Archive for June, 2009

Talkin’ Baseball

June 30, 2009

About once a summer the need to talk baseball just overwhelms me and I have to throw out a few thoughts on how to fix the Seattle Mariners.

There’s been a lot of scuttlebutt lately about how the M’s might actually be buying in this year’s trading deadline derby. If you ask me, that would be a missed opportunity of a lifetime. Yes, the M’s are in the AL West race but the only way they win this race is by significant upgrades to the starting pitching and run production. The only way to do that at the trading deadline is by trading away young talent. I say, let the Mariners take advantage of another ballclub for a change.

The time is right – not to build this team to compete in the post-season in 2009 – but to compete for world championships for the next decade. It’s time to SIGNIFICANTLY reload the M’s farm system. Why now? You have the perfect storm right now, that’s why. You have a handful of guys in their contract year; you have veterans like Sweeney and Griffey who can hold a team together and avoid a mess like the Pirates had when they traded Nate McLouth to the Braves; you have a pretty fair amount of parity in most MLB divisions right now, which means more teams may consider themselves to be buyers; and HOPEFULLY, you have a new GM willing to make a signature move with long-term goals for a franchise in desperate need of young talent.

My stance on this issue softened a bit with the news that Adrian Beltre would be missing significant time with his shoulder injury – thereby likely reducing his value to at least CLOSE to nothing. Beltre could have been one of our biggest bargaining chips this July – if he could show a little life at the plate and stay healthy. Unfortunately, he did neither and it now looks highly unlikely that the M’s will be able to move him.

So with Beltre out of the picture, now what? Who goes??

Jarrod Washburn. I’m actually a fan of Washburn’s. He hasn’t developed a signature “out” pitch, but as he gets more years under his belt, he continues to learn new pitches and has developed more of a sense of how to use them. I won’t bore you with details but this article does a great job of breaking down his early season success. At best, Washburn is a poor man’s Jamie Moyer. He’ll eat up innings, keep you in ballgames and be a positive clubhouse presence. I thought they should have taken whatever they could get for him LAST year. This year, he’s got much more value.

Russell Branyan. Frankly, I’d love to see Russell the Muscle continue on with the M’s but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he took this year as the only opportunity of his career to be an everyday starter – and boy has he run with it. I scoffed when he was signed in the off-season – but if Jack Z. can get a couple prospects for him, it could very well go down as one of the best maneuvers ever, by a M’s GM. Fingers, crossed for you, Jack.

Erik Bedard. Again, it certainly doesn’t help that he’s been injured but you can’t deny the fact that when healthy, Bedard is about as steady as they come. His value (like that of Washburn) gets the southpaw markup, so if he comes off the DL (reported to be as early as this weekend’s series) and throws well before the All-Star break, he shoots right to the top of this list.

Miguel Batista? Count me among the many M’s fans that would have been tempted to push Batista in front of one of Safeco Field’s famous trains if given the chance over the last few years – but now that Batista isn’t being forced to carry the mail as a starter, he’s actually shown to be a fairly reliable middle-innings guy. It will take a desperate team, so keep your eye on other teams’ injury reports and cross your fingers.

My guess is that any deadline deal involving these free-agents-to-be will involve the M’s eating a significant portion of their salaries – but hey, it’s an investment in the future. If the M’s are able to get some good young talent in return, it would be a huge step in the right direction.

If they want to make a bigger splash, the only player on the roster that is untradeable should be Felix.

I’d even take that one step further and say that the M’s should put out some serious feelers on Brandon Morrow and Jeff Clement. The window
of opportunity to get top value for these two damaged up-and-comers may have closed – and to be fair, they could both still pan out to be superstars in Seattle – but if there’s an opportunity to look around, take it! Don’t let Morrow become the next Ryan Anderson!

***

If you don’t follow the M’s with even a little bit of interest, you may not know who Mike Morse is – and you almost certainly missed that the M’s just traded him for former Alanta prospect Ryan Langerhans. Every so often in baseball, I fall in love with a prospect and just don’t let go. Russel Branyan was actually one of those guys early in his career but I eventually DID give up on him. Hank Blalock is another one. I’m still convinced that if he gets a regular job and stays healthy, he’ll be a .300/25/90 guy every year.

Mike Morse was that guy for me on the Mariners roster. Morse absolutely tore it up in spring training last year and made the team out of camp, only to be sidelined by another injury. With the arrival of Sweeney, Griffey and Cedeno this off-season, Morse seemed to get lost in the shuffle. Now, Yuniesky Betancourt is sidelined by an injury and Morse is in Tacoma hitting .312 with 10 dingers and 52 RBI … and he gets traded? Makes you wonder if there’s some kind of personality conflict there. I’d say odds are that Morse winds up being another in the very long line of productive former Marniers that litter MLB rosters past and present.

One way or another, the M’s have the ability to make July baseball in Seattle fun again. If you’ve given up on them, now’s a good time to tune back in.

***

If you’re a baseball child of the 70’s and 80’s like me, you may have grown up watching your favorite team compete on the road in powder blues. The Royals have been flirting with going back to the blues with their alternate powder top – but they wear them with home white pants. It looks awful.

Ever since I saw those powder tops I’ve been hoping some team would bring them back full time. Toronto played in full powder blue throwbacks the other night and I am now convinced that we need more! Bring back the powder blues!!

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Victory Bell Exclusive: Interview with the REAL..

June 29, 2009

The following is the official excerpt from Victory Bell’s recent interview with Michael Alvin, the “real” person behind former WSU Football Blogger, Brinkhater. The interview took place in Alvin’s favorite restaurant in Sacramento: Bandera’s Bar and Grill off Fair Oaks Boulevard and Howe Avenue.

Sacramento, CA Friday June 26, 2009 11:49pm.

VB. Michael, thanks for doing the interview.




MA. Sure.

VB. First of all, what’s up with using your middle name for the interview? Why not just use your real last name if you’re coming out of the proverbial closet?


MA. Like Bell is your real last name, “Victory.”

VB. Okay, whatever. So, why don’t you tell us briefly about the evolution of BH on this blog?

MA. Basically, we started the blog five or six years ago in order to have a platform other than work e-mails to talk about Cougar Football. Sean came up with this blog thing before anyone else even knew what a blog was. So, we started it and-

VB. Excuse me, but, the question, Michael, was about BH….

MA. Right. Basically, the BH concept started during the Colorado game at Quest Field back in 2004 or something. Alex came in and I just knew what was going to happen. So, I e-mailed Jim Moore right after the game with a message entitled “Offensive Vision” in which I laid out what would happen to Cougar Football if #10 became the man-

VB. And?

MA. I was right, of course. Anyhow, Swoggs got hurt three weeks later and then Alex took over. Next thing we know, we have a quarterback controversy going into fall camp the next year. Then, the day after Alex was named the starter, I changed my blogger profile to “Brinkhater.” It made Sean so darn mad, I knew right then that I had to keep it.

VB. Okay, so what made you keep the name after the initial gimmick effect wore off?

MA. It did? It wore off? Seriously, I had been a HUGE fan of the Go 2 Guy and his sophomoric style for a while then, and I also had been watching a lot of the Colbert Report—or at least Colbert when he was doing the same stuff on the Jon Stewart Show. Plus, at that time, Sean had started his gig at AOL doing all the killer stuff that he did before and after for the WSU blog. But, at that time, he was totally AWOL from our blog for basically a whole season because of his AOL duties. So, I started the “hello Cougar Nation” and “Brinkhater Army” stuff in jest because there was NO ONE reading the thing. I mean, it was me just talking to myself—except this time the computer was involved.

VB. But they were reading it!

MA. Apparently. One day Sean e-mailed me and said that he had put a ticker on the blog and we were getting traffic. I was like, “huh?” Plus at that time, Glenn Kasses had really launched his stuff over at the Spokesman and I think that was about the same time that the public started to blog. It was all pretty weird and fast..

VB. So, again, Michael, what does this have to do with BH?

MA. Okay, so the whole thing just took off. The blog started doing better and better. Alex never took us to a bowl game–which just made the character more credible–and I was having fun seeing how far I could push the evil, twisted villain thing as far as possible without alienating our entire readership—although I think BH was pretty close a couple of times to blowing the whole thing up.

VB. You mentioned the word “character” to describe BH, what did you mean by that?

MA. Plain and simple, BH was an act. Sometimes funny. Sometimes not funny. Sometimes offensive. Sometimes defensive. But for me, that whole persona is and was a runaway train. Too many people never caught on that it was all a joke, which on one hand I can kind of understand because beneath all the BH stuff and bravado was some pretty good and serious sports commentary. But, at the same time, I was never that comfortable ripping a college kid, especially as I went back to school with an aim toward a career in the academy. Ultimately, it just became apparent to me that being a HATER was not what I wanted to portray anymore. A change was needed and I was pretty haunted periodically about some of the comments I made in the past. So, I needed to distance myself from all of that—or at least have my jokes fall flat on a different smelling surface.

VB. So, the “hater” thing had to go again because of what, Michael?

MA. Again, being a hater is not how I would ever want to be identified. Being a hater is not who I am spiritually, and beyond that, it also runs totally counter to my sexuality.

VB. (sigh) Whatever. So, do we ever hear from BH again?

MA. Probably not. You know, I was laid off from my job of ten years this past Fall. I was the founder of a community-based project and organization that served economically poor families in Sacramento. It was my project, they let me go, and I was instantly alienated from all of the people and families that I had been working with for years. So, given the broader state of the economy and the need to change gears, I thought it would be a good way to let BH go. And, at least personally, I identified with having to say goodbye in that context.

VB. So, what is next for you and the Blog?

MA. The blog won’t change at all, at least in regard to its foundation. Sean was, is, and will be the star of the effort for as long as this thing goes, Hooty will be the true blue Cougar that he is and will forever be which is a GREAT thing for us, and Longball will come in whenever he can to give great stinking takes like he always does. And, as for me, I will be coming back with a new character to fill in, or add to, the blanks..

VB. What new character?

MA. Its not going to be a total Ying-Yang thing, but the new guy will be very different from BH in orientation, let’s put it that way. I’m also going to follow a bit of a Sasha Baron Cohen model with the Borat-Bruno thing. I mean, there’s a difference there, but when you look at Bruno closely, you see A LOT of Borat. So, I’m hoping that the new character will keep the good of BH and let the rest go. I also hope this new character can beat Ted Miller. I do think we can nip the 8th spot this year if we can find a quarterback.

VB. Anything else you want to add?


MA. Ya, are you payin’ for the drinks?

Even More EA – WSU Uni Stuff

June 26, 2009


Just a quickie post to wind down the week. I know we might be a little “uniformed out” with all the stuff over the last month or so, but EA has released some updated screen-shots of uniforms. This time from action on the field. Kind of cool I guess. I know it’s not anything earth-shattering, but, well, it’s something new to check out?

Also, EA promises that like the real thing this year, you can mix-n-match uni’s. Want to wear all white on the road with crimson helmets? Crimson pants with gray helmets? You can do that too. Check it out:







You can see more at EASports.com. Also, for a good laugh, check out the Oregon uni’s they preview. There are so many combo’s it makes your head spin. And they don’t even include the new gray feathered uni’s they just enveiled! Amazing.

Enjoy your weekend, and GO COUGS!

Breaking News: BH Gone from WSU Blog

June 26, 2009

Sacramento, CA:

In a stunning development, BH, formerly known as Brinkhater, announced his formal layoff from the WSU Football Blog effective at 5:38pm on Thursday evening. At the announcement, BH read the following short statement:

“For the past five years, I have had the privilege of being a co-founding Blogfather for the greatest sports blog in the entire universe. But now, it has been made clear that it is time for me to step aside. Of course, I’d like to thank all of the fans and readers out there for their support over the years—especially Michele, Ben Million, St. Louis Glenn, and Cougar Jen. But most of all, I’d like to thank Sedihawk, Rooster, Hooty, and Longball. They’ve been really, really great to me and my family.”

When cornered later at the nearby Elephant Bar on Arden Way in East Sacramento, BH provided few additional details on the decision, but did note that the future involved certain changes. He said, “As people know, my role on the blog has been to compliment Sedihawk’s knowledgeable takes with a healthy dose of idiocy. But now, as I look toward the future, I wonder whether making sophomoric fun of college athletics and, at times, athletes was what I needed to be doing with my time. So, I guess it was time for me to move on. Maybe in that way, they did me a favor.”

When asked about future plans, BH noted that he’s looking forward to “spending more time with the family” and “just being a fan for a season.” When asked what he thinks about the future of WSU Athletics, BH became animated:

“I look at the Basketball program and I think that there’s a chance for them to be special in the years to come—maybe not next year, although I think that this team could be fun like last year’s team was fun down the stretch. And where Football is concerned, well, I think the path is clear: keep kids off the stretcher in the pre-season, find any good QB play, and win 4 games. Do that and the future is bright.”

Will he ever blog again? “Yep, and probably about sports, since I think about sports more than anything else.”

His favorite WSU Football Blog Moments: “All of last spring I thought was really great work across the board. Getting the first links from Ted Miller and Benedict Condotta at the same time, that was so cool. Seeing the site meter go past 100,000 was amazing. And I really liked our work on the election last fall– Vince Grippi was so great throughout that whole thing.”

Then, following some brief muttering, BH took a deep breath, sighed, and then said, “But now is not the time and place for those reflections. This is a sad, sad day not only for me, but for the army of supporters who have occasionally followed my musings over the years. I really feel for them right now too.”

With that, BH packed up and left the bar, noting that unemployment is expected to reach as high as 18% in California over the next 10 months.

Goodbye, BH. You will be missed—at least by one.

BH Diaries: Its a Comin’

June 25, 2009

Brinkhater Diaries Vol 2 (1)

Greetings, Cougar Nation. Hope you all are having a great week.

So, here we are, about one week away from July 1st–one of my favorite days of the year! The reason?

First, July 1st is Uncle Sedihawk’s birthday, and that always means a good party is just around the corner!

The second: July 1 is usually the start of cougfan.com’s coverage of WSU Football’s infamous summer work outs. Want a few teasers of what’s to come?

“We’ve never had more guys here working as hard all summer long as this year.”

“In the past, we’d lift weights at 6:00am , but THIS YEAR, I mean every guy on the team is in there lifting weights at 6:00am.”

“People can say what they want, but we think that a bowl game, even the Rose Bowl, is a real possibility for this team if we all stay together.”

“Coug offense is really hitting stride in its daily 7 on 7 skelly drills.”




How can anyone hold back on premium stuff like that? I mean, sign me up now!!…
———————————————————————————
So, in the last eight weeks of off-season “dead time,” the Cougar football team has been able to make headlines once again for “alleged” off-field troubles. And per usual, the Wulfman has done a great job in making sure that the whole world understands just what an incredible misunderstanding all of that stuff really was. (Cough! Cough!)

Nation, Instead of getting used to seeing this visage of Coach Paul this season:

I think we should all probably get used to this one:

Nation, this is a really, really crucial year for this program. With a very, very good recruiting class coming in this fall, as well as some promising prospects in tow, Coach Paul WILL turn this program around provided that he/we can eek out 4 paltry wins this year. If we can do that, we will be positioned nicely to have another great recruiting class, compete for a bowl game next year, AND have the type of depth that will make us candidates to become Oregon State north in the years to come

But to get to that 4 wins, Coach Paul is going to have to allow a certain amount of Bandit activity in the program this year. Because, if he takes the hard-line, we’re looking at 2-10 all over again–which will threaten his job security, create a ton of empty seats, and kill recruiting. So, how Coach Paul balances that fine line between discipline and a need to win more games NOW will be one of the top three plots to watch as the rest of the summer and the start of fall camp (e.g. summer grades) unfolds…
———————————————————————————–
HEEEELLLLLLLLLLLOOOOO, Mr. Theodore Miller!!!!!!

So great to see you remembering our little wager from last year–which to all who don’t know ended in a “push” because we failed to finish either 7th or 10th in the wonderful Pac-10.

With that in mind, I am thinking that we do a double or nothing this year!

What that “double” is needs to be decided, by you, Mr. Miller. But on this side, I am thinking that our upside is 8th.

So, if we finish 8th, you give us a “double interview” (kind of like a double album!), and if we finish 10th, I’ll fly down to Arizona, wash your car, shine your shoes, and live in your living room (e.g. we’ll figure it out).

My reasons for this early optimism are simple:

(1) The season hasn’t started.
(2) Washington is going to finish 10th again. They still can’t play any D, and unlike us, they have no running game. So, after Locker gets knocked out again by week 6 or 7, they’ll be cemented in the cellar once again. So, it really is going to be between us and UCLA for that 9th spot. And, with the Bruins and Sun Devils at home, I think I may like our chances for 2-3 conference wins and that coveted 8th spot in the Pac-10!

So, you name the Double, Mr. Miller, and I’ll bring the trouble.

And to everyone else: Have a great week!


Rambling Through a Thursday

June 25, 2009


“You got what you want CoHagen. Give those people air!”

Yes, I’m stealing from Ted Miller and his penchant for opening some of his posts with movie lines. But you’ll see why in a moment.

Some odds-n-ends to tie up on a Thursday.

First off, ESPN’s own Bruce Feldman stopped by a pretty cool site called inthebleachers.net for some podcast-action analysis of the SEC and PAC-10. Yes, he talks Cougs, and yes, he thinks the they will absolutely stink. What, did you expect he LOVES US in ’09?? I’m not even sure we love “us” in ’09….

Anyway, the WSU stuff is towards the end of the interview. Still worth a listen (and thanks to Adam Nettina, a former colleague at AOL Fanhouse, for the tip).

A big-time camp is underway at WSU. Cougfan’s report claims over 500 high schoolers are in Pullman for a four-day, full-contact football camp. Per the report, some pretty good names have come out of this thing:

Last year, Justin Clayton, Chris Mastin and Aaron Dunn earned scholarship offers after impressive sessions in Pullman and/or verbally committed to the Cougs.

Mastin and Clayton are part of WSU’s incoming class of freshman and Dunn, a senior-to-be at Spokane’s Mead High, will be in the 2010 class.

Other notables over the years who attended the WSU camp and then went on to suit up for the Cougs include Marcus Trufant, Erik Coleman, Brandon Gibson, Mkristo Bruce, Rien Long and Will Derting.

Certainly bears watching to see what, if any, recruiting news comes out on the other side of this thing?

I know this broke a few days ago, but Ferris High QB Connor Halliday gave his pledge to Paul Wulff Friday last week. Halliday is regarded by some as a bit of a late bloomer, but has some decent tools to work with. Already 6-foot-5 and full of muscle (wasn’t “6-foot-4 and full of muscle” a lyric from Men at Work?? Anyone? Reep, you out there?). Well, OK, not exactly full of muscle. More like skin and bones. He’s listed at 180 lbs, so he’s got room to add the right kind of weight.


While Cougfan and Scout.com like him a bit, giving him the three-star treatment, ESPN.com? Not so much. They do break down with some good scouting details, including their analysis of his three-quarters delivery that could cause him some issues down the line. But to summarize:

Overall, Halliday is an adequate prospect with redeeming qualities and may be a better fit for the lower level non-BCS conferences.

Ouch. Or, maybe he’s really good, but it’s all part of an elaborate anti-redhead campaign?

Nah, probably not. We’ve already got a redheaded QB in place in Lobbestael, and that’s working out just fine. Oh, and there’s video from the ESPN.com story, although it’s shot from about 10,000 feet away from the action. Anyway, he is still several years from seeing the field at the next level, so anything can happen. Maybe he hits the weights, adds a few inches and suddenly he’s 6-7, 240 and throwing 95 MPH fastballs down the middle of the field?

Speaking of which, aren’t we all just a little guilty of declaring verbal commits this early as either hits or misses? All these verbals that are coming in, I mean these guys haven’t even played their senior year in high school yet.

I know, I know, it’s a new age, and the early commit is THE thing to do. But man, it seems like getting the commits this early might actually work against some schools? Is it enough time to really analyze a kid? I know some are slam dunk, can’t-miss types, but it seems like the early commit can lead to more misses that hits. But God knows we missed on kids we got late as well, so it can go either way. But hmm, maybe Doba was right after all with his disdain towards the early commits?

Finally, one last thing to lighten up your day…wait for it….

Maybe you’ve seen this already, but, how about the top 100 movie lines in 200 seconds!?

So many ways to go. Some great choices, some, not-so-much. Just one line from Caddyshack? No “how about a Fresca?” They couldn’t include “it looks good on you though”? And nothing from Fletch!??!? Unreal. Still, a little something for everyone.

ENJOY your Thursday, and as always, GO COUGS!

Spring Fish Wrap – UW Edition

June 23, 2009


And now we come to the end of the line, as our in-state friends from Montlake are up as the final WSU opponent of 2009.

I guess, honestly, there are a lot of ways a Coug can go. We could rip them for 0-12 and the third WSU Apple Cup victory in the last four years. We could add a counter to the site, showing how many days it’s been since UW won a football game (we won’t do that. But psst…if you are curious? As of this writing, it’s been 584 days since they tasted victory….I know, right?!)

We could joke about their beliefs that they are ultra-superior to many PAC-10 programs, yet they have been one of the worst since 2000 (more on that later). We could poke them for a small, mouthy group of Coug alums single-handedly sinking their $150 million dollar Olympia tax grab towards a renovation of Husky Stadium. Not that it’s entirely true, of course, as there were several factors at play when Olympia failed to act. We’re just the easy scapegoat, and it’s understandable. Don’t get your way? Blame someone else. Case closed.

But nah. We won’t do any of those things. It’s a new era in Seattle, as Stevie Sarkisian steps away from the rather large shadow of Pete Carroll and takes the reins of his own PAC-10 program. And Sarkisian was able to lure his partner in crime at SC, Nick Holt, back to the Northwest to lead his defense. And so far, it’s safe to say the guy is winning the “battle of the podium”, don’t you think so? From the super-energetic press conferences, the endless Twitter updates with how awesome everything is (“12:30 – stuck in traffic. GO DAWGS!”), etc. But you know what? It’s working. UW’s racking up the verbal commits, and right now they have the top collection of verbals in the PAC-10. That list includes QB prospect Nick Montana.


You know, Nick Montana. The son of Joe Montana. The QB Husky fans wanted all along. Please, pay no attention to all the lapping up of all-things-Jake-Heaps. That was all just a big joke. They are happy Heaps is following his heart and headed for Provo to play for BYU. They never wanted him anyway. It was always about Montana…..

Anyway, whatever.

Look, there are signs that Sarkisian is off to a good start. Even Coug fans can see it. Reports are that spring practices were filled with energy and enthusiasm, and the local media has been slurping it up. Sarkisian has reportedly reached out to the fans, opening the practices and doing what he can to get people involved and excited.

And why not? The last regime was about as exciting as another loss on a rainy November day in Seattle. Not only did they have a closed off, stubborn coach who was too serious/boring, they also LOST A LOT OF FOOTBALL GAMES IN THE PROCESS! Ty Willingham’s record was an abysmal 11-37 in Seattle (wow!), including 6-29 in the PAC-10. That four-year stench includes three 10th place finishes, with the lone bright spot a 9th place finish in 2006.

But what happens when they actually have to play a game? Will there still be butterflies when Sarkisian enters the room? And how much energy and enthusiasm will he have if they get blown out, or start the era off slowly? And after spring ball, what exactly does he have to work with? Let’s take a look…

2008: 0-12, and they looked awful doing it. Included was a hard-to-swallow 28-27 loss to BYU, when Jake Locker drew an excessive celebration penalty for throwing the football about 50 feet over his head as he scored in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. 15-yard penalty, BYU blocks the PAT, GAME OVER, drive home safely. And of course, the ’08 Apple Cup, pitting two of the worst Washington-Washington State teams in the modern age against each other on the same field. We know how that turned out….

“WHEEE! We’re not the worst ever!”

But all in all, from top to bottom, just about the worst experience imaginable for UW’s 2008 season.

FANS ARE: JACKED UP ON HOLT AND SARK SAUCE!

They have been drinking it by the gallon, and are convinced that things are all set to turn around. The eternally optimistic Sark is in the midst of a long, tender embrace at the bosom of Husky nation. And we can’t really blame them for being excited after such an awful ’08 season. But get a few Zima’s in a Husky fan, and deep down, they will admit that the feeling among the Husky faithful understand that this thing is going to take a while to right the ship. This wasn’t just a bad team because of Jake Locker’s thumb injury that sidelined him for 2/3rds of the season. There was a team-wide lack of talent, athleticism and speed, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. It will take time to get pieces in the right place to succeed.

LAST TIME vs. WSU: We’ve been over it already, but a 16-13 double-OT thriller of sorts. If you recall, the game was nearly over, with UW holding a 10-7 lead. Well, here’s ESPN’s recap of how regulation ended:

Washington controlled the action for 59 minutes, bringing themselves to the verge of snapping the longest losing streak in the country and becoming the last Football Bowl Subdivision team to beat someone. The Huskies (0-11, 0-8 Pac-10) bounced on the sideline at the prospect of ending the worst skid in school history.

Then their misery was extended thanks to an unlikely hookup that added a new duo to Apple Cup lore.

Washington State quarterback Kevin Lopina, playing just a week after getting knocked out with a concussion, was erratic all day. He missed easy throws and open receivers. He ran when he shouldn’t and often threw to the wrong receiver.

But he was nearly perfect in the final minute as the Cougars drove 69 yards to force overtime. After hitting Brandon Gibson to convert a third-and-1 at his own 34, Lopina found freshman Jared Karstetter right in stride sprinting behind a beaten Washington secondary. Karstetter, with only three catches all season, raced for 48 yards to the Washington 18 with 24 seconds left and suddenly overtime was a possibility.

“You never really plan on something like that,” Karstetter said.

Karstetter then caught a 7-yard pass but didn’t get out of bounds, forcing Lopina to rush to the line and spike the ball with 2 seconds left. Grasu, with a nervous stutter step at the start of his approach, then hit the first of his three kicks to send the game to overtime tied at 10.

The Cougs would capitalize on two Ryan Perkins missed field goals, the last leading off the second OT, and WSU’s Nico Grasu would nail the game-winner from 37 yards out.

OFFENSIVE SYSTEM: It’s going to be different in ’09, that’s for sure. Expect a lot of what you used to see out of USC, with a decidedly west-coast-offense flavor. Look for a fullback, a tight end, and multiple WR sets on occasion. But the big change is supposedly going to be at QB, where Sarkisian has already claimed that Jake Locker is going to learn to be a more complete QB who stays home vs. tucking and running at the first sign of trouble. The QB running the ball isn’t going to be completely taken out, but, it will certainly be curtailed a bit in the new pro-style offense.

’08 OFFENSIVE RANKINGS:
117th in scoring offense (13.3 ppg), 106th in rushing offense (99.3 ypg), 101st in passing offense (163.8 ypg), and 116th in total offense (263.2 ypg). Granted, the majority of the season was with a redshirt frosh QB in Ronnie Fouch, who was clearly not the caliber of QB in Jake Locker. But a miserable year offensively.

’09 RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: Hard to say, but some accounts say six starters are back, others say up to eight. But no matter the number, there are a lot of familiar faces back from last year among starters and backups.

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Who else but Jake Locker?


A fabulous athlete who could probably play running back, linebacker or safety in the PAC-10, he’s the best football player on the UW roster. He had a flashy ’07 season, but it was a little bit of fools gold if you want to know the truth. Sure, he ran for nearly 1,000 yards, and he threw for over 2,000 his first year. But he threw more INT’s than TD’s, and his completion percentage was a pedestrian 47%. In ’08, there was some improvement intially in terms of taking care of the ball, as Locker didn’t throw a pick in the three and 1/2 games he played. He completed 53.8% of his passes last year, up from the 47% the prior year. But he threw just one TD and was averaging only 128 yards per game through the air when he went down with the broken thumb in week four. He is really going to have to take some strides in the accuracy department as a passer if UW has any hope of making some noise in ’09.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: Think USC defense, only not as big, fast or talented. But seriously, it will be your garden variety 4-3. DC Nick Holt will bring the intensity, that’s for sure, and the USC defenses have been legendary of late.

’08 DEFENSIVE RATINGS: You thought they were bad in ’07, where Washington set school records for defensive futility? They were WORSE in ’08. Hide your eyes….

116th in the country in scoring defense (38.6), 117th in rushing D (240.6 ypg), 62nd in passing yards per game (211.2), and 110th in total defense (451.8). Washington would finish last in the PAC-10 in interceptions (7), and would tie for last in sacks (16). So basically a push-over defense that didn’t take the ball away OR get pressure on the QB. Yikes.

’09 RETURNING STARTERS: At least they’ll be experienced. UW returns eight starters on D, including the return of linebacker EJ Savannah.

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER: We could go with Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, he of his eight sacks on a terrible defense last year. He had exactly 50% of the team total in that category alone, so at least he didn’t quit in a lost year. Mason Foster had a breakthrough ’08, leading the team in tackles (105) and tackles-for-loss (12). But instead, I’m going with the number one player who will make the biggest impact in ’09, and that is EJ Savannah.


Savannah had a huge 2007 season. He led the team with 111 tackles, 14 for loss, a couple of sacks and an INT from the outside linebacker position. But grades and other issues, including not seeing eye-to-eye with Willingham, plus a broken arm suffered from arm wrestling (?), had Savannah on the sidelines for ’08. But with the hire of Sarkisian, Savannah gets a clean slate. He’s back for his senior year, ready to lead in ’09. Health has been a problem for Savannah in the past, where he missed some time in ’06 with a hand injury and ’05 with a neck issue lingering from high school. But if he’s healthy, he’s a lead-pipe cinch to rack up at least 100 tackles.

TOP THREE SPRING QUESTIONS:

1) How does Locker look in the new offense? This might have been the biggest story of the entire spring, and that is Locker looks to be over the broken thumb from last year. He had a productive spring, and was reportedly improving with each practice.


But, like it or not, the heat – and weight of the UW program – will be on Locker to improve, quickly, in the revamped UW offense. Sarkisian knows his QB’s, playing the position at BYU and coaching several good ones at USC (Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, John David Booty and Mark Sanchez). You have to believe he knows what he’s doing with a talent like this. We’ll see if it actually translates to the field. I wouldn’t count Locker out though. He is on a special level in terms of ability, among the most physically gifted to ever play the position in the conference.

2) Can the offensive line give Locker a chance to be special in ’09?


Everyone thought the return of Juan Garcia for a PAC-10 record 17th season at center last year would mean UW would road-grate their way to all sorts of rushing records (note – Garcia only played five years. It just felt like he’d been at UW since a young upstart named Bill Clinton won the White House). But the line was a disappointment, as the running game averaged only 2.8 yards per carry.

And quite honestly, as a group they might have been exposed a bit once Locker was out of the lineup. Locker’s scrambling ability kept defenses honest, but he was so elusive that he helped mask a line that was strong, but below-average at pass-blocking and looked a little soft around the midsection. They gave up 32 sacks last year, not a terrible number, but 10 of those were in the first 3 1/2 games with Locker at QB. Even he couldn’t get out of the way of the opposing pass-rush.


Three starters are back up front, including the entire left side plus the center in Ryan Tolar. But the right side is new, featuring converted defensive tackle Senio Kelemete moving across the line to right guard. Their top priority has to be keeping #10 healthy and confident in the new scheme, or else it could be another long, brutal season on offense.

3) Can the D get any worse? After a school-worst ’07 defensive season, UW brought in Ed Donatell with his shiny NFL resume’ to turn it all around, but they actually took a step back in ’08. Pretty amazing, but ’08 was WORSE than ’07. But as stated above, they will be experienced, and the return of EJ Savannah will be a huge boost to the defense. The top five tacklers are back from last year, and that doesn’t even include Savannah. I bet that with the number of experienced returners, combined with the energy and intensity of Holt, will see this group improve by leaps and bounds over ’08.

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: It’s been a slow roll down the hill for UW, but in ’08, they finally hit bottom. The reality though is that this thing didn’t just flatline overnight. It’s been flickering for years. Including the 2000 season, where UW won the Rose Bowl and went 11-1, the Huskies are now just 44-62 this decade, 29-29 at home. That puts UW 8th in the conference since the 2000 season. But instability has had a lot to do with it. UW is now on their fourth coach since that glorious Rose Bowl year (Neuheisel-Gilby-Willingham-Sarkisian), and that’s just far too many changes to build anything with consistency. Compare that string with the Oregon schools for example, where it’s been Mike Riley for several years, and Mike Bellotti for many more than that before Chip Kelly got the Oregon gig this year.

It’s hard to know exactly what they are getting with Sarkisian. A positive salesman and showing to be a pretty good recruiter right now, absolutely. And it’s hard to argue against his success with QB’s at USC. But as is often the case, predicting what a long-time assistant is going to do when he gets his own BCS program and all that goes with it is very difficult.

The schedule gets off to a rough start. They open with LSU in Seattle, where that SEC speed and power will be on full display to open the Sarkisian era. They get a layup the next week in Idaho, where the losing streak should finally come to an end. But then it’s USC on 9/19, where Sarkisian gets first crack at Pete Carroll. They close out September with a tough road game at Stanford, where Harbaugh and the Cardinal are looking like they could be one of the surprise teams of the PAC-10 in ’09. Then they open October at South Bend, where Notre Dame has the look of a potential BCS bowl written all over them! It could very well be a 1-4 start to ’09.

They also go to ASU, UCLA and Oregon State, while they host Arizona, Oregon, WSU and close the year against Cal on 12/5.

In the end, there is nowhere to go but up here. And they will be better, probably a lot better defensively. But it’s going to be a process. If I’m a UW fan, I’m looking at things with the idea of improvement across the board as the ’09 season goes on. Not so much the W’s and the L’s, but what kind of effort and intensity are the Jimmie’s and Joe’s putting out on a weekly basis? And with that, if they show some real improvement, well, 2010 could be a year they return to respectibility. Locker will be a senior by then, and right now there are a lot of sophomores and juniors up and down the roster. In 2010 those young kids will be upper classmen, and it could be a year where they make some noise. But we’ll see. Sarkisian is a lot of “sizzle” right now, but will there be any steak to go with it? We’ll find out!

That’s it for a Tuesday. I hope you have enjoyed the ’09 WSU Fish Wrap series. We have a link to the top-left of our links, so you can go back and see every ’09 WSU opponent, plus you can check them out here. ENJOY YOUR DAY, and GO COUGS!

Spring Fish Wrap – Believe in the Beavs Edition

June 19, 2009


Winding things down in the WSU Fish Wrap series are those plucky Beavers from Corvallis. And what “pluckiness” they showed last year, hmmm? Left for dead before the season even started, everyone sold big-time on OSU. And why not? The Beaver D in ’07 was tough as nails, and the entire front-seven had moved on for ’08. They were a winning outfit, sure, but they hung their hats on a nasty D to help carry the load. Take the teeth away from the Beavs, the thinking went, and they had the look of pushover-city.

Uh, never mind. Those same Beavs who everyone thought would come way back to the pack? They were 60 minutes of football from going to the freakin’ ROSE BOWL.

How they do it, well, it’s hard to exactly pinpoint. They don’t have Oregon-style plasma’s in every locker. They don’t have “sick” facilities, although the Raising Reser campaign has created a great, cozy gameday setting. They aren’t brought to you by Nike, ala Phil Knight and his super-millions. They don’t even have high-profile rock-star recruits who call press conferences and then pick a hat from a table. So how do they do it??

I’ll tell you how. Mike Riley. That’s right, Mike Riley. Well, Mike Riley and his assistants anyway.


Riley gets the headlines, and rightly so. But he’s got a great defensive coordinator in Mark Banker and offensive coordinator in Danny Langsdorf. Both assistants are as underrated as they come in the conference. But Riley is the guy who has brought it all together.

They recruit high-character kids who may not have the stars next to their names, but in the end, they are just as good – if not better – than Joe Superstar. They work hard at turning over the rocks, so to speak, to unearth talent they can project into the future. They preach a balanced offense and an attacking, aggressive style on defense that is fun for young men to get out and play. But whatever the reasons may be, there is little doubt that they buy into what Riley’s cooking.

Anywho, let’s see how they look coming out of spring. Are they ready to make a run at USC? Or will they finally take that step back that people have been predicting – to no avail – for some time? Let’s see…

2008: 9-4, 7-2 in conference. A slow 0-2 start made it look like a long, tough season was upon them, but they did what Oregon State always seems to do. They circled the wagons and fought through it, all the way to the end. As stated above, one more win and the Beavs would have invaded Pasadena on New Year’s. But alas, it wasn’t to be, as the Ducks steamrolled the Beavs, 65-38, in one of the biggest games in OSU football history.


FANS ARE: Pretty happy, all things considered. The expectations, at least nationally, were that the Beavs would flirt with bowl-eligibility, but they certainly wouldn’t contend in ’08. But another nine-win, bowl winning season made the year a rousing success……but let’s face it – the Civil War stung, and probably still stings. Heck, it stings me, and I’m not even a Beav! But to get so close, yet be so far from the promised land at the bitter end, in the fashion that they did against the hated Ducks? I can’t imagine a worse feeling than what Beaver Nation went through at the end of that game. I guess that would be like what we, Coug fans, might have felt had the Ryan Leaf-led Cougs lost to UW to end the 1997 season?

And sure, it might have hurt worse if they missed a field goal or got screwed on a bad call, something along those lines. Some might say getting blown out like they did softened the fall, at least a little bit. Me? I don’t think so. To lose to the arrogant, “superior” Ducks with everything on the line must still bring pain and suffering across Corvallis.

LAST TIME vs. WSU: A 66-13 drubbing at Reser Stadium. Not only was the team blown out, but so was Ocho Rojo’s knee. The Cougs would lose promising QB Marshall Lobbestael to a blown-out knee that would shelve him for the rest of ’08.


It was kind of an odd game. The Beavs stormed out of the gates for a 21-0 first quarter lead. But the Cougs showed life, and fought back to close it to 21-13. Then the wheels fell off, as Oregon State would score SIX TD’s in the second half while pitching a shutout against the ineffective Cougar offense.

OFFENSIVE SYSTEM: They like to roll with three-WR sets, a tight end and a running back in the classic one-back/west coast hybrid system. They like to mix it up though, running some shotgun as well as the “fly sweep”, where a WR in motion comes back across the line of scrimmage and takes the handoff. They also love to play-action out of the fly sweep, always trying to keep the opposing defense guessing.

’08 OFFENSIVE RATINGS: 5th in the PAC-10 in scoring offense (30.5 ppg), 6th in rushing O with 131.2 ypg, 2nd in passing offense with 249 yards per game. Overall they were 3rd in the conference in total offense, at just over 407 yards per game.

’09 RETURNING STARTERS: Looks like seven, if you count Lyle Moevao. Moevao had some shoulder surgery in the off-season and missed spring ball entirely, as the shoulder showed more damage than they initially thought. But Sean Canfield has started 11 games in his career, and won two starts last year in relief of Moevao, both on the road (at UCLA, at Arizona). He should be ready to go if Moevao isn’t cleared for action.

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Hmmm. Well, I guess we could go with the returning PAC-10 offensive player of the year?


Jacquizz Rodgers had an amazing frosh season, totaling 1253 yards and 11 TD’s. He also hauled in 29 balls for 247 yards and a score out of the backfield. He was absolutely BIG TIME against USC, where he had 186 yards rushing, with many of the cut-back type runs that drove the Trojan D absolutely crazy. Small (5-6) but lightning quick, shifty as hell and what they say is “great vision”, Rodgers could do some serious damage to the PAC-10 record book before it’s all said and done.

How valuable was he? Rodgers injured his shoulder late in the year, and missed the Civil War. We know what happened there. He also missed the Sun Bowl, where the Beavers slogged their way to the most boring bowl game ever, a 3-0 win over Pitt. Without Rodgers, the offense was a different animal. With him last year, they could beat anyone. Even USC.

He combines with his brother, James, to form one heck of an explosive tandem. Check it out:

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: 4-3, but they don’t sit back and wait for things to happen. These guys are fast, physical and they force the issue, never shy to blitz from anywhere to bring pressure.

’09 RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: Just three starters are back, one tackle and two linebackers. The entire secondary will feature four new starters. We’ve heard this before, but still, it’s an extremely young defense.

’08 DEFENSIVE RANKINGS: One of the better D’s in the PAC, they would finish 2nd in total defense (312.2 ypg). They were just 6th in rushing defense, giving up 131.2 yards per game. That was a little disappointing, as they are normally right near the top in rushing D. But they were good against the pass, finishing third in passing yards per game (180.9) and fifth in pass efficiency defense. Best of all, they were second in the conference in sacks, with 39 (Oregon led with 40).

TOP RETURNING DEFENSIVE PLAYER: It’s tempting to go with the playmaking d-tackle, Stephen Paea. He was honorable mention all-conference last year, and had 41 tackles with 11 for loss, including five sacks from the defensive interior. But I’ll go with Keaton Kristick, the all-everything senior linebacker.


Kristick is the leading returning tackler on the team, with 82 stops at outside linebacker. Good size at 6-3, 226, there was some speculation this spring that he might move to inside linebacker on occasion. Kristick is that good. He had an impressive 14 tackles for loss in ’08, third on the team, including 3.5 sacks. He should have an all-conference type senior year and is one of the most complete linebackers in the PAC-10.

TOP THREE POST SPRING PRACTICE QUESTIONS:

1) Can the D really reload this year? Or is this the season we finally see them come back to the pack?

It’s a tough nut to crack, and the D could really see some adjustments this year. While last year the hype was that they lost their entire front seven, they did return a lot of experience in the secondary. But this year, however, it’s a different deal, with all four spots in the defensive backfield up for grabs. The losses of leading pass-rushers up front, Slade Norris and Victor Butler, could really hurt. Without those two guys, there might be a lot more attention paid to Stephen Paea inside. Norris and Butler combined for 22 of the team’s 39 sacks in ’08, one of the top pass-rushing tandems in the PAC-10. Losing that ability off the edges, all in one swoop, could really hurt. After all, this is an aggressive, pressure defense that relies on a strong pass rush and tight coverage from their corners. If the pass rush takes a hit, well, the trickle-down could lead to some real trouble for the secondary. D-coordinator Banker is great, but is he THAT great? We’ll see.

2) Is Jacquizz Rodgers really THAT good? Or now that people have seen him, will he have the dreaded sophomore slump?

While yes, the sophomore slump can certainly happen? I think it’s fair to say that Rodgers is the real thing. At least that’s the consensus from what you hear around the conference. Everyone who has seen him thinks he’s the real thing. He did benefit from a strong, experienced offensive line, but it’s not like this kid is a one-trick pony. He’s the complete package, and even at his size, showed the ability to run inside against the likes of USC last year. His cutbacks and moves are something else, and he’ll be a headache for every team they face in ’09.

The shoulder injury is a concern, not so much that it’s like a blown knee or foot injury or whatever. Those types of injuries are never good for a running back, just like an elbow injury is never good for a major-league pitcher? But the idea that his smaller frame can survive the pounding that a feature back takes over a long 12-game schedule might have some folks holding their breath this year. You may also see him head to the sidelines quickly if there are some games where they are either way ahead or way behind. The tires are only good for so many miles, and Rodgers led the conference with 259 carries last year. As the old saying goes with running backs, it’s not the years, it’s the mileage that matters.

3) The predictable, “How’s the schedule?” question?

Pretty reasonable, at least early in the season. They open with three of their first four at home, and the lone road game is at UNLV. Their non-conference slate consists of Portland State, UNLV and Cincinnati at home. The Bearcats will be tough, but it’s in Corvallis, so you probably have to like OSU in that one.

Where it gets hairy is later in the year. Overall they have five PAC-10 road games, including at USC, at Cal and of course, the Civil War, at Oregon to close out the year. But at home, they get Arizona, Stanford, UCLA and UW, all games they should be favored to win.

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: Knowing what we know about Oregon State, it would be foolish to pick against them. Wouldn’t it? Riley is now 5-0 in bowl games, one good way to measure the ability of a coach when given time to game plan, get healthy, scheme and tweak for an opponent. And the Beavers are the trend-setters in terms of closing hard and fast. In ’08 they won seven out of their last eight after starting the year 2-3. Even better, since ’06, the Beavs are now 22-5 over October, November and December.

As astonishing as it might seem, this is the third-best program in the PAC-10 since the turn of the century, behind only USC and Oregon. Think about that. That’s not a one or two or even three-year fluke. This is nine straight years, and counting, that they have been third-best in the conference. This, from a program that holds the D-1 record, suffering through 28 CONSECUTIVE LOSING SEASONS!?! From 1971 – 1998, Oregon State went an amazing 65-238-6. YUCK!

The Cougs have only beaten OSU once in the last five times they’ve played, a 13-6 defensive struggle in Corvallis in ’06. Otherwise, it’s been all Beavs. In fact, Oregon State has won the last two by a combined score of 118-30. OUCH. OSU plays UW at home 11/14, then at Pullman on 11/21. They then have a bye before the Civil War on 12/3.

OSU has now now morphed the program into one that has layers upon layers of depth. 2008 is exhibit ONE on how far they have come as a program. Who knows, but ten years ago, an OSU team losing that many experiences bodies coming into ’08? They would have rolled out a three-win clunker. Ten years later? They are a game from Pasadena. We tip our hats to Oregon State, and hope that one day, Paul Wulff can build this thing into something like the Beaver Nation has right now.

That’s about it for a Friday. Enjoy it, and as always, GO COUGS!

Kaddy Reports From Columbia River Cougar Club

June 17, 2009


Our own Kaddy was able to take in the Columbia River Cougar Club function a few weeks ago and got some good time with some of the coaches. Check it out (and as always, a big thanks to Kaddy for the recap!):

Well, that time of year for the Columbia River Cougar Club dinner-auction-fundraiser to support Cougar Athletics came and went. This year the event was held on Friday, June 5 at the Vancouver Hilton Hotel, as usual.

I happened to be on the auction committee this year, and let me tell you, it was a LOT of work. I had no idea how much went into these events. Usually I just show up for cocktail hour and silent auction, everything is laid out on the tables, marked with descriptions, and away we go. Not so much this year. First of all – the soliciting of businesses and Cougar supporters for stuff to auction off is an event itself. If you know of anyone that needs some cold-calling experience, have them volunteer for a fundraising auction. One thing I learned by calling on local businesses is that many of them receive calls EVERY DAY for items to be donated…sometimes 5 a day. I had no idea. Needless to say, many of your calls go unanswered or unreturned.

When all was said and done, however, the event turned out to be pretty successful, with all things considered (i.e. economy, job market, general apathy, etc). Attendance at the Vancouver event was pretty close to last year, with about 175. We expected a slightly lower number this year, so that was good news. I don’t yet have the dollar amount raised, but it was definitely down this year, which was also expected. Many people don’t have the extra cash to spend this year, understandably. To give you an example, I purchased two sideline passes for the SMU game in Pullman for $150! These normally go in the $500-600 range.

Read on for more…

I do have to say that this year was the most fun I’ve had at the event. We had a great table, and the auctioneer actually said we were his favorite table, as well. The primary reason for this had to do with the amount of alcohol we drank, and the fact that our table bid on almost every item in the auction, sometimes bidding against ourselves without knowing.

Coaches in attendance this year were Paul Wulff, Todd Sturdy, Steve Broussard, Chris Ball, and Malik Roberson for football. Donnie Marbut was there to represent baseball, Ken Bone for men’s hoops, and Brian Holsinger for women’s hoops.

Cougar celebrities in attendance were Jason Gesser, Gary Rogers, and Drew Dunning. Jack Thompson golfed at the tournament the next day, but couldn’t make the auction.

I had a chance to speak to talk to Donnie Marbut quite a bit, and he was very impressive. He had a chance to speak on stage, and probably the coolest thing he said was that, although the baseball program has many of their own needs, the most important thing that Cougar fans and supporters can do right now is to get Phase III done.


He pointed to Coach Wulff and said that when we have a successful football program, the rest of the sports share in that success (hint: $$). I thought that was incredibly unselfish of him, and showed his ability to see the big picture in terms of Cougar Athletics. In addition to Marbut, Wulff, Bone, and Holsingers also spoke, and all did a good job.

Jason Gesser spoke from a former student-athlete point of view, and emphasized the importance of providing scholarships.


Gesser has got to be right there with Jack Thompson as one of the quintessential ambassadors for WSU. I hope that he someday gets the chance to coach at WSU, which is his dream job. He is the new Head Coach for Eastside Catholic High in Issaquah, for those of you that don’t know already. I made a point afterwards to ask him to send all D-1 talent to Pullman, and he guaranteed they would all end up at WSU (uh-oh, please no recruiting violations!!)


All in all, it turned out to be a great event, as it always is. If you haven’t had a chance to attend one of these fundraisers, you really should. They happen every year in Seattle, Vancouver, Tri-Cities, Olympia/Shelton, and many other locations – all with the goal of raising much needed money for Cougar Athletics.

Finally, and just like last year – I have a pic with our friend Todd Thrasher, who organizes this event, and his trusty sidekick volunteer, Michele, one of the great Cougar supporters!


That’s it for today. As always, GO COUGS!

Spring Fish Wrap – UCLA Neuheisel’s Edition

June 16, 2009

Another day, another wrap. This time, a peek at UCLA and Rick Neuheisel.

You remember Neuheisel, right? Golden boy goes home to Westwood, shocks the world to open his era vs. Tennessee, then everything goes downhill from there in a lost 4-8 season? The guy who was, you know, going to take back LA from Pete Carroll??


Ummmm…..yeah.

In all seriousness, it’s early. WAY too early to draw many conclusions about Neuheisel’s ability to raise UCLA from the depth’s plummeted by Karl Dorrell and company. He is going to need a few more solid recruiting classes to get some things straightened out, but without a doubt, this looks like more of a rebuild job than even Rick himself had to see coming when he took the gig last year.

So, are things in fact looking up coming out of spring ball? Or has UCLA’s fall in ’08 buried them in the lower-half of the PAC for another year? Read on for more….

2008: 4-8, including a 3-6 PAC-10 record. The highlight, without question, the season opening shocker at home with the upset victory over Tennessee. The lowlight? Without a doubt, the very next week after the Tennessee highlight, which was a 59-0 embarrassment at the hands of the hated BYU Cougars. But even the 4-8 record might have been a little misleading. Outside of their win over Tennessee, the Bruins swept the Washington schools (who DIDN’T sweep the Washington schools ’08?), and beat Stanford by a field goal. They lost the rest. So a very tough opening act for Neuheisel.

FANS ARE: Eh. They understand the situation, with the lackluster performances by Karl Dorrell setting up the current administration for a lot of tough days at the office. They HATE losing to USC, but they also believe they are on the right track with Neuheisel. However, the honeymoon is clearly over. Fans want to see a much better product next season, especially offensively, or else there could be some real unhappiness in the land of tanned, beautiful people….

LAST TIME vs. WSU: A 28-3 snoozer where neither team was all that impressive. Actually, I take that back. The 28-3 loss to UCLA? Outside of the UW Apple Cup OT thriller, this game in ’08 might have been the best appearance by WSU last year. Seriously. It was 14-3 early in the third quarter after a Nico Grasu field goal, and there was some thought that a play here or there and it could get extremely interesting.


But alas, the WSU offense never got much going in Marshall Lobbestael’s first-ever NCAA road start, as the young redhead went 15-for-31 for just 149 yards. Lobbestael looked nervous and unsure for most of the game, and with very little rushing attack behind him (25 carries, 26 yards), UCLA had Marshall on the run for most of the evening.

OFFENSIVE SYSTEM: A multiple attack in a bit of a west coast “hybrid” under Norm Chow, a system that can utilize a lot of WR’s with various looks. They will use a tight end in an H-back mold, with a lot of motion, but can also spread you out with three-wideout-looks.

’08 OFFENSIVE RATINGS: One of the lower-rated offenses in the conference, UCLA was #8 in the conference in points (17.7) and total offense (283.2 yards per game). Nationally it was just as bad, finishing 109th in scoring and 111th in total offense. Worse though was the running attack, where the Bruins would finish dead LAST in the conference with 82.8 yards per game, as well as a conference-low 2.6 yards per carry. UCLA did finish 6th in the conference in passing yards, at just over 200 yards per game. But they joined WSU and UW as the only PAC-10 teams to finish with single-digit TD passes in ’08 (UCLA had 9, WSU and UW tied for last with 6).

’09 RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: A whopping NINE starters are back, and they get Logan Paulsen returning at tight end from injury. Experience is a good teacher, so, they will likely be much better with so many starters back….right??

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: This isn’t an easy choice, as the offense was a bit of a mess in ’08. Tight end Logan Paulsen will be back this year after missing nearly the entire ’08 season, and when healthy, he might be the best player on the UCLA offense. But Paulsen will share some time with Ryan Moya, who emerged in Paulsen’s spot last year as sort of an H-back/tight-end blend and earned 2nd team All-PAC-10 honors. So I will go with Terrence Austin, a WR/kick returning threat who has game-changing abilities.

Austin led the team in catches last year, with 53, as he emerged as the most dependable wideout on the Bruins. But he also led the team in punt returns and kickoff returns. While Austin never brought one back all the way on special teams, he did average 9.5 yards per punt return, as well as a season-high 82-yard kickoff return. He also set school records for all-purpose yards in a season with 1878. Austin should have a big senior year in ’09 and will definitely be on some pre-season all-conference lists in one way or another.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: This could be a somewhat new look, as UCLA has a new coordinator in Chuck Bullough. Bullough has coached the fine UCLA linebackers the last three years, but now he gets the headset and will be making the defensive calls every Saturday. They roll with a 4-3 scheme, but they might do some things differently under Bullough. Maybe some more blitzing with his talented linebackers??

’08 DEFENSIVE RATINGS: 8th in the conference in scoring defense (29 ppg), 8th in rushing defense (169.8 ypg), and second in passing defense (167.7 ypg). On a bit of a down note, the Bruins were 6th in the conference in pass-efficiency defense, 7th in interceptions, and 8th in sacks, with 21.

’09 RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: Seven, plus a starter from 2007 in linebacker Kyle Bosworth.

TOP RETURNING DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Now this is tough, but in a good way for UCLA. There are legit all-conference players on the D-line, linebacker and in the secondary. D-tackle Brian Price was outstanding as a sophomore with 14 tackles for loss. Linebacker Reggie Carter is back for his senior year, and he led the team with 83 tackles in ’08 (including 20 tackles vs. BYU). But in the end, I’m going with maybe the best cornerback in the PAC-10 this year in Alterraun Verner.


Verner had an excellent ’08 season, where he led the country in passes defended (20), and added 73 tackles, good for number two on the team. Not that you want your top cover guy to also be a tackling machine, but 73 tackles is awfully impressive no matter how you look at it. He isn’t a huge INT guy, with just eight in his first three years at UCLA, but he’s made the most of it by taking three of them back to the house. I would look for Verner to be the guy that nobody throws at in ’09. So while his INT numbers will likely be down again next season, be ready for all-everything accolades coming his way all year long.

TOP THREE POST-SPRING PRACTICE QUESTIONS:

1) WHAT’S WITH THE QB?? The most important position on the field meets the biggest question for UCLA coming out of spring. And the early reviews were that the QB’s weren’t exactly ready for prime time once spring drills were wrapped. Kevin Prince has a slight lead on some other young candidates, as they love his arm and mobility at the position.


Prince looks the part at the very least – the redshirt frosh is 6-2, 226, and had a strong season of practice last year. Even in a down year, the coaches held off on burning the red-shirt in ’08. Prince still has four full seasons of eligibility. Oh yeah, Kevin Craft, last year’s starter and leading passer with over 2300 yards, is still hanging around for his senior year. But it doesn’t sound like he has much of a shot at winning the job. The staff loves Prince, and even though he didn’t run away and hide from the rest of the field in spring ball, he should be the guy to open the season.

2) OK, THAT’S GREAT ABOUT PRINCE. BUT CAN THE O-LINE KEEP HIM UPRIGHT TO EVEN HAVE A CHANCE? There’s the rub – who exactly can protect this young talent of a QB? It was a long, tough season last year, as UCLA’s unproven offensive line took a whippin’ in ’08. The Bruins gave up 35 sacks, the second-most in the conference last year (WSU “led” with 43 sacks allowed). Per Ted Miller, the Bruin O-line didn’t look like they improved much at all this spring, so there is some serious trepidation that it could be a repeat performance on offense next year. Now consider breaking in a frosh QB who hasn’t yet thrown an NCAA pass with this O-line? GULP.

3) AND OF COURSE, THE SCHEDULE?

UCLA’s got a tough road to respectability in ’09. They open with San Diego State in Pasadena, and that should be a game they will be favored to win. But then they go to Neyland Stadium, where 100,000+ orange-clad Vols fans will be lying in wait. This one will be a big-time revenge game for the ’08 stunner in LA. The last time a PAC-10 team went to Tennessee, it was CAL, who got whooped 35-18 in ’06. After that, the Bruins get Kansas State the following week back home in LA. But even with Tennessee in September, still, a 2-1 record looks plausible to start the year.

It gets sticky in October however. The Bruins play three of their five games this month on the road. After they come off a bye on 9/26, they go to Stanford on 10/3. But then they have to face Oregon and Cal on back-to-back Saturdays, yet the good news there is that both games are in Pasadena. Then they go to Tucson and face Arizona’s tough defense, before heading to Corvallis to close out the month. October is going to have a big say in the success or failure of UCLA in ’09.

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: Sort of like Arizona, UCLA may be in a very similar situation. They will need their experienced, talented defense to keep them in games. There is no question they have the front-line talent to do it, and they should be ready to do the heavy lifting while the offense tries to find it’s stride early in the year.

What’s weird is that there were so many talented individuals last year, but they still finished in the bottom-half in the conference in so many defensive categories? A couple of theories were floated last year. One was that the defense was just stopped responding to DeWayne Walker, who eventually left to take the head coaching job at New Mexico State. And let’s face it, getting five-star talent to perform in LA? That can’t be an easy gig! Once those kinds of talents turn a deaf ear to your rants, it is only a matter of time before you either leave on your own or are shown the door by those above you.

The other theory is that UCLA’s defense was strong as can be expected, but they just wore themselves out trying to overcome such a lackluster offense. I mean when the team is in the 100’s nationally in total offense and scoring offense, well, there’s only so much the defense can do to even stay in games, let alone get a bunch of victories. But given what they are returning on defense in ’09, even an average offensive showing next year could vault the Bruins into bowl contention.

They come to WSU on 11/14, and that’s another weird deal. UCLA has had issues playing in Pullman over the years. But it’s not just Pullman. Overall the Cougs are 5-2 in their last seven against the Bruins. The last time UCLA came to Pullman, the Cougars were struggling while the Bruins were hot, sporting a 5-2 record and fresh off an upset win over Cal. But WSU prevailed 27-7 in a game where UCLA never seemed to even want to get off the bus, let alone actually play a college football game. I was in the stands that day, and without a doubt it was one of the flattest efforts I have ever seen from a WSU opponent.

But let’s face it, the Bruins hate to make that trip to Pullman, and they don’t exactly hide their disdain for the Palouse. Get them up in Pullman in mid-November, well, who knows what we’ll see from UCLA.

But overall on UCLA, it’s all about the QB and O-line play. If they are even average, they have a shot at a bowl. Otherwise it’s another year in the bottom-third of the conference.

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