Archive for December, 2008

Looking Forward

December 31, 2008

So here we are, the end of the year. As the Onion reported, Baby New Year 2008 has been abandoned in the street. It’s over. And, as is customary, this is the time where you see all sorts of year-end wrap-ups in every corner of the country, for pretty much everything. But we thought why look back right now? We’ve already wrapped up the 2008 season, which was as tough a year to watch as many of us can ever remember. So why dwell on the past? Don’t ignore history, as if you do you are doomed to repeat it….but certainly don’t dwell on it. It distracts from the present, or more importantly, keeps your focus away from what is coming.

So instead of putting a bow on ’08, today we’ll look forward to ’09 in the WSU football universe. We’ll give you a few things to look forward to, at least in our eyes, and we will also weigh in on a few predictions on what we think will happen. We’d love to hear your thoughts on what YOU are looking forward to/predictions for the new year. Sound good?

Here’s my three things I’m looking forward to, as well as some predictions:

1) The Quarterback Situation.

Hang on……the quarterback?!? After 2008, a season so bad they dumbed down the playbook? So bad that the QB who started the vast majority of the season didn’t have a SINGLE TD PASS? Well, yes, the QB situation. Specifically the young QB’s who have a real shot to make waves. Right now, you have to believe there is a strong opportunity for either JT Levy or Marshall Lobbestael to reach out and grab that job.

Of course, Ocho Rojo’s knee has to hold up, and he probably won’t get his chance until fall camp. But from what the coaches have said since the beginning, and even in his limited time in games, you can see there is a chance Lobbestael can be something special. And even though JT didn’t get many chances to show what he can do in game situations, the buzz is strong enough there as well. Whoever wins the job, we are certainly going to see more of the “real” Todd Sturdy offense.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how it all plays out.

PREDICTION: Lobbestael’s knee holds up through fall camp, and he grabs the job over a hard-charging JT Levy. But both of those young QB’s will play a lot in the first month of the season. In the end, Lobbestael wins the job and is the starter for the vast majority of 2009. He will throw for 2500 yards, 17 TD’s and 10 INT’s, with about 100 net rushing yards mixed in.

2) The Offensive Line.

As we will clearly remember, most of 2008 was an avert-your-eyes situation on offense. But look at the walking wounded at the QB spot to realize how overwhelmed some of these guys were, at least early on. And the running game was a true adventure for much of the season. But you know, inexperience and injuries are an ugly combination, and we had both in bunches last year.

There were only two occasions where the same starting five actually were together in consecutive games (Lesuma, Roxas, Alfred, Danaher and Hannam started vs. Oregon and UCLA; Lesuma, Ayers, Alfred, Guerra and Hannam started against ASU and UW). But they did show some life late in the year, once things settled down a bit, and they responded with a couple of plus-100 yard rushing games vs. UW and Hawai’i.

The thing I’m looking forward to here, however, is what is to come in ’09. ’08 was learning on the job with not-ready-for-prime-time players. It’s been well-publicized, but 11 of the 12 linemen on the depth chart will return next season. Big Vaughn Lesuma moves on, but everyone else is back. And you can also add redshirt junior Zack Williams to the mix. Williams has been getting positive buzz, to the point that some claim he’s the most talented tackle on the roster. But there is a lot coming back here, young talent who all got a chance to play. With another off-season of hitting the weights and practice, this group could be a real strength next year.

PREDICTION: This group will elevate their game and be a force to be reckoned with. The rushing yards will improve tremendously, and the QB’s will do more than just survive next year. And with some very good PAC-10 centers graduating (Alex Mack of Cal, Max Unger of Oregon, Alex Fletcher of Stanford, Juan Garcia of UW), Kenny Alfred is the best center in the conference in 2009.

3) Andy Mattingly.

While many of us are eager to flip the calendar over to 2009, there might not be another player on the WSU roster who is ready to move on more than Andy Mattingly. Coming off an eye-opening 2007 season where he logged over 90 tackles and 8.5 sacks as a part-time starter at linebacker, everyone thought he would have a huge ’08 season. It wasn’t to be. Mattingly appeared lost as a defensive end, and the change just never clicked. But at the very end of the year, Mattingly was moved back to linebacker vs. UW and Hawai’i, and in turn, WSU played two of their best games on defense for the entire season. Part of it was the switch to the 3-4 (3-3-5?) defense, as well as the emergence of Toby Turpin up front. But having Mattingly go back to linebacker was like watching him go home again. It’s where he belongs on the football field.

Now which linebacker spot he plays next year is still open for debate. Will he start at outside linebacker? What about middle linebacker, where Greg Trent has moved on? If they go with a three-man defensive line, would Mattingly be one of the interior linebackers? Remains to be seen, but it’s clear that he will be behind the line next year, and not part of it.

PREDICTION: Mattingly has a huge senior year at inside linebacker, racking up over 100 tackles and wrecking havoc all over the field. The defense gets some of it’s swagger back, and Mattingly leads the charge. Mattingly grabs at least 2nd-team All-Conference honors.

Starting 2009 With A Thud: Brinkhater’s Predictions:

1) Goodbye Possession Passing, Hello Smashmouth.

First down, Montgomery to the left side. Second down, Montgomery to the right. Third down, Mitz up the middle. First down, Montgomery to the Left. Second down, Tardy to the right. Third down, Tardy to the right.

Get used to it. Run, run, run, then hit the play action down the middle of the field.

Prediction: Montomery 850 yards, Tardy 512 yards, Mitz 250 Yards. Nice rushing attack.

2) Hello 3-3-5.

Okay, maybe we don’t go that far, but I am looking forward to a full year of NO 4-3 until we can get more horses in the stable. As Sedi noted, the return of Mattingly to the LB corps coupled with more depth at D-Line and a returning secondary gives hope and prayer for a mid-tier defense.

Prediction: Passing D 4th, Rushing D 7th (6th Overall in Conference)

3) Relevance.

Making a return to a bowl for the first time in 1,000 years will be too much of a task for this group–especially given that our conference schedule is 4-5 (home-away) next year. But this group should win a few more games, be more competitive, and will get a signature upset victory along the way. These boys will hit next year, folks. It will be fun.


Simone Edges Markle for "Must Have" of 2008

December 30, 2008

The poll closed several days ago, but we thought it would be a good idea to acknowledge it – Gino Simone has won out in the “must have” category for this year’s class. Simone received 66 votes, compared to 64 for Darren Markle. Good timing too, with Simone’s re-affirming his pledge to go Crimson over the weekend. But Markle, the top-25 middle linebacker/strongman from Idaho, made it pretty close.

Speaking of recruiting, I thought it was interesting to see how ranks some of the WSU commits for this upcoming class:

2009 Player Commitments
Sebastian Valenzuela OG CA 76 Verbal
Darren Markle ILB ID 76 Verbal
Nolan Washington ATH WA 76 Verbal
William Prescott OT CA 75 Verbal
Anthony Carpenter ATH CA 75 Verbal
Chris Mastin DE WA 75 Verbal
Gino Simone WR WA 74 Verbal
Jeff Tuel QB CA 72 Verbal
Arthur Burns RB CA 72 Verbal
Casey Locker S WA 72 Verbal
Andre Barrington OLB WA 68 Verbal
Jamal Atofau S WA 40 Verbal
Quayshawn Buckley DT CA 40 Verbal
Justin Clayton DE CA 40 Verbal
Travis Long DE WA 40 Verbal
Jordan Pu’u-Robinson DE HI 40 Verbal

(note that a grade of 40 for ESPN’s ratings basically means that they haven’t been fully evaluated yet). But what I thought was interesting is that labels Simone the top player in the state of Washington this year, yet only earns a 74 in the ESPN scale, actually lower compared to other Washington preps like Nolan Washington and Chris Mastin.

But whatever. I know it’s splitting hairs at this point, and really, what are these so-called grades all about? We all know the road is littered with players who were highly rated coming in, yet never panned out. In fact, Athlon’s goes out of their way every year in their preview issue to point out who matched the hype, and who missed the mark by a wide margin. It’s a real eye-opener.

In 2003, here’s the top 10 recruits for the entire country:

1) Kyle Wright – QB – Miami
2) Ernie Sims – LB – Florida State
3) Reggie Bush – RB – USC
4) Tony Hills JR – TE – Texas
5) JaMarcus Russell – QB – LSU
6) Whitney Lewis – WR – USC
7) Prescott Burgess – DB – Michigan
8) Nate Robinson – DL – Miami
9) Lamarr Woodley – LB – Michigan
10) Antonio Cromartie – DB – Florida State

Hit and miss, to say the least. Half the list has panned out and made it to the NFL (Bush, Sims, Russell and Cromartie were all first-round picks, while Woodley was a second-rounder). But that is only half of the top ten. What about the others?

#1 QB Kyle Wright was OK. He went 18-11 as a starter, but just 4-4 his senior year as the ‘Canes missed a bowl with a 5-7 record in 2007. He finished #7 on Miami’s all-time passing yardage list. But he only earned all-ACC honors once, and that was just honorable mention as a sophomore in 2005. Not bad overall. But clearly everyone expected more from the NUMBER ONE player in the country??

#4 Tony Hills Jr was derailed by a knee injury his senior year in high school that zapped him of his explosiveness. He was switched to the offensive line but didn’t start until his junior year. He did pan out there, getting first-team All Big 12 his senior year, but to be the #4 player in the country coming in, he has to rank as mildly disappointing.

#6 Whitney Lewis has to be one of the most disappointing of the list, if not the entire 2003 class. The number six player in the country, and the number one WR in the country, he NEVER CAUGHT A PASS in two years at USC.

He did letter in his true frosh year of 2003, but then had grade issues and missed 2004. He was a deep reserve in 2005 and then transferred to Northern Iowa, where he had 578 yards of total offense in two seasons.

Finally, Robinson never enrolled at Miami, instead heading to Rutgers after failing to meet entrance requirements. He had a rocky time there, kicked off the team for a violation of team rules. He landed at Akron and finished as a part-time starter, recording just two sacks his senior year. Burgess had a solid career at Michigan, but never earned first or second team All-Big 10 honors. He was moved to linebacker and started for his last two years, racking up 171 career tackles. But as a top-10 player, you would have liked to see a lot more than that.

Our own WSU class from that same 2003 is littered with lower-rated players having an impact, while higher-rated players never panning out.

For example, Jason Hill, arguably the greatest WR in school history and one of the top TD catchers in PAC-10 history was just a two-star safety prospect out of the bay area in 2003. And Alex Brink, the guy who threw for over 10K and owns several WSU passing records? He was a two-star QB coming out, just the #74-rated QB in the country. The same Alex Brink who beat UW three times in his career, the only WSU QB to do so.

Bobby Byrd started on the offensive line for 40+ games in his career, playing every position but center. But in that 2003 class, he was a virtual unknown, a 2-star special who didn’t even get a true evaluation.

In that same 2003 class, the top-rated WSU commits were RB Chris Bruhn, OL Patrick Afif and OL Keola Loo. All three guys JC transfers of the 4-star variety, yet what can be said about any of them? Bruhn was a serviceable backup running back, but never made the impact you would expect from a rating like that. Afif played in 17 games as a JC transfer and was pretty decent, but not an impact player in any way. And Loo never panned out, leaving the team after one season in 2004.

So while it’s exciting and newsworthy in the off-season, well, you just never know how a kid is going to pan out.

That’s it for today. ENJOY YOUR TUESDAY, and as always, GO COUGS!

Wulff Throwing Strikes with Recruiting Pitch?

December 28, 2008

First off, happy holidays to y’all. Hope you are safe and warm, and were able to spend some quality time with the loved ones. We’re finally getting some melting snow around here, and the roads are getting better by the day. Snow is nice to look at, but I think I speak for all western Washingtonians when I say ENOUGH ALREADY.

On to the football front. Another couple of days, some more good news from the recruiting trail.

A quick rundown: Earlier in the week, G-Prep’s Travis Long committed to the Cougs. Long was rumored to be a strong Crimson “lean” for several months, and he finally pulled the trigger on X-mas day. Long fits the mold of the kids Paul Wulff and company are currently seeking in their linemen-types. You know, the lean, 6-5, 250-lb kids who have the right kind of body type and athleticism? Big, wide frames where they can add the “right” kind of weight over time? Long projects to be a defensive end, but already at 6-5, 244, who knows where he’ll end up. Maybe even a play-making defensive tackle, ala another LONG who came before him??

OK, that’s a HUGE stretch at this point. Rien Long won the Outland trophy for gawdsakes. But what the heck, this is the season for stuff like this.

Oh, and there’s some tape on Long at ESPN, which you can check out here.

Then we had Gino Simone re-upping his commitment to the Cougs yesterday. While the article is premium at Cougfan, there was this piece by Howie Stalwick of the Kitsap Sun. Simone is now firmly in the “commit” category, upgraded from his “soft verbal” earlier this year. Simone is on the record as saying WSU “felt like home”, so you have to like the odds of seeing his name on a letter of intent in early February?

But it’s not over yet with Simone. Kim Grinolds of is still holding out hope of some kind that Simone will become a Husky, saying that if Simone takes a trip to UW in January, anything can happen. However, consider the source. Last spring Mr. Grinolds predicted Tony Bennett would take the Indiana job, then when that failed to materialize, he virtually guaranteed he would take the LSU job. So there. Besides, if/when Simone actually comes to WSU, they’ll be quick to point out that Simone wasn’t big enough or fast enough, and they didn’t want him anyway, and OH yes, it’s a “down” year in Washington anyway……Again, consider the source.

Back to this football deal for a moment. The thing to take from the article from Howie Stalwick isn’t just that Simone has re-committed to WSU. But the quotes from the story aren’t from Simone or his family. They are from Skyline QB Jake Heaps and his mother, Patty:

When Wulff was hired last December, the Cougars had three verbal commitments. Scouting services generally rank WSU recruiting classes quite low, but currently ranks WSU 41st in the nation and fifth in the Pac-10.

“Some people don’t know why some of these kids are going to WSU,” said Patty Heaps, Jake’s mother. “I think they’re developing a culture that is incredibly personable.”

Mrs. Heaps said she has been particularly impressed with the fact that WSU coaches send hand-written notes to recruits.

“He (Jake) gets several a week,” Mrs. Heaps said.

Further down in the story, Heaps himself said he is “definitely” considering scholarship offers from WSU and Washington, though he calls himself a “Husky fan.” He also expressed concern about the recent struggles of the Huskies and Cougars.

Now, let’s not get carried away here. Jake Heaps has 18 scholarship offers RIGHT NOW, ranging from Tennessee to LSU to Notre Dame to BYU, and of course, UW and WSU. But I think it is safe to assume that Jake Heaps is NOT going to come to WSU. I think we know that. But what is impressive to me are the quotes from the Heaps family about Wulff, and how they go about this whole recruiting thing.

Hand-written notes on a weekly basis? Developing an incredibly personable culture? All from a guy in Paul Wulff who has walked the walk? A guy who has fought adversity in his personal and professional life, and has persevered along the way? A coach and leader who will see to it that these kids will get an education, stay out of trouble and play at a BCS school? That pitch sure sounds good to me. And it’s sounding good in the most important area of all – in living rooms and the ears of recruits, all across the state.

So far, this recruiting class is nothing short of impressive. When you consider that WSU classes are generally rated pretty far down the list, to be in the middle of the road in the PAC-10 rankings right now, coming off a season that was 2008? What MORE can you ask for as a Coug fan than what they are doing right now?

It’s true what Wulff said from earlier in the year, on his weekly radio shows and in print. NOBODY is going to outwork these guys in recruiting. And that hard work is paying off. They know they have to keep their energy levels up and have to outwork the next guy for talent. And that, Cougar Nation, bodes well for getting this thing back on track. The work ethic, the energy, the desire to turn over rocks and find those sleepers or diamonds-in-the-rough types, that kind of thing is what made WSU a strong program at the start of the decade. The road is a long one to get back to respectability, but you have to like where this thing is headed.


Bring Out The Guns

December 27, 2008

Hello Cougar Nation and Merry New Year to All.

So, today we play the Trent Johnsons–Bayou style.

The key for this game as well as all of the others is really simple:


LSU is long and athletic, so we will need to both shoot over them as well as stop and pop.

In that way, I think that the mid-range game is really the key for us today. And so, today’s X factor is none other than Forrest.

In the end, I don’t like our chances in this game: X country trip, morning game, and playing against a coach that knows the system and personnel well. At home or at a neutral site, we win this game. Unfortunately, playing in LA is pretty much a straight L.

LSU 63 WSU 57

I’ll be back in a few with a game time thread.

15:00 1st Half. WSU 2 LSU 0. Nice start. Baynes and Forrest have two fouls in the first five minutes. Thompson still running to wide on the ball screens. I am hoping that we come out of the break with CAPERS and CASTO. The PAC D looks to be a bit confusing to the Tigres.

11:50 1st Half. Good guys 4, their guys 3. To say that this game is offensive would be an insult the word “offense.” LSU is simply lost against us, and we are showing EXACTLY why we could be anywhere from 3-8 in the PAC. Our D is fine, but we simply CAN NOT score. Hopefully, CAPERS will get some time to see if that opens up Klay and Taylor a bit more. CASTO’s energy has been nothing short of terrific.

7:44 1st Half. US 9, Them 8. CAPERS comes in as 2 guard, puts up 2 bad shots, has 2 turnovers, and is slow getting back on D. Ah, Freshmen. Taylor has played every minute of the game which doesn’t bode well down the stretch. BUT, he had a nice step back three a few minutes ago which might portend that he’s heating up.

BUT WHERE’S THE MID-RANGE GAME??? Notice that we are taking NO shots 5-12 feet from the basket. But man those shots are there.

3:36. Them 19 US 15. The theme of the game now is pretty well established. They’re daring us to pull up from mid-range and we’re not. We’ve now passed up 4 eight footers in a row in favor of dumping the ball off in traffic. That has lead to turn-overs and transition opportunities for them. Forrest, in particular, has passed up all of his looks. He needs to shoot that 8 footer.

0:56 Them 23 US 21. Harmeling is back in. Has he taken ONE shot all stinking game??? Should we start calling him Casper?

HALFTIME. Them 25 US 23.

Overall, great performance defensively. And its pretty amazing that we’re only down by a couple given Baynes’ absence for the entire half. The key for the second half will be that stinking midrange game as well as post play (LSU defends the drive but NOT the post). IF we start shooting it, we will start making shots AND reducing their opportunities in transition. This is the type of game where Cowgill made such a difference, but Harmeling has to step up. Its unacceptable for a senior leader to be so passive offensively.

15:51 2nd. LSU 33-30. We are hanging in there–BARELY. They are doing a really nice job of kicking the ball out weakside off the double team and have gotten WIDE OPEN threes as a result. Meanwhile, Nick just hit a three off of a Baynes kick-out: THE first touch for Baynes in the half. Why he doesn’t get the ball everytime down is just beyond me. We have TWO ASSISTS so far in the entire game.

12:00 38-35 COUGARS. Klay Thompson has started to shoot well. His tear drop jumper really makes me want to cry. Meanwhile, Forrest has proven to be the X factor with 10 points and a ton of energy. Harmeling is on the bench.

The only concern I have right now is that we’re starting to extend a bit on the perimeter defensively. If we sit back a bit, it will minimize our need to help underneath–which will reduce the kick-out. The use of the mid-range game has shut down their transition. How our bench plays in the next five minutes will be the key of the game.

TWO SECONDS LATER (SAME SCORE). Baynes just got his third on the biggest ticky-tack block of all time. Watch Thompson’s play on the defensive end. He’s got the PAC defense down pat right now. Really exciting to see. Really exciting.

10:00 45-38 Cougs. We’re on an 18-5 run right now thanks to Taylor and Klay getting off. If we stay back just a bit defensively, we’ll end this game. Our commitment to the midrange game has limited their opportunities in transition.

7:46 47-42 Cougs. Critical time in the game. Capers in for Thompson who is getting a blow. LSU is making a bit of a run. The key for us will be patience offensively and not extending so high defensively. They only shoot well from long range when they’re open. Give them space on don’t give up the paint. Critical possessions ahead.

6:00 49-47 Cougs. LSU just hit a deep three to bring this game within one bucket. As soon as Thompson left the game, we got tight. CAPERS, meanwhile, has not gotten it done. He’s a better natural defender than KLAY but doesn’t know the system.

5:30 50-49 LSU. This will be a great test for us. The Mo is completely in their court. Nick needs to get out of the game and Baynes needs to get into it. Taylor is doing WAY too much dribbling right now. It needs to be the KLAY-BAYNES show down the stretch.

3:54 51-50 LSU. Nick still in the game, got beat defensively, then fouled his guy–although he missed the J and there was a no call. Then, Taylor rushed a three at the offensive end. We need to get a two man game with Baynes and Thompson. NO THREES.

2:08. 53-52 LSU. Baynes just got his fourth on a bad call resulting from an equally bad entry pass from Nick. Taylor and Nick have been HORRIBLE down the stretch. Just horrible. Meanwhile, CASTO has not played since the first half–which is dissapointing since he played great. This game has gone from one that it felt like we were going to walk away with to one that we can’t win.

IF Taylor makes better decisions with the basketball, this will be a last possession game. Otherwise, I think that LSU will make this a two possession game in the next minute. We have only one TO left.

1:32 LSU 59-52. We just lost. Tough break with Baynes bobbling a missed free throw, followed by a deep three by NICK’s man, followed by a turnover by NICK, followed by a foul by NICK on a converted three point play. Get the point?

Final LSU 64 WSU 52.

This was a great learning experience for a team that is sssooo close to being really good as we’ve seen in spurts–including in this game.

But right now, we’re a lower division PAC-10 team in my book.

We must beat Washington, otherwise, this season might slip away before it gets a chance to start.

About That Commitment….

December 26, 2008

So UW has been trying to play catch-up in the recruiting world. Obviously Sarkisian (pictured above) has a lot of ground to make up in a very short time. He’s pretty much in the two-minute drill for trying to cobble together a class for the 2008 season. I’m sure Paul Wulff could relate, given that Wulff had to do the same thing when took the job a year ago!

But while Sarkisian was hoping to make a huge initial splash with some big-name verbals, well, it hasn’t exactly happened yet. Granted it is a quiet period right now, and things will heat up in January. Sarkisian is busy prepping his current team for the Rose Bowl. But they will fill their class, and they might even steal a few commits from Wulff. Remember, WSU took a UW commit last year in Cory Mackay. That’s just the way it goes. We as Coug fans know this is likely, so we’ll see what happens.

But UW made a few headlines this week in regards to the ever-confusing verbal commitment department. Basically a recruit who committed to UW post-Ty Willie but pre-Sarkisian, Grant Cisneros of Sumner, has been told to “explore other options”. In other words, he might have committed to UW, but UW is no longer committed to him. As Jim Michalczik said, they are starting over from the ground up in their recruiting efforts, and it appears Cisneros isn’t part of the equation.

Is this all that unusual? Not exactly. First of all, kids commit and de-commit all the time. We know that. It’s the thing Doba hated most about recruiting, and it goes on at every major program in America. And, unfortunately it’s a two-way street in this non-binding verbal world we live in. Schools can in fact change their minds too.

Remember the Michael Bumpus deal? USC had Dwayne Jarrett fall from the sky, backing out on a commitment to Ohio State in favor of the Trojans the last week of recruiting. However, USC was basically full at the time, and needed to find a spot in the class for Jarrett. They took a look at their WR situation, and decided at the last moment to pull the immediate offer to Bumpus and asked him to instead greyshirt, which means enrolling the following January and count against the next year’s class. We know how that worked out.

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Anyway, this sort of thing has happened before at other schools, and it will happen again. It is always tricky with coaching changes, and while one staff might see the kid as a perfect fit? The new staff might not. Sometimes it’s scheme-oriented, like trying to get a read-option QB to fit into a USC-style, west-coast offense. Or maybe it is an offensive line scheme, where one staff believes in huge, 350-lb uglies up front, where another staff likes the lean, athletic, 300-lb types who are in great shape and have some mobility.

Now we can be all high-n-mighty and say “Wulff NEVER did that to his recruits!“….until you consider that Wulff only had three commits to begin with when he took the job last year (Jared Karstetter, Tim Hodgdon, and Dan Spitz). What if he had a greater number, like eight or nine? What if there were some serious character risks in those commitments? Remember Calvin Schmidtke? What if there was a real square peg-round hole situation? Would Wulff had said “pass”?

I think the thing that could sting UW a little in all this is the manner in how this is going down. In the case of Grant Cisneros, he was told via a letter from none other than Scott Woodward himself that his commitment WOULD BE HONORED. Check it out:

Cisneros committed in mid-November during the time after former coach Tyrone Willingham had announced he wouldn’t be returning and before Sarkisian was hired.

Cisneros said he was motivated to do so after receiving a letter from UW athletic director Scott Woodward that all offers would be honored.

Ouch. A letter from the AD saying that the offer would be honored, but now that they have Sarkisian in the fold, uh, never mind?? That, my friends, SUCKS. The article states that he’s just hoping for a scholarship now, whether it’s Portland State, Idaho, wherever. Good luck to Cisneros, wherever he ends up.

Enough of the UW talk. WSU is filling up, now with 16 known commits after three new verbals came in from JC tight end Peter Tuitupou, guard Sebastian Valenzuela, and Jordan Pu’u-Robinson, a tight-end/defensive end hybrid from Hawaii (thanks to Cougfan for the links). All the talk before is that we would likely see around 18 with this class, so things are tightening up. It should be an interesting sprint to the finish!


Merry Christmas Cougar Nation

December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas Cougar Nation from the WSU Football Blogfathers to you and your family.

Hope you and your loved ones are feeling on top-of-the-world.

We will be back later in the week to provide a pick for the LSU game as well as some other tasty tid-bits for the upcoming year of Cougar sports.

In the meantime, enjoy this Christmas memory from 20 YEARS AGO.

And enjoy the Yuletide Merriment of once again being the Kings of the State of Washington.

Cougars in 3rd Straight NCAA Tourney

December 23, 2008

At least that’s the scoop from Joey L at ESPN.

In the current bracket, we are a 10 seed matched up against Tennessee on Duke’s side of the Bracket. Meanwhile, the Defeateds are among the first four out. So sad.

Obviously, we’re light years away from March, but it’s neat to see that our non-conference slate as well as our past success has left us squarely on the map.

In the meantime, if we wish to see our third straight dance, the next games are beyond critical:

LSU is going to be tough, but this is a very winnable game. And for us, we need another non-conference W BIG TIME–and to have it come against an undefeated team from the SEC on their home court would be REALLY huge.

Then, the Defeateds game is going to be season breaker-maker game if there is such a thing in January. Both Washington schools figure to be fighting it out for the 4-6 spots in the conference. As a result, we simply MUST protect home court. And from what I’ve seen, the Defeateds offer the type of length and athleticism that could offer some big problems for us.

So, give us your thoughts about those upcoming games.

Are they must-wins as I think that they are? Do you think we will win one, both, or none? What will it take for us to pull off a sweep?

Share your thoughts with us and have a very happy and safe Holiday Season.

Does Past EWU Struggle Offer Hope for WSU?

December 21, 2008

This just in – it’s snowing. Seriously. We’re in the Mill Creek area and we must have close to a foot of snow on the ground. I know that’s about HALF of what in the Inland Empire residents are dealing with. Heck, a foot of snow is an afternoon in Spokane these days. So wherever you are, keep warm, drive safely, happy holidays, blah blah blah.

I’m happy to report that I made it home on Friday after a week-long business trip down south. Had I tried to fly yesterday? Forget it. At least 50 flights were canceled in and out of Sea-Tac by Alaska Airlines alone, and several reports now say that passengers scheduled to leave Saturday won’t be able to leave until Monday at the earliest. Ever try to sleep in an airport? Brutal.

Anywho, since the football news has slowed to a mere trickle – at best – these days, the posting around here has lightened up. No bowl game to hype or over-analyze, so this is a “dead” period of football news. Knowing all that, we’ll step outside the box from time to time, just to keep things interesting (or even relevant?). But with the year winding down and recruiting nearing the home stretch, what better time to start thinking about 2009?

Now, sorry, but this isn’t any type of full blown 2009 preview. It’s simply too early to do something like that, and the reasons are many. We don’t know what the recruiting class will officially be until February, and which, if any, new recruits will see the field next year. Maybe there will be some JC guys that Wulff will have designs on redshirting, but will have such an impact in practices that they will force their way into the action? I know it’s doubtful, and the strategy of not playing the kids early is what builds depth over the long haul. But will there be newfound pressure to start winning games? Will the pressure cause Wulff to burn a redshirt or two earlier than anticipated?

If you know me from this blog, you know I’ve been stumping for patience. We all believe there is a real plan in place to turn this sucker around, and they gave us a blip of hope at the end of 2008. But ask yourself this……what if 2009 starts out like most of 2008? What if the improvement shown towards the end of ’08 was simply a mirage and things bottom out again early in 2009? Wulff could plan for the future, but he might not be around to enjoy the fruit harvested from the blood, sweat and tears he is pouring into this thing NOW. There will be at least some pressure to start getting positive results on the field, not just what happens off it.

Meanwhile, who among us can honestly say who is going to be the QB next season? Spring ball is going to be very important in trying to figure it all out. And that most important position will likely linger deep into fall camp, given the Lobbestael knee injury and how things progress there. Will young Levenseller tear it up in the spring and cement his spot as the guy? Will Lopina take some big strides? Will Lobbestael make the most of his opportunity in August, coming off the knee injury?

Finally, at last check we don’t even have a 2009 SCHEDULE yet! At least it hasn’t been finalized, although we hear that is coming soon.

So it’s too early to go all crystal ball on things. The race to be first in this information age is filled with inaccuracies and wild predictions, so why not wait to see how things settle before throwing things against the wall? It would all be guesses, at best, right now.

So instead of looking at depth charts from the last month of the season and trying to figure out what we’ll look like next September, I thought it would be a good idea to go back and look at coach Wulff’s record at EWU, and see if there is anything we can glob onto in regards to what we might look like next year. I’m not exactly talking about personnel, but what types of trends did Wulff have in his full eight seasons at EWU? When you think about it, that’s a good chunk of time at any stop in a coaching career. What can we take from his experiences and try to apply to our Cougs in ’09?

We all know his record – 54-40, including a 54-30 record against “like” competition (I-AA FCS teams, not FBS – BCS teams). Big Sky coach of the year in 2001, 2004 and 2005. A few league titles, some playoff berths, etc. But we know all that already. What I was looking for was something relevant to what we JUST WENT THROUGH in 2008. Did this same kind of thing happen to Wulff at EWU, where an entire season just went to hell in a handbasket? And if so, how did it happen? And most importantly, what happened the following season?

Guess what? I found something. And that something is 2006, and subsequently what happened in 2007. You know what else? It’s pretty promising when you look at the big picture.

First, 2006. EWU was coming off a strong 2005 season, where they tied for the league title at 5-2 in the Big Sky. The offense in 2005 was excellent, averaging 478 yards and 35 points per game, including an amazing 342 yards per game through the air. In fact, the pass in 2005 was so successful that they threw the ball 63.5% of the time, on their way to their second consecutive playoff berth. QB Erik Meyer was fantastic as a senior, winning the Walter Payton Award at QB, otherwise known as the I-AA version of the Heisman Trophy.

Meyer would throw for over 4,000 yards and 30 td’s that final year. Yes, things were good in 2005.

But 2006 was another story. Just six offensive starters back on offense, and no experience at QB. The job was given to frosh QB Matt Nichols, who struggled mightily to grasp the new offense. Nichols would complete just 55% of his passes, not too terrible, but with an awful 8 TD/17 INT ratio. The offense overall sputtered to the tune of 310 yards per game, down from the high of 478 the year before, and just 19.5 points per game, down from the 35 points per game in 2005. EWU was throwing it well over 60% of the time for several seasons, but the passing game was so bad that they “dumbed down” the playbook to where they had a 53-47 run/pass ratio. They reeled in the offense behind a young QB trying to figure it out, and they paid the price. Likewise, the team struggled to a 3-8 record, Wulff’s first (and only) losing season at EWU. It was a HUGE fall from grace.

Now look at WSU in 2008, and how that team compared to the 2007 version. It’s not pretty. You’ve been warned….

In 2008, the WSU offense returned – you guessed it – six starters. They started over with an almost entirely new coaching staff, but the QB situation was literally ground zero. Gary Rogers was the only QB with any semblance of PT, and he had only attempted 52 passes in his first three seasons.

And here are the numbers. They certainly don’t lie, do they?

Points per game: 12.7 in 2008, compared to 25.7 in 2007.
Passing yards per game: 146 yards per game in 2008, compared to (gulp) 319 ypg in 2007!
Rushing yards per game: 95.1 yards per game in 2008, compared to 115.7 ypg in 2007.
Total offense: 241.1 yards per game in 2008, compared to 435.3 ypg in 2007!

Talk about a drop-off. This is like going from Mt. Everest to sea level….or better yet, Husky Stadium.

We don’t need to fully rehash 2008, you all lived through it and know what happened. But the fall from offensive excellence was startling…and I didn’t even mention the minus-25 turnover ratio, worst in the country. But do you see where I’m going with this?

Now let’s look at what happened with EWU in 2007.

First of all, the record. They improved from a 3-8 season in 2006 to 9-4 in 2007. They made it to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs, losing on the road to Appalachian State 38-35, a team that would go on to win the whole thing. Just a huge uptick in overall performance.

But the real story is the improvement on offense. In the second year in the system for QB Matt Nichols, the Eagles returned eight starters on O. They improved by over 14 points per game (19.5 to 33.6) and 150 total yards per game (310 to 462), leading the Big Sky in scoring AND total offense! Nichols was the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year, throwing for an impressive 3700+ yards and a spectacular 34-9 TD/INT ratio. He completed 63.6% of his pass attempts, and hey, he was even the number-two rusher on the team with 392 net yards.

Along with the improved QB play out of Nichols came a much better turnover ratio as well. They were a +2 in their losing season of 2006, but improved to a +12 in 2007. A lot of that improvement can be laid right at the feet of Nichols, who became an outstanding, efficient, effective QB in the Todd Sturdy offense.

So there you have it. Wulff and staff have been through this before. Young QB with very little returning talent after losing an all-time senior QB, dumbing down the playbook, and basically taking major lumps. EWU ’06 sounds a heck of a lot like WSU ’08. But the best news of all is that it turned around quickly the following season, and in a pretty big way as well.

Wulff has said all along that they believe they will be a much better team in 2009. Key redshirts whom they refused to play in a transition year will now see the field in important areas next year. James Montgomery and Brandon Jones, the transfers from Cal, will see the field and should be a big part of the running game and secondary respectively. The system will have been in place for a complete season, so there shouldn’t be nearly the bumps in the road for these guys to figure out what is expected of them under the new regime. They will (hopefully) open up that playbook to the full Todd Sturdy offense, something we are all still dying to see for a full season. The QB’s, whoever it turns out to be, will have a base of experience to build from the 2008 season, no matter how limited that time might have been. And most of all, the players will now know what it will take to succeed in the program under Wulff’s system. From spring practices to fall camp, to the weight room, training table and classroom, there are no more uncertainties or unknowns. Everyone is accountable, and they know what is expected by their coaches.

So what do YOU think about all this? Will we see a strong turnaround in year two? There is at least something to look back at in regards to Wulff, and how his team has responded to a terrible, lesson-learning season. Will we see the improvement we are hoping for? Was the end of 2008 something to believe in?

That’s about it for today. ENJOY THE REST OF YOUR WEEKEND, and most of all, GO COUGS!

How Does it Feel to be an All-American?

December 19, 2008

That was the question asked to Forrest Gump by none other than JFK when Gump was tearing it up at Alabama. Gump of course answered “I have to go pee!” after drinking about a dozen Dr. Peppers. And somehow they used film tricks to make it look like JFK turned and laughed, saying “I believe he said he has to go pee!” Great line.

But that question now has to be asked of this undersized true frosh linebacker who left everything he had on the field of play, week after week after week:

That’s right, Louis Bland is an ALL-AMERICAN. Freakin’ SWEET.

OK, so he’s not an AP All-American. It’s an all-frosh team. And OK, it’s not the Sporting News, it’s Phil Steele (who cranks out the best preview magazines, ever). And he’s not on the first team…..he’s third team. BUT STILL, in this season of craptacular performances, it’s something! Something good to warm you up, wherever you may be right now.

And how can anyone not appreciate the job Bland did this year? He was big when we needed him, especially in that Apple Cup. Per the press release:

Bland’s best game of the season may have been in WSU’s 16-13, double-overtime win over Washington in the Apple Cup. He collected seven tackles, five solo, three tackles-for-loss and a pass breakup. Saving the best for overtime, Bland stopped both Husky drives with a two-yard tackle for loss in the first OT then recorded another two-yard TFL in the second OT, which forced a 37-yard FG that was missed.

Big-time players make big-time plays in key situations. To do what he did as an undersized true frosh on a lousy defense, well, Louis Bland has that “look”, doesn’t he? The kid is going to be really special before it’s all said and done. Nice job Louis.


Who is Your "Must Have" For This Year’s Class?

December 17, 2008

So there has been a lot of recruiting news of late (’tis the season). Of course they are only verbal commitments until they sign on the dotted line, but it is hard not to curb a little enthusiasm? The latest news has coach Wulff landing a commit from a big-play safety in CA of the 3-star variety, who sounds like a solid kid all the way around (check Cougfan for more).

I heard from a source who follows high school football closely in the state, and he was very impressed with what our coaches have done thus far. This source is big into UW, but he has an open mind when evaluating prospects. He had very good things to say about our top commits and still can’t believe it as to how Wulff is doing it coming off a 2-win season.

I think the reality is they are doing a strong job in the living room and with the state’s high school coaches, an underrated aspect of recruiting. They are selling a unified message of a strong, structured system, a good education, a chance to play early at a BCS school and most of all, to be a part of the foundation of the turnaround of the program.

And you can’t forget the journey of Paul Wulff. He has been through some incredibly tough, character-building experiences in his life. Nothing was ever just given to him, and he has had to go out and get everything he has achieved. He is the genuine article, and what you see is what you get. No phony BS or empty promises here. How can a parent or coach not respect the path he has traveled and at least listen to what he has to say?

It’s not a typo or misprint. This class is shaping up to be one of the highest rated in school history.

THAT said, looking at the current commits (and you can see the link on the right to the current commits) plus some other rumored commits on the way (Travis Long of G-Prep?), who do YOU consider your “must have” of this year’s class?