WSU Cougars

Cougs make strides, have a long way to go

The Washington State Cougars, criticized endlessly for their inept and often listless play last season, were understandably pleased with the strides made in their 2009 football opener.

“Coming into that game, we knew we were a lot better ball club (than last year),” senior linebacker Andy Mattingly said. “We have a lot more swagger to us this year.”

Unfortunately for those lacking crimson-colored glasses, some ugly truths emerged from Saturday’s 39-13 loss to Stanford. And just like last year, some of the ugliest truths could be found on defense.

Wins will be few and far between if the Cougars continue to cough up 39 points, 288 rushing yards and 481 total yards.

Of course, you need to produce more than one touchdown to win most games.

Also, you won’t go far if you blow 21-yard field goals and give up 48 yards per kickoff return (including an 85-yard touchdown), and 22 yards per punt return (including a 59-yard return to the 5-yard line).

“There were a lot of really good things that showed up that we haven’t done in the past, so that was encouraging,” coach Paul Wulff said. “At the same time, there were some things we definitely have to get cleaned up.”

The Cougars are early six-point favorites over Hawaii (1-0) in their annual Seattle “home” game Saturday at Qwest Field.

Wulff said he hasn’t decided if he will again start Kevin Lopina at quarterback and alternate Lopina and Marshall Lobbestael.

In Sports Illustrated’s preseason rankings, Stanford was 62nd, Hawaii 95th and WSU 105th. Hawaii is the lowest-ranked team on WSU’s schedule, followed by No. 89 Southern Methodist.

The Mustangs come to Pullman on Sept. 19, so it’s not inconceivable that Washington State could win two consecutive games and climb over .500 for the first time since their 2-1 start in 2007.

Hawaii had to rally late to beat visiting Central Arkansas 25-20.

The Bears are ranked 12th in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-AA) coaches poll.

As part of campus-wide budget cutbacks, the Cougars will take buses instead of planes to both their games in Seattle this year.