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Moredich: Arizona knows pain of hapless Washington State

WSU’s season rivals Mackovic’s last; coach has plan

Washington State defensive tackle Toby Turpin punches a water cooler in frustration in the final minutes of a 69-0 loss to USC on Oct. 18. It was the greatest margin of defeat in school history and ended a 280-game scoring streak for the Cougars.

Washington State defensive tackle Toby Turpin punches a water cooler in frustration in the final minutes of a 69-0 loss to USC on Oct. 18. It was the greatest margin of defeat in school history and ended a 280-game scoring streak for the Cougars.

Arizona’s 2003 season was one for the ages – disappointing and frustrating at the same time.

Five years later, Washington State knows how those Wildcat players and fans must have felt.

The Wildcats finished 2-10, had an eight-game losing streak and let two head coaches go before hiring Mike Stoops.

The Cougars (1-8, 0-6 Pac-10) are probably worse off after a 58-0 loss last week to Stanford, which extended their losing streak to five games.

Washington State has already allowed 350 points – more than any team in Pac-10 history – and there are few signs of improvement heading into Saturday’s game against Arizona (5-3, 3-2).

“There are some who want to quit,” Washington State coach Kevin Lopina told the Seattle Times.

Arizona is starting to turn the program around, after John Mackovic was fired after five games in 2003 amid player unrest and Mike Hankwitz went 1-6 as interim coach.

Washington State’s evolution may take a lot longer, but first-year coach Paul Wulff has a plan to get the Cougars back on track.

Wulff booted a number of players with attitude or legal problems, stayed steadfast in his approach to save redshirt seasons for most of the 2008 recruiting class and developed a unity council to make players more accountable.

Blowout losses have piled up in the process.

“In the long run, we are going to be much better,” Wulff said. “I knew there were going to be some bullets thrown. I am here to take them. I have a plan and we are going to stick to it and it is going to work.”

There are the obvious problems on the field:

• The Cougars have not scored in 10 quarters. They are averaging 12 points per game.

• WSU is allowing a nation’s-worst 49 points a game and giving up 459 yards per game – 275 yards rushing.

• The Cougars have been outscored 172-0 since a 16-yard interception return for a touchdown late in the second quarter against Oregon State on Oct. 11.

• WSU’s lone victory was 48-9 over Portland State.

• Five quarterbacks have played, with three injured. A scout team signal caller was picked up after campus tryouts.

“Their depth has been hit pretty hard,” Stoops said. “Obviously, at quarterback it has been very unstable.”

There are off-the-field issues to work out:

• In an 18-month span ending two months before the season, 25 players were arrested or charged with offenses that carried possible jail time, the Seattle Times reported. Most of the legal issues were misdemeanors, but one player faced a felony for hitting another on the head with a frying pan. Another soaked a teammate’s contact lenses in rubbing alcohol.

• A stigma was placed on the school by former defensive back Courtney Williams.

“WSU is a hard school to go to, man,” Williams told the Times. “You ain’t got nothin’ to do but get drunk and smoke weed and not go to class because you’re too tired from doing what you’re doing.”

• The Cougars lost eight scholarships due to failing academic standards for the 2006-07 season.

The fall for Washington State was quick. Then-coach Mike Price had Washington State going 30-8 during the 2001-03 seasons, winning a Sun Bowl and Holiday Bowl.

The 2002 Cougars lost 34-14 in the Rose Bowl to Oklahoma.

The decline has hit bottom.

“I didn’t know exactly what I was walking into,” Wulff said on Tuesday.

Patience is running thin.

“Over the years, Wazzu football fans have dealt with pathetic play at times, but this is beyond that,” Seattle Post Intelligencer columnist Jim Moore blogged. “It’s otherworldly pathetic, not to mention unacceptable and inexcusable. Some blame former coach Bill Doba. Some blame the players. But the man ultimately responsible is coach Paul Wulff.”

Mackovic was the scapegoat for the 2003 season, a year after nearly 40 players marched to then-UA President Peter Likins to complain about alleged oral abuse from the coach.

It took Stoops time to overhaul a team that suffered defeats of 29, 38, 45, 46 and 52 points in 2003.

But the Wildcats appear to be on the right track: one win from likely earning their first bowl bid since 1998.

Washington State is just starting the healing process.

John Moredich’s e-mail: jmoredich@tucsoncitizen.com

In 2003, UA coach John Mackovic went 1-4, with blowout losses to LSU, Oregon and Purdue before being fired. UA finished 2-10, the most losses in school history.

In 2003, UA coach John Mackovic went 1-4, with blowout losses to LSU, Oregon and Purdue before being fired. UA finished 2-10, the most losses in school history.

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UA 2003 vs WSU 2008: Who’s worse?

2003 2008

Category UA Opp. WSU Opp.

Scoring 15.1 35.8 12.3 49.2

Rush 123 180 93.7 274.8

Passing 183 279 157.5 184.4

Total off. 307 460 251.3 459.3

Turnovers 25 30 9 29

Record 2-10 1-8

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What’s next

UA at Washington St., 3 p.m. Saturday. TV: none. Radio: 1290 AM, 107.5 FM

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