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Washington State fans see problems, potential in team


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POSTED: Sunday, September 13, 2009

SEATTLE » A large contingent of Washington State fans who made the trek to Seattle saw Paul Wulff's entire coaching tenure summed up in one 60-minute game.

The first half was a painful reminder of Wulff's debut season last year in which the Cougars lost eight games by at least 31 points.

Five WSU turnovers helped Hawaii to a 35-point lead before the majority of a pro-Wazzu crowd of 42,912 could make it back to the concourse for a refill.

But then, those who braved the 4-hour journey across the state saw the potential in the Cougars that brought them to Seattle in the first place. Yes, the Warriors handed the Pac-10 Cougars a 38-20 loss at Qwest Field, but it wasn't the same hopeless defeat that plagued the Cougars in '08.

Twenty consecutive points gave Wazzu a confidence that Wulff is looking to restore in his team in his second year as coach.

“;We made the kind of mistakes that just don't give you a chance,”; Wulff said. “;We made enough mistakes to probably lose by 40 or 50, but these kids battled back and that's all you ask for.”;

The Cougars are 5-19 in their last 24 games and are coming off one of their worst years in school history.

The self-doubt that comes from such a tough stretch has been a goal of the Cougars coaching staff to eliminate.

Unfortunately, the same pattern of falling into an early hole plagued Washington State from the opening kick. On its first seven possessions, three ended with fumbles, two in interceptions and two with punts.

“;Our biggest obstacle right now is we've got to learn how to start faster,”; co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball said. “;The toughest thing we have to overcome is to teach these kids how to win football games.

“;We seem to find a comfort level when we are behind.”;

When the Cougars didn't turn the ball over, they showed that potential, outscoring Hawaii 14-3 in the second half. Wazzu finished with more than 400 total yards and junior running back James Montgomery, a transfer from California, ran for 118 yards and his first touchdown with his new team.

“;I think everybody could see that we can move the ball well, but we've got to be able to punch it in,”; Montgomery said. “;(100-plus yards) doesn't mean anything if we don't win the game.”;

Quarterback Kevin Lopina finished 18-for-32 for 192 yards and provided some stability to the Washington State offense. After rotating with backup Marshall Lobbestael, Lopina eventually won out on playing time, leading the Cougars on four scoring drives to make it a two-possession game.

“;I saw some guys with their heads down, but that changed quickly and we came out in the second half and battled,”; Lopina said. “;We just can't do what we did (in the first half.)”;

They'll be faced with a similar test next week when the originator of Hawaii's run-and-shoot offense, June Jones, brings his Southern Methodist squad to Pullman, Wash., for a nonconference game.