “Oregon spreads you out. They try and create big lanes for you.”
WSU, which trails the Ducks 43-38-7 in the series, has not defeated Oregon since 2006. But the Cougars played one of their best games last season in a 43-23 loss versus the Ducks.
“Our kids played hard and did a lot of good things against them,” Wulff said. “We’ll do it again.”
How might they accomplish that? Wulff said Auburn and LSU, two teams that have defeated Oregon in the last year, are good examples.
“They were physical up front,” he said. “You’ve got to be physical and make plays. As soon as you slip once, they’re going to make a big play on you.”
AFTER DECLARING QUARTERBACK Jeff Tuel doubtful Tuesday morning, Wulff declared him officially out two hours later. He said Tuel, who aggravated an injury to his left clavicle during a scramble on the third play of Saturday’s game.
“It’s right in the exact same area,” he said, adding that the medical staff did not clear him to play this weekend. “It’s still sore. We can’t help but give it rest until the soreness goes away.”
Wulff said the performance of Tuel, who completed 11 of 13 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown against OSU, showed “glimpses” of his signal-caller’s potential. He added that Tuel “didn’t say anything” about the injury until late in the first half.
“He continued to take a couple of more hits and the big one at the end of the half,” Wulff said. “He was really sore and complained to our doctors.”
Tuel underwent an X-ray Tuesday, but Wulff said it was inconclusive about whether the junior sustained another fracture. Wulff said he does not think that is the case, though.
“I would not expect that this would cause him to miss the next five games,” he said. “It could be a two-week possibility.”
Wulff said senior quarterback Marshall Lobbestael, who started the first five games of the season, will benefit from being the starter throughout the week at practice. Lobbestael completed 10 of 20 passes for 105 yards and was intercepted once against the Beavers.
“He knows he’s the guy,” Wulff said. “That will help Marshall.”
Linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis is the Cougars’ only senior starter on defense. Wulff praised Hoffman-Ellis’ work with younger linebackers, such as sophomores Sekope Kaufusi and C.J. Mizell.
“This guy is your bell-cow kind of guy,” he said. “He’s someone your defense can rally around. He’s an unbelievable mentor to those young guys. He’s just a guy that it’s so obvious everyone looks to. I couldn’t ask for a better guy to help lead this football team.”