Archive for the ‘2009 Spring Fish Wrap’ Category

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.


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.

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.


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.


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!

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??


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.


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.


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!

Spring Fish Wrap – AZ Mildcats Edition

June 12, 2009

And down the stretch we come. Just four WSU spring “fish wraps” left, as the 2009 calendar flips to November. And to kick off the final month of the season, WSU heads to Tucson the week after playing Notre Dame in San Antonio (hmmm, maybe they ought to just stay down south and make a week of it?).

Nice SI cover from the archives huh? Man, that Desert Swarm D, that was something else to watch. I was at that battle in Pullman in 1994, when the Palouse Posse-led Cougs lost a heartbreaker, 10-7. What a fantastic defensive match-up though, wow. The speed and hitting on both sides was incredible. Of course, that was the game where Mark Fields stripped the ball away from an Arizona running back as the Wildcats were trying to milk the clock, and with under a minute to play, the Cougs got the ball back deep in AZ territory. After a few plays, they were well within field goal range, but the play clock ran out as Tony Truant lined up for the field goal attempt! I still remember the entire WSU sideline screaming for a timeout, but the field goal unit just sort of moved in slow motion as the play clock wound down. Heck, the WHOLE STADIUM was screaming timeout! But we know what happened next – delay of game, five yards back, and the resulting kick never had a chance. Just brutal. But still a pretty entertaining game!

Yes, Arizona, where Mike Stoops turned the heat down to a low simmer on his eternal hot seat. Word was Stoops was in trouble if he didn’t get his Mildcats into a bowl game, but he was able to cobble together an eight-win, bowl victory season to keep the villagers at bay. So what to do for an encore? How do they look heading out of spring? Let’s see….

2008: 8-5, including 5-4 in the PAC-10. They wrapped up ’08 with an impressive 31-21 Vegas Bowl extravaganza over BYU. That’s the same BYU that beat both Washington and UCLA on back-to-back Saturdays last September, so hey, the PAC-10 saved a little face?

It was AZ’s first bowl win in 10 years, the last one coming in a Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska in 1998. But things did look a tad shaky for a while last year. After starting 4-1, AZ would lose four of their next six. But they closed strong, beating ASU big to close the regular season, and then of course, the Las bowl win.

FANS ARE: For once, pretty pleased with Stoops. The eight wins was a nice way to cap off Willie Tuitama’s career (and while going undrafted, Tuitama was arrested for “extreme DUI” in March. Tough spring for Willie.) And the expectations are pretty reasonable right now. A lot of people believe that AZ should be a perennial bowl contender, and they might finally be settling in under Stoops. Not necessarily in USC-Cal-Oregon territory, but certainly in that four-to-seven range?

LAST TIME vs. WSU: A somewhat uninspired 59-28 win in Pullman. Uninspired in that they failed to score 60? Nah. Uninspired in that AZ came into the game a little flat, and let an over-matched WSU team hang around a little bit.

It was 14-14 into the second quarter before AZ turned on the juice to pull away, but WSU scrapped back to make it 45-28 in the beginning of the 4th quarter. But that would be it, as AZ tacked on a couple of late TD’s to win going away.

OFFENSIVE SYSTEM: A Sonny Dykes creation in the Texas Tech Red Raider style, AZ threw the ball a ton last year. They love to get into shotgun sets and spread you out, but can beat you with the quick-hitting runs, backs catching it out of the backfield, or splitting coverages with the MONSTER tight-end (we’ll get to him later).

’08 OFFENSIVE RANKINGS: #3 in the conference in scoring offense (36.6 ppg), 3rd in passing offense (244.0 ypg), and #4 in total offense (402.4 ypg). But the biggest improvement – BY FAR – was the running game. In ’07, AZ was a miserable 10th out of 10 in rushing yards per game, just 76.8. Not only that, they were almost 35 yards per game out of NINTH place, behind Stanford’s 111.2 yards per game. But in ’08? Try 158.4 yards per game, a solid fifth in the PAC-10. That’s an improvement of 81.6 yards per game on the ground in one year! That running game helped out quite a bit in improving their scoring per game by over a TD (28 ppg in ’07, 36.6 in ’08). No doubt, a much better offense in ’08.

’09 RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: Seven, which is pretty strong. But not coming back are some boys with big shoes to fill, including leading passer Willie Tuitama and leading receiver Mike Thomas.

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Running back Nic Grigsby is a really nice player, a 1,000+ running back and a key figure in Arizona’s improvement in the running game. But about that MONSTER tight end….

Rob Gronkowski is the complete package. While he missed three games last year, he still was third on the team with 47 catches. But he was most adept at getting into the end-zone, with 10 TD catches (that’s one per game he played in last year). Those 10 TD catches were a nice progression from ’07, where he had six more as a true frosh. The guy is pretty much everything, and with Mike Thomas now moving on from Tucson, there is no doubt who will get a lot of attention in the passing game next season! And at 6-6, 260, he’s also setting up nicely for a productive career at the next level.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: Your garden-variety 4-3. Not a ton of blitzing, but they have a talented group of defensive linemen coming back in ’09, so it may not be necessary anyway to get pressure.

’08 DEFENSIVE RATINGS: Arizona was #3 in the conference in scoring defense (21.3 ppg), #3 in total defense (313.0 ypg), #5 in rushing D (131.1 ypg) and #4 in passing defense (181.9 ypg). A decent defense that improved literally across the board in all the major categories from 2007.

’09 RETURNING STARTERS: Seven, including the front-line guys on the defensive line and key players in the secondary. The big losses are at linebacker, led by all-everything tackler Ronnie Palmer.

TOP RETURNING DEFENSIVE PLAYER: This one is kind of tough. Defensive end Brooks Reed had a big junior year last year, with eight sacks and 10 tackles for loss in ’08. He was by far the biggest pass-rush threat on the defense as a sophomore. And freshman DB Trevin Wade came up big in his first season last year, leading the team with four interceptions. But I’ll go with the senior corner, Devin Ross, as the top defensive player coming back in ’09.

Ross was second on the team in ’08 with three INT’s, and was tied for 6th in the conference in pass-breakups with 13. A pretty complete corner, Ross also had 50 tackles. He was a second-team All-PAC-10 selection last year, and will likely be in the discussion as top returning corner this year. He’s not afraid to stick his nose into the action and even though he’s not a huge DB (5-11, 170), he won’t back down. Ross stepped into a difficult situation last year, taking over for departed four year starters at corner in Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot, but he more than held his own. With Robert Golden moving off corner to one of the safety positions, Ross will likely team up at corner with rising sophomore Trevin Wade, who led the team in interceptions last year with four. They should have a top-shelf secondary in ’09, and Ross will be a huge part of that.


1) HOW ABOUT THE QB? You knew it was coming, but yep, Willie Tuitama’s time has come to an end in Tucson. Tuitama capped his career off in style, beating BYU last year and throwing for over 300 yards in the game. Tuitama threw for over 3,000 yards last year, the second consecutive season he topped the 3K mark in the passer-friendly spread offense at AZ. Overall Tuitama threw for over 9,000 yards in his career, the top all-time at Arizona. Yes, he’ll be missed.

That said, time to turn the page. Right now the QB derby is still in full swing, as QB’s Matt Scott and Nick Noles are tight coming out of spring. Scott has a little game time under his belt, but not a whole lot, just 84 yards last year in extremely limited time in ’08.

Scott (pictured) can move though. Not the pure thrower in the mold of Tuitama, Scott ran for 188 yards last year in his short time on the field, averaging 8.2 yards per carry. The word from Teddy Miller was that Scott has the slight lead over Noles coming out of spring, but it’s likely both could play early in the season as they try and figure everything out.

2) THE SCHEDULE? Pretty reasonable early, tough as nails late. They host Central Michigan and Northern Arizona to open the season, and then they are off to Iowa for what could be a difficult road game. They close September by heading to Corvallis, taking on the Beavs in their PAC-10 opener. All told, they have five PAC-10 road games. November looks tough as well. After hosting our Cougs on 11/7, they go to CAL, are home for Oregon, then close the year by going to Arizona State and at USC on 12/5. It’s not hard to see AZ get off to a hot start, at least well into October, but the season will be all about what happens in November.

3) How GOOD is the defense? Pretty good actually. Not exactly Desert Swarm good, but maybe the best defense they’ve had in several years. They improved across the board in ’08, and have a lot of talent and experience back on the d-line and of course, in the secondary. But they do need to pick it up a bit in the pass-rush department. Even with Brooks Reed and his breakout ’08 season, they still were middle of the road in the conference with 24 sacks. More will be expected out of the men up front. With a couple of new starting linebackers in the mix, they will need to have a big year on the line to keep the heat off the new guys.

WSU Football Blog SEZ: Arizona was one of the breakout teams that everyone liked last year (including us!). Senior QB, tons of starters back on a complex offense (10 last year), etc, etc. It looked like a strong pick early in the year, but they really wobbled in the middle of the year. However they did put it all together late, and ’08 turned into a nice success.

Everyone knew they would move the ball last year. But the big surprise was the improvement in the running game. Nic Grigsby averaged 5.4 yards per carry, and true frosh backup Keola Antolin added over 500 yards as a nice one-two punch. The team had 33 rushing TD’s in ’08, a huge improvement over ’07.

And with that strong running game, things are going to be different in ’09. Like many PAC-10 teams for next year, the emphasis is going to be on the running game. And why not? With Grigsby and Antolin returning, along with experience on the O-line, the fantastic all-everything TE Rob Gronkowski, AND a brand new QB? Get ready for an older-school Arizona attack, where they will lean heavily on a strong ground game and an experienced, physical defense to carry the day.

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

Spring Fish Wrap – Fighting Irish Edition

June 8, 2009

Spring Fish Wrap – Berkeley Bears Edition

June 1, 2009

Time for a look at the Berkeley Bears. Coming off a nine-win ’08 season that saw some major ups, including an Emerald Bowl victory over Miami, still something was, oh, I don’t know, missing. Maybe it’s because of the talent that Cal rolls out every week, which rivals only USC and Oregon for tops in the conference? Maybe it’s the super-genius tag applied to Jeff Tedford and his staff’s ability to recruit with the big boys, year after year? It’s hard to figure out.

The reality is that Cal is, quite simply, an upper-echelon program under Tedford. They’ve won at least seven games every year since 2002, including 10 wins in ’02 and ’06. Tedford hasn’t disappointed in bowl games either, now 5-1 in the postseason in his time at Cal. But while bowl games (and wins) are nice, still, you add it all up and there is one major thing left on the to-do list – a BCS bowl in the Tedford regime.

Will that change this year? Can they actually kick down that door to BCS fame-n-fortune? Or will they flirt with greatness, yet settle in once again to ten-nine-eight-win world? Read on for more…

2008: 9-4, 6-3 in the PAC-10. Started out pretty good, but hit some snags in early November, losing back-to-back games at USC and Oregon State. At 6-4, there were worries that Cal might be headed for a bit of a 2007 relapse, where the team folded up the tents after running into some mid-season adversity. But Cal rallied, winning their last three games, including the Emerald Bowl, to post a very respectable nine wins.

FANS ARE: Pretty pleased with where things are. They haven’t yet had a losing season with the current regime, and Tedford has built a top-shelf program. Outside of their 7-6 struggle of ’07, Cal is always rated right there with Oregon as the top threats to USC, yet still looking up with the rest of the world at the Trojans. But the fans are also ready for a BCS bowl. To keep things going in a great direction, a New Years day appearance would go a long way towards shortening the gap even more between themselves and the men of Troy.


OFFENSIVE SYSTEM: Basically a pro-set with a fullback and tight-end, but a lot of different formations and looks. Cal might be a bit hot-n-cold in the passing game on a yearly basis, but their staples are always a strong, deep running game spearheaded by excellent offensive line play. While o-line coach/offensive assistant Jim Michalczik has moved on to UW, and then the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, things should still be business as usual. Let’s face it, the offense is Tedford’s baby, and regardless of coaching titles and such, it will remain his stamp on the program for as long as he resides in Berkeley.

’08 OFFENSIVE RATINGS: 4th in the PAC-10 in scoring (32.6 ppg), 5th in total offense, and 4th in rushing offense. Not as great as many felt they would be early in ’08, but still, pretty impressive. The downside was the passing offense, just 7th in the league with 189.8 yards per game.

’09 RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: 7, including top backs Jahvid Best and Share Vareen, and QB Kevin Riley.

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: This is a layup. Jahvid Best is the top player on the team, the top running back in the PAC-10, and a sure Heisman candidate. The stats are extremely impressive (1580 rushing yards, 15 TD’s). But the yards per carry were an eye-popping 8.1, a school record! Think about that. That’s just 1.9 yards short of a first down, EVERY TIME HE CARRIED THE FOOTBALL! (Obligatory Youtube highlight in three…two…one….)

He finished the year on fire, including an amazing 311 yards rushing against the hapless Washington rushing defense. But it wasn’t just UW who he skewered down the stretch. Best would total 698 rushing yards in his last three games. A decent receiving threat with 246 yards receiving, Best was number two in the country in total yards per game. Oh yeah, he also had seven runs of at least 60 yards last year, including three that went for 80+. The man just defines explosive.

Now, the bad news – health. I liken Best to Achilles.

You know, just a fabulous specimen capable of pretty much anything you can conceive, yet he has that one soft spot on the heel that can bring him down. And health has not been Best’s buddy, with various ailments over the last couple of years that have somewhat kept him in check. Best missed spring ball with foot and elbow surgeries, but he should be ready to roll in August. A healthy Best could be the difference between the likes of the Emerald Bowl or something much, much bigger in ’09.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: A tricky defense led by former Coug Bob Gregory, Cal throws tons of different looks at you. Most likely you’ll see a lot of 3-man fronts, with zone blitzing, etc.

’08 DEFENSIVE RATINGS: #2 in the PAC-10 in scoring defense, 4th in total defense, 3rd in rushing defense, and 5th in passing yards per game allowed. They were #3 in sacks with 35, and led the conference with an impressive 24 interceptions. An aggressive, upper-division defense.

’09 RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: An impressive 8 starters return from last year’s defense.

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER: There is a lot of talent here, however there are some big shoes to fill. Top linebackers and leading tacklers Zack Follett, Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder have all moved on from Berkeley. Follett’s loss could be enormous, as he totaled 87 tackles, an amazing 23.5 for loss with 10.5 sacks last year. He won’t be easy to replace. But all that said, corner Syd’Quan Thompson is back, and one heck of a talent. Not just a reputation as one of the top two or three defensive backs in the PAC-10 returning this season, but he’s a pretty good special teams guy as well:

Thompson had a big year in ’08, with 70 tackles, 7.5 for loss, and a team-high four interceptions. But the best part is that Thompson will have plenty of help next season. The entire starting secondary is back, so you have to believe they’ll continue their ball-hawking ways in ’09.

1) Can the defense overcome the loss of the big-time linebackers in Follett, Williams and Felder? Normally this would be a big concern, but maybe not so much for Cal. Why? Well, for one, they are super-deep at defensive line. Literally everyone is back up front, and that will be a huge boost to keeping the linebackers free to flow to the ball and make plays. As many people know, the linebackers on any defense are often only as good as the talent in front of them. If you have push-over defensive linemen, then the opposing offensive linemen can get out and put their hats on the linebackers. But if you have strength up front, the linebackers can do what they do best – run and hit. And while they will have three new faces at linebacker, they might not be in a better situation to break in as starters than what they have up front coming into ’09.

2) Is Kevin Riley going to take a big step forward this year? Or is he the true “Achilles heel” for Cal’s ’09 season? Riley was, to be fair, inconsistent in ’08. He averaged just 123.6 yards passing per game last year, which is not exactly top-notch. He took care of the ball, throwing 14 TD’s with six int’s. But even with that strong running game and an outstanding offensive line, he still completed barely more than 50% of his passes. Needless to say, but that isn’t getting the job done.

Riley also shared the job with Nate Longshore, but Longshore has now graduated. Besides, it can be hard to get a strong feel on how a QB will do when he isn’t looking over his shoulder every time he throws an incomplete pass? But even with Longshore out of the way, there is some uncertainty surrounding the QB spot coming into the season. There wasn’t a ton of ringing endorsements for Riley coming out of spring. And there are some younger QB’s who will push him, with the huge sophomore Brock Mansion and talented redshirt frosh Beau Sweenety. So like it or not, it is sink-or-swim time for Riley.

3) What is with the schedule? They open with Maryland at home, which is a game they will probably be favored to win, revenge-style from last year’s thrashing in the Terps’ backyard. After hosting Eastern WA in a likely “stat game”, they face a tough stretch, where they’ll go to Minnesota and at Oregon, in a game that could go a long way towards the PAC-10 title. And that game at Minnesota might be tricky. You know, changing a few time zones and facing an opponent they might not take too seriously with Oregon looming the following week? You think about what happened to Cal at Maryland last year (35-27 loss) and you have to wonder a little bit. But after Oregon, they open up October with the biggie, a home showdown with USC. All told, Cal has five PAC-10 road games, so it could be a tough road to the top.

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: Earlier this spring I wasn’t so sure about Cal. Maybe it was the loss of the top linebackers, or the fact that Riley at QB wasn’t a sure thing. But after looking at them deeper, they look good. REALLY good.

While they lost some really good offensive linemen, and their top play-making linebackers, they still have a ton coming back on both sides of the ball. In fact, it could be said that of the likely top three in USC, Cal and Oregon, Cal has the most coming back for next year. That stretch of at Oregon and then hosting USC in back-to-back games is rough, but will be a huge two-week stretch in deciding who takes the PAC-10. After that October 3rd game with USC, if things go according to plan, Cal should be favored in every game the rest of the season (yes, I’m including the 10/24 game where they host WSU!).

I’m not exactly picking Cal to win this thing….at least not today. But if there IS going to be a year where USC fails to win the title for the first time since ’02, this could be the team that does it.

That’s it for today. ENJOY YOUR MONDAY, and GO COUGS!

Spring Fish Wrap – Denny’s Devils Edition

May 27, 2009

Welcome to another Spring Fish Wrap. This time we take a gander at the ASU Sun Devils, approaching year three in the Dennis Erickson experiment, coming off a year-two season that has to be considered a disappointment among fans of the pitch-fork.

Hard to believe it’s already going to be year THREE for Erickson in the valley of the sun? Boy does time fly. I guess this is the year to start cranking up the old rumor-mill. You know, Erickson to ______. I mean let’s face it, he’s been there for TWO FULL years now. He’s obviously become bored with Tempe…..

2008: 5-7, 4-5 in the PAC-10, home for the holidays. An extremely disappointing year two of the Erickson era. Why? Well, 5-7 and no bowl pretty much sucks, no matter who you are. After a quick 2-0 start, they lost a “shocker” to UNLV – AT HOME NO LESS – in a total “lookahead” game prior to the Georgia Bulldogs coming to town. But that UNLV loss started the downward spiral, Georgia pretty much dominated them the next week, and with their confidence meter suddenly on empty, the team would overall drop six in a row.

ASU dealt with some injuries as well, along the way playing TEN true frosh, most in a season in school history. But you know, after being left for dead at 2-6, they did circle the wagons a bit. ASU would win their next three games to make the finish of the season mildly entertaining. The whole thing collapsed at the end, in a 31-10 thrashing at the hands of the hated Arizona Mildcats. To top off the agony, the 31-10 loss was their worst to Arizona since 1964. Ouch.

Last year vs. WSU: A 31-0 shutout. But the Cougs kept this one somewhat interesting. ASU would outgain WSU 398-130, but it was “only” 10-0 at the half. Hey, being down by two scores at the half? Sad to say it, but something like that was a moral victory for the ’08 Cougs. WSU once again lost the turnover battle, giving it away twice with zero takeaways. But the running game was BRUTAL in this one, where the Cougs would get just seven net rushing yards on the day.

At least QB JT Levenseller got into the game for his first heavy dose of playing time. Sure, he was a rather ineffective 7-for-14 for 41 yards and a few turnovers. Not a great day to burn a redshirt. But at least he saw some real action in what will hopefully benefit him in the coming season….right??

ASU FANS ARE: Disappointed, to say the least, about 2008. The losing season smarts, sure. But for ASU, you must consider the level of expectation for last year to get your arms around this thing. For you see, many, many websites, blogs and such had fallen for ASU during preview season. Coming off a surging 10-win 2007 season, with a decent amount of returning starters, including QB Rudy Carpenter, there were a lot of reasons to like them. Then you consider that the second year of Erickson should see an uptick in performance, combined with seven home games, including the entire first month of the season in Tempe? Again, a lot to like. And a LOT to be disappointed with a 5-win season.

OFFENSIVE SYSTEM: The Erickson one-back offense, albeit slightly modified. Last year, in an effort to keep QB Rudy Carpenter upright and out of traction, the offense was fine-tuned to include more short passes and quick-hitters. Rudy and the rest of the QB’s took a beating in 2007, so it sounded like a good idea. And on paper, at least sacks were down (34 allowed in ’08, a dramatic improvement from 55 allowed in ’07). But…

’08 OFFENSIVE RATINGS: 309.4 yards per game of total offense, good for 100th in the country. 100th!? With Rudy Carpenter, Michael Jones at WR, Erickson’s modified offense, etc? The passing offense was OK, with an average of 220.3 yards per game, 4th in the PAC-10. But the running game? Forget it. ASU would average just 89.1 yards per game, just 2.9 yards per carry. They would finish ahead of only UCLA in the PAC-10 in rushing yards per game, and behind teams like WSU and UW. Without a doubt, lack of a running game ruined their ’08 offense. In another disappointing area, they would finish 9th in the conference in the all-important 3rd down conversion rate, moving the chains just 29% of the time on 3rd downs.

’09 RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: Seven. Not bad. But that number of seven returning starters does not include QB Rudy Carpenter or play-making WR Michael Jones.

TOP RETURNING OFFENSIVE PLAYER: On a team returning a solid number of starters, but losing leading passer Rudy Carpenter and leading WR Michael Jones, one has to dig a little to find the top guy. I almost went with returning senior WR Chris McGaha, but his ’08 season was down in terms of numbers as well as being beat up most of last year. Instead, we’ll go with running back Dimitri Nance.

Nance is a tough, physical back with some pretty good quickness. A stout 5-10, 220, he packs a punch and is tough to bring down. He led the team in rushing yards (410) and tied for the team lead in rushing TD’s last year (3). But he shared the bulk of the carries for the most part with Keegan Herring in ’08. But with Herring now gone, it will be Nance’s chance to carry the mail. Combine the idea of a new starting QB, and Nance might not be just the best player on offense, but also the most important. A big year out of him could go a long way to getting back to a bowl.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: Traditional 4-3 look. Some blitzing, but they rely on the front four to get pressure. Some good speed and some outstanding talent at d-tackle and d-end, they will come after you big-time.

’08 DEFENSIVE RATINGS: Pretty solid across the board. ASU was 4th in the conference in scoring defense, 4th in rushing defense, 7th in passing defense and finally, 5th in total defense. They were third in the conference with 16 INT’s, and led the conference with four INT’s for TD’s in ’08. They even had one game where they scored four defensive TD’s, a new school record.

’09 RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: Six. Not bad. But some big-time returners are back, especially up front along the d-line and at linebacker.

TOP RETURNING DEFENSIVE PLAYER: This one’s easy. Senior defensive end Dexter Davis is the top returner on D in ’09, and maybe the top defensive end in the PAC-10 for this upcoming season. He’s that good.

Not a huge guy for a lineman at 6-2, 252, Davis is strong as an ox and extremely quick. He finished with 11 sacks last year among his 15 tackles for loss, both tops on the team. The only player in the PAC-10 to have at least 10 sacks in each of the last two seasons, Davis is the top pass rushing end out west.

Don’t take my word for it. Check out the video clip for more. He’s coming from the defensive end spot on the bottom of the screen.

Watch Dexter Davis sack in Sports Online | View More Free Videos Online at
First you see his initial push on the tackle to get him on his heels. Then watch the hands, where he literally swats/swims/clubs his way past the tackle. It’s REALLY fast, so you have to watch it a few times to see it. But it’s that big-time move that has him right by the lineman, and in an instant that tackle is grasping at air. But not only does he have the strength and moves to handle a 300+ pound behemoth, he then has the closing burst to sack an awfully strong, mobile QB in Locker with a lightning quick change of direction. Yep, Davis is pretty much everything.


1) Can the running game get any better? Please??? It was a long year on the ground for the Devils, boasting one of the worst rushing offenses in the conference. They literally fell off a cliff with this part of the offense. The offensive line was young, breaking in some new blood here and there, so that had something to do with it. While they improved in the sacks allowed department, it never came on the ground. But all is not lost. Dimitri Nance is in position for a big senior year, and will have some help back there with returners like Shaun DeWitty. But the health of the o-line is an issue, this spring and potentially this fall. Three o-line starters sat out spring ball, and for a group still trying to establish itself, this isn’t good news.

2) Is Danny Sullivan ready to replace Rudy? Or is there someone else in the mix? In a pretty strong showing this spring, senior QB Danny Sullivan went out and put himself in the lead for the starting job this fall.

Sullivan is a big dude at 6-5, 238, and hasn’t played much over the last three+ seasons. He did throw 43 passes last year, but this will be his first shot as a starter.

Hang on a second. Big senior, with a strong arm, some surprising mobility, but hasn’t played much while sitting behind an established four-year starter? SOUND FAMILIAR!?!

Not to suggest that Sullivan is the second coming of Gary Rogers….but….you know. Just saying.

3) So if the offense sputters with a banged-up line and inexperience at QB, is the defense good enough to save the day? Mmm, could be. ASU’s defense is returning some serious talent, in all the right places. They will be strong up front with not only Dexter Davis, but defensive tackle Lawrence Guy will be a force. Guy was a frosh All-American last year, actually leading the ASU defensive line in total tackles while finishing second behind Davis with 10 tackles for loss. A huge-framed athlete at 6-5, 275, Guy looks like a rising star.

But they’ll be strong at corner, where starters Omar Bolden (coming off injury) and Terrell Carr are both back in ’09. And they’ll be set at linebacker as well, where starters Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel return for their senior seasons. Nixon and Goethel combined for 161 tackles, 15.5 for loss, and SEVEN interceptions. One of the best all-around linebackers in the conference, Nixon actually tied for the conference lead with five interceptions on his own, and finished sixth in the conference with 90 tackles.

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: I admit it. I picked ASU 2nd in the PAC-10 last year. They just seemed to have everything going for them, from the schedule to the returning starters to Erickson’s second year. And I thought Rudy was just going to explode with the new wrinkles to the offense. But I know I wasn’t alone out there. They disappointed a lot of people with their mid-season collapse, something that looked like a near-impossibility during “preview” season.

A glance at the schedule shows ASU with some soft landings to start the year, opening at home vs. Idaho State and after a week-two bye, it’s a helping of Louisiana-Monroe. But then it gets tricky, with a road game at sweaty Athens, Georgia, where UGA and all that SEC speed will be waiting. After that, they host Oregon State to start October, then it’s off to Pullman for the 10/10 showdown in Martin Stadium.

Speaking of Martin Stadium, the Cougars have done fairly well at home vs. ASU this decade. ASU won a squeaker in Pullman in ’07, 23-20, on a missed field goal from going to OT (and a missed TD call from WSU winning the game outright?). But even in ’05, WSU lost by just three points at home, 27-24. And WSU beat ASU in Pullman in both ’02 (44-22) and ’03 (34-19). So Pullman isn’t exactly circled on the Sun Devil calendar as a place they love to be.

All told, ASU has seven home games. While that sounds great, remember they had seven home games last year, and we know how that turned out. And in a really tough stretch, they also get what are likely to be the top three teams in the conference on back-to-back-to-back Saturdays, in CAL (10/31), USC (11/7) and at Oregon (11/14). No doubt that stretch will make – or break – their season.

But I bet Erickson will have them with a major chip on their shoulder from the get-go. With a new QB, whether it’s Sullivan or one of the others in the mix, they will recommit to establishing the run game, and will ride Nance early in the season while things settle down. And that defense looks especially good. Something tells me they might be a candidate to turn it around quickly in the muddled middle ground of the PAC-10. Things could be awfully fluid between, say, the fourth and seventh place teams, and it’s hard to doubt the talent ASU has in the system. A 3-1 start heading into the WSU game isn’t out of the question. But that’s why they play the games! We’ll see what happens.

That’s it for a Wednesday. ENJOY your day, and as always, GO COUGS!

Spring Fish Wrap – Quack Attack Edition

May 18, 2009

Time for a look at opponent number five on the WSU schedule, the Quack Attack. And let me just ask, first off, what do the Coug fans think of Oregon? I think it’s a real love/hate thing with them. I think we love them when they embarrass UW on a yearly basis, as they have for the last several seasons. I can’t help but admit that it’s fun to watch them steamroll the purple-n-gold. But on the flip side, it’s probably true that WSU fans on a regular basis? Yeah, they pretty much despise the green-n-yellow. A cocky NW rival who are rich, powerful and absolutely in LOVE with themselves, they aren’t an easy bunch to wrap your arms around. They probably come in a solid second in “self-worship” in the PAC-10, just behind USC and slightly ahead of UW? I know, that sounds like petty, jealous crap from a have-not school like WSU. But it is what it is.

That out of the way, how does Oregon look, after their first Chip Kelly-led spring session? Let’s take a look…

2008: 10-3, 7-2 in the PAC-10, good for a 2nd place tie with Oregon State. After humiliating the hated in-state rival Beavers in a wipeout of a Civil War….and killing the Rose Bowl dreams for said Beavs in the process…..Oregon culminated a 10-win season with an entertaining victory over Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl, a 42-31 thriller that saw over 1,000 yards of total offense combined!

Now 10-3 was great, but there were some struggles early in the year. Even though the running game was strong, the QB situation was spotty at best in losses early to Boise State and a 44-10 crusher at USC. But that all changed when JC transfer Jeremiah Masoli took control of the position. The Oregon offense hasn’t slowed down since.

FANS ARE: Quacking about their successful ’08, so much so that visions of a PAC-10 title are dancing in their heads for ’09. And maybe they are a little nervous about losing Bellotti, the all-time winningest coach at Oregon at 116-55. While Phil Knight has been a huge help – let’s not kid ourselves, the locker room bells-n-whistles and fantastic facilities are a huge boost to recruiting – Bellotti really built an impressive program in his 13 seasons at the helm. But they are also somewhat calm over the idea of Kelly’s leadership. While not exactly a blowhard, Kelly does have some cocky confidence about him. He even ridiculed the UW chest-thumping over their spring game results, criticizing the idea of the first-stringers taking on the backups. Even though he’s never been a D-1 head coach, there isn’t much doubt among the Oregon faithful that the time is right, and Kelly is ready for this.

LAST YEAR vs. WSU: A huge 63-14 whipping behind the woodshed. The Cougs turned it over four times, but Oregon simply overmatched them in talent and speed. It was over early as Oregon sprinted to a 14-0 just 3+ minutes into the game as the Cougs coughed it up on consecutive possessions to open the game.

It was 35-7 at the half, and that was all she wrote. The Ducks would rush for 346 yards in a game where pretty much everything went wrong for WSU.

OFFENSIVE SYSTEM: Oregon is clearly the kings of the spread read-option offense, at least on the west coast. Not as pass-happy as the spread offenses like Oklahoma or Texas, Oregon is a machine on the ground. It’s not the easiest system in the world to pick up and play, as we saw with some early-season QB struggles from all the bodies they shuffled in and out of the position last year in the quest to replace Dennis Dixon. But when things settle down, and they are clicking as they were late in ’08, the offense is simply a sight to behold.

’08 OFFENSIVE RATINGS: Led the PAC-10 in scoring offense (41.9 ppg), total offense (484.8 ypg), and rushing yards per game (an amazing 280.1 yards per game, more than 80 yards better than second-best Stanford). A middle-of-the-road passing attack, at least statistically, finishing fifth it the conference in passing yards (2662 yards) and TD’s (20).

’09 RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: Five, including starting QB Jeremiah Masoli.

TOP RETURNING OFFENSIVE PLAYER: It is tempting to go with LeGarrette Blount, the running back who exploded for 1,000 yards and 17 rushing TD’s in his first year in Eugene. But Blount was just part of the running attack, and Jeremiah Johnson actually led the team in rushing last year (1201 rushing yards, compared to 1002 for Blount). Blount is big, strong and has a nose for the end zone, but without a decent QB, it’s hard to imagine he would put up the same kind of numbers. That’s why I’ll go with Jeremiah Masoli.

After some severe up-and-down learning moments throughout 2008, and dealing with a QB rotation where several QB’s were splitting playing time each week, Masoli finally pulled away from the pack late in the year. But after a 7-for-21, two-int game in a loss at Cal on 11/1, Masoli rebounded to play his best football to close out the season. Masoli would throw seven TD’s with only one INT in his last four games, all wins by the Ducks. He also ran for seven TD’s over those last four games, as he truly became a dual-threat headache for opposing defenses. He capped it all with a fantastic Holiday Bowl, where he threw for 258 yards and a score, but ran for 106 yards and three more TD’s.

On the season, Masoli led the team in passing yards with 1744 yards and 13 TD’s. He also took care of the ball, throwing just five INT’s in 239 passing attempts. Pretty impressive for his first year in the Oregon offense. But also added 718 rushing yards, as well as 10 rushing TD’s for the year. And Masoli not only has the wheels, but he is tightly packed with muscle at 5-11, 215. And check out the TD run vs. Okie State that still has Oregon fans buzzing:

Fast and strong, he’s like another dual-threat success for the Ducks. While he might share the load a bit in ’09 with some of the other QB’s, there is little doubt that Masoli will carry the offense next season.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: A 4-3 attack, and they will get after it with blitzing from their linebackers. They also love to put the strong safety in the box, close to the line of scrimmage in the “rover” position. Having an extra safety almost like a linebacker puts more pressure on their corners, but they like to roll with a lot of one-on-one coverage on the outside anyway.

DEFENSIVE RATINGS: Strong against the run last year (119.4 ypg, second only to USC), they surprisingly had the worst pass defense in the conference last season (270.2 ypg). And it wasn’t even close, as Stanford was ninth, giving up 226.7 yards per game. But in a strange twist, Oregon actually led the conference in sacks, with 40, and finished third with 16 interceptions. So they were a play-making type defense, but with the big plays or big risks came some big rewards for the opposition.


TOP RETURNING DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Linebacker Spencer Paysinger

This wasn’t an easy choice. While Oregon might not have a huge quantity of starters back in ’09, they make up for it in quality. TJ Ward wasn’t the big name guy in Oregon’s secondary last year, not with returning starters like Jairus Byrd, Walter Thurmond Jr, or Patrick Chung. But Ward surpassed them all, totaling a team-high in tackles at 101, including 5.5 for loss. And D-end Will Tukuafu was second only to all-timer Nick Reed on the team with 7.5 sacks and an excellent 17.5 tackles for loss. However, I’m going with the rising linebacker, Spencer Paysinger, as the top returning defensive player for ’09.

After recording just four tackles as a frosh in ’07, Paysinger had a big breakthrough performance in ’08, winning the weakside linebacker job as a sophomore and starting every game last year. He opened a lot of eyes with 12 tackles in his first-ever start vs. UW to open the year. For the season, Paysinger was second on the team in tackles (95), with an impressive 12.5 for loss. And he finished the year with a kick, including a 68-yd INT return for a TD vs Oregon State.

Paysinger had a strong Holiday Bowl as well, with three tackles for loss. He has excellent size at 6-3, 220, and runs extremely well. Already one of the strongest linebackers on the team, he should have a huge junior year. You can be sure he’ll appear on many all-conference lists heading into ’09.


1) Masoli looked great at the end of the year, but the WR’s look a little thin. The running game should be fine, but who will Masoli throw to? This is definitely an issue. Masoli loses two of his top three WR targets from last year in Terence Scott and Jaison Williams. And after spring ball, it was announced that WR Aaron Pfulgrad would get his release from the program and would leave Eugene. But there is talent here, including TE Ed Dickson, who should have a strong senior year. And there was some good buzz this spring surrounding USC transfer Jamere Holland, an ultra fast and talented player who could be a big boost to the passing game. But with a running game so superior, it might not even matter that much. This is hardly a pass-happy offense.

2) What about the losses on the O-line? Now this IS a bigger issue. Gone are three experienced senior starters, led by all-everything center Max Unger, now a Seattle Seahawk. They will have to get things sorted out in fall camp, but offensive line has to be the biggest concern of the offense, if not the entire team. It’s hard to replace good, experienced horses up front and not expect some real bumps in the road?

3) And of course, the schedule. And what a schedule it is. Out of conference, they open with a doozy, on the smurf turf at Boise State on a Thursday night special. They also get Sugar Bowl champ Utah at home later in September. But they play just four conference road games this year, and they should be against mid-to-lower tier PAC-10 teams (@UCLA, @UW, @Stanford and @Arizona). In other words, the top-tier teams in the conference? They get them ALL in Autzen Stadium. That means USC, Cal, Oregon State, they all have to go through Eugene.

WSU Football Blog SEZ: Love ’em or hate ’em, Oregon is good. Really good. And awfully entertaining, especially on offense. But now, it’s a new world at Oregon. Mike Bellotti has started the proccss of moving upstairs, handing the headset to the top offensive coordinator around, Chip Kelly. For the first time since the ’94 Rose Bowl season, a new head coach will lead the program. Kelly gets his shot at the full-time head coaching gig that brought him across the country in the first place. Kelly, if you remember, landed in Eugene all the way from New Hampshire when he signed on to lead the Oregon O in ’07. It was an interesting hire at the time, and to come all the way across the country after 13 years at New Hampshire, well, it seemed like there would be more to this story. And what do you know, here we are.

I think overall, things will be relatively the same as they were under Bellotti. They will play the same style of football, with the tough-to-handle offense and aggressive defense. But for this year, there are some real losses that are hard to overlook on both sides of the ball. All-timer defensive end Nick Reed has moved on and taken all those sacks and tackles for loss with him. Patrick Chung and Jairus Byrd have gone to the next level. So the defense has some holes to fill.

But the biggest issue I can’t help but think will derail them a little bit is the offensive line. They have some talented kids in the pipeline ready to take over up front, but man, young or inexperienced offensive lines just always seem to struggle a bit, especially early on. But if they can take care of business early and some of those linemen get some solid game time under their belts, they should be fine. The best news though is that the trigger man is back on offense, and that is just huge for a scheme like this. And with that favorable home schedule, where Oregon is 56-13 in their last 69 games? You have to like their chances to be at least an upper-division finisher, if not a legit challenger for a New Year’s day bowl.

That’s it for today. Enjoy it, and as always, GO COUGS!

Spring Fish Wrap – Men of Troy Edition

May 13, 2009

Ah yes, the USC Trojans. Dominance in virtually every aspect, on and off the field. From song girls/cheerleaders, Pete Carroll, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Carson Palmer, Keyshawn Johnson, Junior Seau, Marcus Allen, Charles White and OJ, the list just goes on, and on, and on.

But now, things are looking just a little different. UW robbed the coaching cupboard in their attempt at becoming USC North, setting up camp in Seattle. And once again, USC was raided in the NFL draft, losing 11 more players to the league, another year where they were tops in the conference. Is this the year that Cal or Oregon or some other darkhorse rides out of the mist and takes their throne? Or is it yet another USC PAC-10 title, for the eighth straight time? It’s early to fully predict what’s going to happen, but we can at least take a look at their post-spring practice condition. Read on for more…

LAST YEAR: 12-1, 8-1 in the PAC-10, conference champions and Rose Bowl champions (yawn). USC stubbed their toes just once last year, at Oregon State in that memorable Thursday night game in week three, where the world was introduced to Jacquizz Rodgers on ESPN. But as usual, USC got their house in order and rolled through the rest of the schedule, hot knife through butter style. The season culminated in a 38-24 Rose Bowl title. 38-24 doesn’t sound like that much of a whoopin’, but the final score is misleading. SC was up 31-7 at the half, 38-14 in the 4th quarter before Penn State would add a couple of TD’s late.

Interesting sidenote on USC and the Big 10. With their latest Rose Bowl victory, SC has now won their last nine in a row vs. the Big 10. And it hasn’t even been close. USC has won by an average of 36.8 to 13.1. And all nine games were won by double-digits! Last year not only included the win over #8 Penn State, but don’t forget SC blew out #5 Ohio State 35-3 earlier in the season. Very, very impressive.

LAST YEAR vs. WSU: Uh, yeah. 69-0. ‘Nuff said.

FANS ARE: You mean aside from starting to sweat the Ruggie Bush/OJ Mayo sandwich investigation? They are pretty cool with everything. Disappointed they didn’t get a shot at the BCS title, but hey, understanding as to why they missed out last year. You lose one game, and you are in that mix of teams who more or less have to “politic” their way into the conversation with the rest of the one-loss teams. USC would finish a strong #5 in the BCS standings, #5 in the AP poll, and #4 in the coaches poll.

I guess they could be a little bored as well. Bored, if you consider going to the Rose Bowl four years in a row and five of their last six seasons have ended in Pasadena? Of course, this year, the Rose Bowl will be just fine, thanks….it’s the site of the BCS title game. So Pasadena will just have to do this year!

OFFENSIVE SYSTEM: Even with the departure of Steve Sarkisian to UW, the offense should be largely what you are used to with SC. Jeremy Bates was hired from the Denver Broncos to be the new play-caller on offense, while John Morton will help coordinate the offense. And so far, so good, according to reports of the new coaches. Not exactly missing Sarkisian? But don’t look for any drastic changes. A pro-style offense with a fullback and tight end, but not afraid to go three-wide and use motion when necessary.

#14 in the nation in scoring offense at 37.5 points per game.
#22 in the nation in rushing offense at 194.8 yards per game.
#22 in the nation in passing offense at 259.8 yards per game.

A nice and balanced attack, averaging 454.7 yards per game in total offense.


TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: While Joe McKnight gets the accolades, and Youtube fame as well. But McKnight is really just one of a cast of thousands in the USC backfield (OK, not thousands, but more like five other guys will carry the ball along with McKnight). It’s hard to ignore McKnight’s 7.4 yards per carry last year, but he only had 89 carries on the season. While he should have a big ’09 season, I’m going to go in another direction and pick rising WR Damian Williams as the top offensive player for USC.

Williams was a transfer from Arkansas, who fled to LA along with QB Mitch Mustain in a much-publicized move across the country. Mustain was the headline guy in all that, but it turns out that Williams has already made a far greater impact on the football program. In his first season at SC, Williams led the team in catches (58), yards (869) and was second in TD’s (9), all as a sophomore. Williams isn’t huge in the Dwayne Jarrett/Mike Williams mold, standing 6-1 and weighing 190, but he has the look of a special WR. Williams had a huge Rose Bowl, with 10 catches for 162 yards and a TD.

Watching the video, you see how explosive he is. There are several plays where he doesn’t quite look like he has the angle, then boom, he’s by the guy (check the TD vs. UCLA as an example). Williams is arguably the top WR returning in the PAC-10 for ’09, and should be on several first-team all-conference lists. And his return should help the new young QB, whether it’s Aaron Corp, Matt Barkley or someone else.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: Your NFL-style 4-3 attack, with big meaty NFL-type tackles and great speed on the edges. They don’t go crazy with blitzing either, instead relying on their front four a lot of times to create the pressure they need. They will blitz, but you don’t see huge sack totals from their linebackers. But they are physical as hell and always tackle as well as any defense you will see in the conference.

Top in the PAC-10 in scoring (9.0 ppg), total defense (221.8 yards per game), rushing defense (87.4 yards per game), pass defense (134.4 yards per game), and pretty much everything else. If you want to nit-pick, they were only number two in the conference in interceptions, and were fifth in sacks. But overall, a fantastic PAC-10 defense.


TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER: This one is easy. Taylor Mays couldn’t be any bigger, a 6-4, 225-lb free safety NIGHTMARE in the secondary.

Mays surprised a lot of people when he opted to return for his senior year, when many NFL mock drafts had him pegged as a sure-fire first round pick. And what is amazing about Mays is the way he can play at his size at free safety. 6-4, 225? That’s at least an outside linebacker on a lot of teams, and maybe even a defensive end. Instead he’s back there hitting the crap out of opposing WR’s.

He’s in the conversation as top defensive player in the conference, and one of the best in the country. One interesting aspect is the debate between Mays and Eric Berry, the all-everything safety from Tennessee. Of course the SEC angle is that Berry is better, and it’s hard to argue the numbers (Berry had more tackles, sacks, interceptions, etc compared to Mays last year). Not that it matters, but still, interesting to see the debate. Mays may not be a big-time stat hound, but there’s an awful lot he does that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. And besides, who wants their free safety to be a top tackler on your team? Mays had NFL talent everywhere on a defense that saw five first-day draft picks this spring, so it was unrealistic to expect him to be this stat-stuffing monster. But with just three returning starters on D, there is no doubt who the best defensive player is coming back in ’09.


1) Start at the top. How’s the QB battle look? From all accounts, Aaron Corp is the man. Corp played very little last year, attempting just four passes in ’08 as Marc Sanchez had a great year at QB. But can Corp really replace the top NFL draft choice/superhunk QB? Corp had a nice spring, showing everything the coaches are looking for in the spotlight position. He did everything asked of him, and then some, holding off challenges from Matt Barkley and Mitch Mustain to take control of the helm… least RIGHT NOW. Per the LA Times, “right now” is a key phrase.

“At the end of the day, he’s been able to take the team down the field and not turn the ball over,” quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates said. “That’s the biggest separation right now.”

Bates’ word choice — “right now” — was intentional. And Coach Pete Carroll could not seem to repeat often enough that the competition to replace Mark Sanchez would continue.

“By no means is this thing over,” Carroll said.

It should be one interesting fall camp to settle the position, but right now, Corp is the man who shall lead them.

2) Just THREE starters back on D? No Maualuga, Cushing, etc? Whatever are they to do!? Eh, don’t sweat it. SC’s defense will be just fine, just as it always is under Pete Carroll’s watchful eye. Yes, some big names at linebacker are gone to the next level in Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and defensive end/hybrid Clay Matthews. But the word on the street is that the young talent set to replace them could actually be faster than the likes of Maualuga and Cushing. SC does lose their top four tacklers, as well as their top sack guys in Kyle Moore, Clay Matthews and DT Fili Moala. But Everson Griffen is back at defensive end, and it is his time to live up to the hype. Pete Carroll once called him the best defensive recruit he ever had, so no time like the present to take the next step!

3) How about that schedule?
Not too shabby. Per Phil Steele, they weigh in with the 87th rated schedule in the country based on 2008 winning percentage. The first month is interesting, opening up with softball San Jose State before traveling to Columbus in week two to take on the Buckeyes in a major REVENGE game from last year’s 35-3 wipeout in LA. SC then goes to Seattle to play the “former assistants bowl” vs. Sarkisian and Holt, and then, they host the Cougs in LA to close out the month. However things do get a little dicey in October, with road games at Cal, Notre Dame and Oregon. They close out the season with three of their last four at home, and they are all games they should be heavily favored to win. So get through October, and they could be home free to another PAC-10 title.

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: It has been an unbelievable run for USC. You are talking about a program that has, for SEVEN straight years, had at least 11 wins, been in a BCS bowl, had at least an AP top 4 finish, and of course, won the PAC-10. No team in the history of the conference has enjoyed such a dominant run. But is THIS the year they take a step back? There is so much lost from their defense of last year, one of the most talented USC defenses in school history, likely one of the most talented in PAC-10 history. Talent is one thing, game experience is another, and so you have to wonder if there might be some youthful mistakes early on?

Then again, it’s USC we’re talking about. Always at the top in the recruiting wars, they’ve been in these kinds of positions before. Heck, there was talk last year that USC might take a step back with a brand new QB in Sanchez taking over for John David Booty. And in fact, last year USC had just 11 starters coming back on the entire team, including just four on offense. But we know how that worked out, yet another PAC-10 title, Rose Bowl win, blah blah blah. So in reality, people might pick against USC this year based on what they lost, but they actually have MORE starters back in ’09 compared to a wonderful ’08!

We’ll have our official picks later this summer, but based on recent history, don’t just automatically assume they will come back to the pack.

That’s it for a Trojan Thursday. Enjoy it, and as always, GO COUGS!

Spring Fish Wrap – SMU Edition

May 12, 2009

Welcome to another fish wrap, from a WSU Football Blog point of view. Last week we hit the first two teams of ’09 on the WSU schedule – Stanford and Hawai’i – and now we move on. Today it’s opponent number three in the cross-hairs, as the SMU Ponies roll into Martin Stadium for an early season showdown of ESPN “Bottom Ten” occupants for most of the 2008 season (psst – check team number two on the list to finish up 2008):

We call SMU the Ponies for a couple of reasons. First, of course, the old “Pony Express” backfield of Eric Dickerson and Craig James of the early 80’s. Big-time players who put SMU on the map, pre-major probation era.

For those that don’t quite remember, Dickerson and James ran wild for SMU, as they built up a powerhouse in the old SWC. And in the very early 80’s, SMU was a pretty big deal. So big in that they won at least some share of a national title in both 1981 AND 1982. However, SMU fans just couldn’t help themselves, and things spiraled out of control so badly that they actually killed the program, death penalty style! Per the SMU Mustangs Wiki entry:

1987, SMU became the first and, currently, only school to have its football program given the the NCAA’s “death penalty”. The program was terminated for the 1987 season because the university was allegedly making approximately $61,000 in booster payments from 1985 to 1986. It later emerged that a “slush fund” had been used to pay players as early as the mid-1970s, and athletic officials had known about it as early as 1981.

The death penalty, while harsh, also worked. SMU hasn’t been to a bowl game since 1984, and have had just one winning season since the penalty crippled the program. But while the old gray mare ain’t what she used to be, there is some strong history at SMU. Don Meredith, Doak Walker, Craig James, Eric Dickerson, etc. Big names, sure. Just that whole cheating thing more or less sunk the ship.

Anyway, not to belittle the upcoming opponent, but, when looking at 2008, “ponies” seems appropriate. In June Jones’ first year at the helm after getting off the Hawai’ian islands, his SMU Mustangs took a 1-11, zero-conference-win BATH in C-USA. We thought WSU ’08 was bad? One look at what SMU went through and you see it was just as bad….if not worse.

But hang on. Yes, the calendar has flipped, and it’s a whole new season of hope. What do the Mustangs look like, post-spring ball? Well, let’s see…

LAST YEAR: 1-11, 0-8 in-conference. Sounds a little familiar? They did beat Texas State in a 47-36 shootout, but otherwise they goose-egged it for ’08.

Now let’s get real here. SMU pretty much stunk in ’08, rolling out a brutal season in their first year under Jones. But there might be at least some promise in that 1-11 mark. They did hang in there against bowl teams like Houston (44-38), Memphis (31-26) and Tulsa (37-31). But hey, 1-11 is 1-11. Not quite as bad as 0-12, but, uh, still awfully bumpy. The bad news is that 1-11 was all too familiar to the SMU faithful. Why? Because they went 1-11, including 0-8 in conference, in 2007! A lone win over North Texas saved them from a defeated ’07. It’s been some tough times down SMU’s way the last couple of years.

FANS ARE: Wondering exactly what the fuss was over June Jones? THIS is the guy who led Hawai’i to all those wins and bowl games? This is the guy they paid $10 million for, over the next five years, to get things moving?

But really, it’s not THAT bad. It appears many SMU faithful understood Jones was stepping into a very difficult situation. After all, he was essentially starting over with a very young squad in ’08. Very much a “flip that program” deal that WSU fans are all too familiar with, year one was a major overhaul in several different areas for SMU. Jones and company were simply trying to implement their entire system, on and off the field. And besides, SMU was only returning 10 starters last year – five on offense, five on defense – so over half the team on both sides of the ball had new faces to break in. When you have an offense that is a radical switch to the run-and-shoot, it’s not exactly the simplest of systems for pretty much everyone on offense. Major speed bumps in year one were expected, and that’s exactly what they got.

OFFENSIVE SYSTEM: Run-n-shoot, big-time. And definitely more shoot than run? Jones brought the system with him to Dallas last year, and it showed in their stats, where they attempted 476 passes vs. only 217 rushing attempts.

OFFENSIVE RATINGS: 98th in total offense, averaging 314.3 yards per game. The passing game was alright, averaging 272.9 yards per game. But the running game? Ouch. Not only did they only attempt 217 runs on the year, but they only averaged 41.4 yards per game, on just 2.3 yards per carry. June Jones has never been a big run guy in the run-n-shoot, but wow, just 41 yards per game is just about as tough as it gets.



The true frosh started from day one of the ’08 season, and didn’t disappoint. Even though the overall record wasn’t there, the upside is apparent. Mitchell racked up 2865 yards passing, with 24 TD passes to boot, good for third-most in single season history at SMU. He had five games of at least three TD passes, and four games in which he threw for at least 300 yards, which is 2nd all-time in SMU history for 300+ yard games in a season. But he certainly wasn’t perfect. He did make an awful lot of rookie mistakes, including 23 INT’s and a completion percentage of 57.6 percent.

A big key is going to be Mitchell’s health. Mitchell is strong, but isn’t the biggest QB in the world, listed at 6-1, 201. He injured his shoulder late in the season vs. Memphis, and after the injury, would throw four int’s with one TD pass in his last two games. But the potential is there in a system that appears to fit him well. He’s also regarded as a real student of the game, watching countless hours of tape on Colt Brennan, looking for ways to get better and master a tough to “pick up and play” offense.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: While listed as “multiple”, they were mainly a 4-3 defense. But now they are purely a 3-4 scheme, based on their latest spring practice session and depth chart.

DEFENSIVE RATINGS: Pretty much a nightmare last year. SMU was 119th in the country in total defense, giving up 479.5 yards per game. That number was slightly better than what happened in ’07, where they gave up 498.7 yards per game. Still, it was pretty much the bottom of the barrel in defensive ratings for SMU. Teams averaged almost five yards per carry (4.9) against the defense.



While fellow linebacker Pete Fleps had more total tackles last year (106), I will go with Yenga as the best defensive player on SMU’s roster. Yenga had a breakout ’08 campaign, when he had 73 tackles, as well as leading the team in tackles for loss (10.5) and sacks (6.5). This year he will be a weakside linebacker in the 3-4 after playing some defensive end last year, and he should be able to attack the line of scrimmage as an outside rusher. Undersized as a defensive end but just right as a weakside ‘backer at 6-1, 223, he could be a perfect fit in their linebacker corps.

And on a defense that recorded just 18 sacks for the entire ’08 season, Yenga was roughly better than 1/3rd of the entire team sack totals. Yenga also led the team in QB hurries (4), plus a team-high in forced fumbles (3). He even blocked a couple of kicks. Simply put, Yenga is the top player on the defense and must be accounted for on every snap for next season.


1) How does the O-line look? Can they protect Mitchell and keep him healthy? With eight starters back on offense, you would think things will be fine. But the SMU offensive line is awfully young. Four of the five projected starters for next year are sophomores. However three of them got some significant game experience last season, so it might not be as bad as it sounds. Still, that’s a lot of youth up front, and there could still be some significant growing pains ahead.

2) Sure, Mitchell had a big ’08 season. But will he suffer from the dreaded Sophomore Slump? It doesn’t really look like it. As stated above, yes, the line is young, but they do have some game experience under their belts. But the best thing for Mitchell is that his top two WR’s are coming back for ’09. Aldrick Robinson is a big-play guy at WR, with a team leading 1,047 yards receiving and 11 TD catches, all as a sophomore last year. But he’s not alone. Emmanuel Sanders is back as well, and all he did was reel in another 958 yards receiving of his own, with nine TD catches. Add Robinson and Sanders together, and you are talking about 2000+ yards and 20 TD catches between them. When a QB has experienced weapons like that coming back, he should be just fine in ’09.

3) But will the defense stop anybody? ANYONE? Not an easy question to answer. Eight starters are back, and as they always say, experience is the best teacher. There are some good individuals coming back, with Yenga and Fleps at linebacker. And they are making a permanent switch to the 3-4 defense next season, so it might be a better fit given their relative strength at linebacker. But of those eight starters, only three are seniors. So they will still be somewhat young. And you are also talking about a unit that was pushed around for most of the last two seasons. This is one of the worst overall defenses in the country over their last 24 games, coaching changes be damned. To suddenly turn it all around might be far-fetched, but with some major lessons learned by some key individuals last year, 2009 could see some solid steps forward.

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: SMU is going to be an interesting challenge. A lot of experience back, and they will be eager to taste some success after such a miserable last couple of seasons. The offense should be pretty familiar to WSU, after seeing Hawai’i’s version of the run-n-shoot the prior week. SMU opens with winnable games vs. Stephen F Austin at home, and then at UAB on 9/12 before making the trip north to Pullman.

This is a game between two programs that have clearly seen better days. And, quite frankly, both teams are probably looking at the schedule right now and thinking “that’s one we can get.” Even though coaches NEVER look ahead, right?? But it’s also fair to say that, looking at the schedules ahead for both teams? They sure better get this one. Not to get all gloomy, but, whoever loses here may not have many wins left in their respective schedules.

That’s it for SMU on a Tuesday. Enjoy your day, and GO COUGS!