Mattingly believes Cougs will surprise

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Washington State linebacker Andy Mattingly is done with the frying pan and has regained his fire.

He's back at linebacker after an ill-fated move to defensive end, and he's eager to put a bad year -- on and off the field -- behind him.

"Last year was tough on me," he said. "It was tough on everybody."

Mattingly got into trouble in January of 2008 when, taking up for a friend, he wielded a frying pan in a fight. The incident was was among many off-field issues that ruined Paul Wulff's honeymoon as head coach, but the use of a frying pan was a colorful detail that, understandably, resonated on the Internet.

When the football season came, it didn't bring much relief. Mattingly found himself uncomfortable putting his hand on the ground and contending with offensive tackles who outweighed him by 50 or more pounds. After recording eight sacks and forcing four fumbles at linebacker as a sophomore, Mattingly was muted, recording only one sack.

He wasn't the only Cougar struggling on defense. Washington State ranked last in the nation in run defense (248 yards per game) and second-to-last in scoring defense (44 ppg).

"Last year, some guys didn't buy into what the coaches were saying," Mattingly said. "This year is completely different."

A big difference for Mattingly is moving back to linebacker, where the 6-foot-4, 255-pound senior can read-and-react and make plays.

So how did it go when co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball informed him he was moving back to linebacker?

"It was like opening up a Christmas present when you are five years old before you were supposed to," he said. "It was a great feeling."

Mattingly is one major component of what should be an improved defense -- if it can stay healthy.

"We're looking really good defensively," he said. "It's night and day between now and the defense last fall -- how we look and in the attitude right now. We know what the coaches want. This year we're taking coaching a lot better."

Mattingly said a strong off-season in the weight room should help the Cougars across the board. He notes that guys who didn't play last year, such as defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm, whose persistent back problem has been less persistent, 321-pound tackle Josh Luapo and freshman end Travis Long, not to mention a bigger, stronger Kevin Kooyman at the other end, should make the defensive line far saltier than the crew that got pushed around last year.

A better D-line should make life better for Mattingly and a young linebacking corps.

"I know we won't give up the points we did last year," he said. "The amount of yards rushing -- that's not going to happen."

Of course, Mattingly is aware that many aren't buying it. The defense is replacing six starters, including mainstay middle linebacker Greg Trent and both corners.

A questionable defense is a big reason why the Cougars are the consensus pick to finish last in the Pac-10.

Repeatedly reading and hearing about low expectations is the sort of thing that could beat a team down. Or inspire it.

Ultimately, preseason predictions should have zero affect on how the 2009 season goes for the Cougars.

"It's there. It's on paper. Once you read it, you're going to think about it a second or two," Mattingly said. "Personally, I don't get pissed off about it at all. We don't deserve to be up there. But very year we're picked last and we haven't finished last."