It wasn’t that long ago that Paul Wulff was the underdog in this situation.
Less than a year ago, he was coaching the lower-division team looking to upset an upper-division foe. Then, it was I-A vs. I-AA. Now the two divisions have been renamed to the Football Bowl Division and Football Championship Subdivision.
Regardless of the names, Wulff was the one coaching at the lower level during his eight years at Eastern Washington. In his time with Eagles, his team would routinely hit the road and play up a division against a team from the Pac-10, the Mountain West or the Western Athletic Conference at least once, and sometimes twice in a season.
Now Wulff is on the other sideline, having moved up a level as coach of the Washington State Cougars. And he knows exactly what mentality Saturday’s opponent, the Portland State Vikings, will have. Because he once had it, too.
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“You just realize what a great opportunity it is,” Wulff said.
Call it a lower-division chip on their shoulder. Most teams acquire one when they play a higher-division school. For individual players, it’s also a chance to command some respect. Many FCS players were at one time recruited by FBS schools and then deemed not good enough to play there. So the incentive of proving them wrong is also there.
“It naturally motivates players to bring out their best effort,” Wulff admitted.
Many coaches in Wulff’s position would be worried about his team overlooking the lower division program. But the Cougs are 0-3 and have been outscored 150 to 33 in the three losses.
“I tell you what, they better not,” Wulff said of any of his players thinking the win was a gimme. “They’re seriously mistaken if they do.”
The Vikings (1-1) aren’t among the top FCS teams, but they have the ability to put up points under offensive coordinator Mouse Davis’ vaunted run-and-shoot offense. PSU led the nation in passing yards per game at 370.9 last season.
A carousel of quarterbacks never allowed Davis’ offense to really get going last season, but sophomore Drew Hubel seems to have taken control of the offense this season. In two games, he has completed 57 of 91 passes for 642 yards.
Hubel isn’t picky about who he throws to, using an assortment of receivers as well as athletic fullback Bobby McClintock.
“They’re going to dink and dunk you a bunch and then try and sneak one past you deep,” WSU defensive backs coach Jody Sears said.
The Vikings will probably attempt 60 to 70 passes. But don’t expect WSU to change its entire defensive philosophy as a result.
“We want to be able to do things we’re comfortable with,” Wulff said. “We want to have a good enough package and not really be predictable, but not do too much where we confuse ourselves.”
Outside linebackers Kendrick Dunn and Cory Evans are “questionable,” Wulff said. Dunn rolled an ankle earlier this week in practice, while Evans has a sore leg. If they can’t go, Myron Beck and Halston Higgins would start in their places.