Different directions for Wulff, Neuheisel?

October, 5, 2011
10/05/11
10:00
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Paul Wulff and Rick Neuheisel entered the season with the same problem. They needed to win in order to keep their jobs, and there were plenty of folks who didn't think they would.

Five weeks into the season, Neuheisel's Bruins are 2-3 and his seat is hotter, while Wulff's Cougars are 3-1 and his seat is cooler.

The messages coming out of the beleaguered outposts, however, reflect the coachspeak necessity to reject the ephemeral whims of public -- and media -- opinion.

For the surging Cougars, Wulff strikes a cautionary note. "We haven't accomplished a lot yet," he said.

[+] EnlargeWashington State's Paul Wulff
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PRESSWIREWith a 3-1 record, Washington State coach Paul Wulff is feeling less pressure than opposing coach Rick Neuheisel this weekend.
For the struggling Bruins, Neuheisel points to reasons for hope. "Look at the tape," he said. "You can see how close we are. And if that doesn't motivate you to want to be better and continue to work to be better then I don't know what does."

And they are both right.

Wulff's team is playing better and winning and as a result his seat is cooler, but the Cougars schedule has helped plenty. It's a good bet the Bruins would be 3-1 with the Cougars schedule, too. At least.

As for the Bruins, Neuheisel reasonably points out that his team has lost to three unbeaten teams: Houston, No. 11 Texas and No. 7 Stanford. It's a good beat the Cougars would be 2-3 with the Bruins schedule.

When the Cougars and Bruins tangle Saturday, the relative feelings about either coach could be in flux again, particularly if we see a repeat of last year.

In the Rose Bowl in 2010, UCLA jumped ahead 20-7, then yielded three consecutive TDs as the Cougars took a 28-20 lead. From that point on, however, the Bruins just ran over the Cougs defense, scoring three consecutive TDs to win 42-28, using almost exclusively running plays.

UCLA rushed 57 times for 437 yards -- 7.8 yards per carry -- with five TDs. Johnathan Franklin rushed for 216 yards and Derrick Coleman for 185 yards, and both of those guys will be eyeballing a Cougars rushing defense that yielded 227 yards to San Diego State and 161 yards to Colorado.

"That's going to be our challenge," Wulff said. "We've to make them earn yards on the ground."

On the other side of the ball, the Bruins rank 10th in the conference in pass-defense and are beaten up in the secondary, though Neuheisel said he thinks he could get a couple of guys back who didn't play against Stanford, such as safeties Tony Dye and Dalton Hilliard and linebacker Glenn Love.

Washington State quarterback Marshall Lobbestael -- he's still the starter, though Jeff Tuel could see action after fracturing his collarbone in the season-opener -- ranks 13th in the nation in passing efficiency and sixth in the nation in passing with 333.8 yards per game.

So, not unlike last year's game, UCLA will try to run. Washington State will try to pass. Both might struggle to stop the other.

But how are these teams different from last year?

Neuheisel said it's obvious on film that the Cougars are improved. It's also different how Wulff pooh-poohs grand pronouncements from reporters, such as an inquiry asking if the Cougars have turned the proverbial corner.

"It's an easy thing for people to say," Wulff said. "We've taken a step. I know we've take a step in the right direction." But then he added, again, that, "We haven't accomplished a lot yet."

Even the thrilling win at Colorado doesn't inspire much joy from Wulff, at least with reporters.

"It was a last quarter win but we didn't play a great football game," he said. "There were a lot of things we could have done a heck of a lot better. I don't look at it as an emotional game at all. It was an emotional ending. But we need to play better football than we did."

Obviously, Wulff is fighting any potential "we've arrived" complacency that might invade his locker room.

Meanwhile, Neuheisel is trying to keep his team optimistic with his relentless message of hope. For example, his defense ranks 105th in the nation, allowing 33.6 points per game.

"I think we are getting better," he said. "We're playing faster. We've played some pretty darn good football teams."

The grind for a coach on the hotseat is relentless. It can feature cycles of dramatic highs and stunning lows. As we head into the second October weekend, Wulff and his team are trending up, and Neuheisel and his team are trending down. It's probably more fun in the coaching offices in Pullman than in Westwood this week.

Said Wulff, "It feels different. There's a little bit more pep in your step when you come to work."

Ah, but peppy steps sometimes land on banana peals. And those dragging along with their heads down might espy a lucky quarter.

Things can change quickly in college football.

Ted Miller | email

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