Archive for the ‘Andy Mattingly’ Category

The Magnificent Front Seven? Or Something Else Entirely?

July 28, 2009


Time to glance at the defensive front of our beloved Cougs. But instead of doing just the D-line or just the linebackers, I thought what the heck, do the entire front seven. And for good reason, I guess. I mean really, both sets of positions rely heavily on each other for success. The linebackers rely on the defensive line to plug up holes and/or occupy blockers long enough to fly to the ball and make plays. And the d-line, if they do their job? They still need competent, strong-tackling linebackers who are capable of getting to the ball and making the play. Both positions need each other, and together they complete the heart of any defense. They are almost one with each other, one feeding off the other’s success. But will it be a “Magnificent Seven” up front? Or something else entirely?? Let’s see…

First of all, it better be said now, and let’s just get this out of the way – the defense was abysmal last year. I mean how else do you explain the 43.9 points per game allowed, 118th in the country? The 247.6 rushing yards per game allowed, 119th in the country? Hey, passing defense wasn’t too bad, at 195.8 yards per game allowed, or 44th in the country. But let’s be honest, I mean the team was buried so deep and so early that many games saw teams doing nothing but student-body-right/student-body-left for half of their possessions. USC even took a knee at the 15-yard line of WSU before the half…..things were THAT bad.

I don’t think any Coug fan who watched them all season would argue against that statement, and many inside the WSU program would probably agree. Of course there were many circumstances as to why they were so bad, such as a madly ineffective offense, injuries, suspensions, blah blah BLEH! The list is too long to accurately point out every single thing that was wrong, so, you get the gist. In a nutshell, what could go wrong, did go wrong in ’08.

So let’s get to it. We’ll start from the inside out, meaning defensive tackles, defensive ends, and then the linebackers.

D-tackle rotation:
Some starting combo of Bernard Wolfgramm, Toby Turpin and Josh Luapo. If Wolfgramm is healthy, he will start alongside Turpin to form a thick, talented interior. Wolfgramm is pushing 290 lbs on his 6-3 frame, while Turpin checks in at 6-4, 285. The buzz from last year was that Wolfgramm was the best defensive lineman on the team, and Turpin wasn’t far behind. But even as injuries and other off-the-field issues hurt last year’s defensive line, Wulff resisted the urge to burn Wolfgramm’s redshirt. And now that move, hopefully, will pay off!


Other unknown or relatively unproven backups are (potentially) Dan Spitz, Justin Clayton and Anthony Laurenzi.

D-Tackle analysis: Starting to see a little depth develop here. Contrast these guys with what you saw for most of ’08, and it’s a whole different world inside. Wolfgramm redshirted, and Luapo didn’t even enroll until January of ’09, following the gray shirt route. And Turpin came on strong at the end of the year, but he didn’t really play until the last month of the season.


All that said, ’09 could still see this group as not-yet-ready for prime time. While Wolfgramm redshirted last year, and it’s great that he did so well and all that. But we’re talking about practice. PRACTICE!

Seriously though, he still hasn’t had a snap of PAC-10 football. And he had a balky shoulder that kept him out for some action this spring, so who knows what kind of shape he’ll be in by the opener. I know I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for how he does in August camp. While Luapo is big and all that, a fire-hydrant type at 6-0, 325 lb, like Wolfgramm, he hasn’t seen any PAC-10 action either.

Defensive Ends: Kevin Kooyman and Jesse Feagin are projected starters.

Defensive end analysis: Hmmm. Well, we like Kooyman. He has had some injury issues over the years, and started seven games last year. Kooyman is good-sized at 6-6, around 250, but isn’t exactly hell on wheels in terms of getting up field and rushing the passer. He is more of your all-around type of defensive end who isn’t a huge playmaker, with 31 tackles and one sack last year. It’s hard to believe he’s already a senior isn’t it? His career has absolutely flown by. He was regarded as one of the top recruits in the state when he came on board under Doba and company, regarded as a good guy, and last year, there was considerable buzz that he was set for a big ’08 season. It just never happened. He is the undisputed leader up front this season, and here’s hoping he goes out with a bang in ’09.

Feagin is another interesting case. Reportedly adding 16 lbs of muscle in the off-season, now near 270 lbs, he could make an impact right away. There is always some speculation that with the added weight, he could slide inside on passing/nickel situations, as a smaller pass-rushing defensive tackle. But it’s likely he’ll be at the top of the depth chart, opposite Kooyman as a starting defensive end. Feagin, like Kooyman, is also a senior. He played sparingly as a JC transfer in ’07, just three tackles in nine total games, and then missed last year due to academics. We’ve heard good things about Feagin over the last two+ years, so now we will find out what he’s really got in the tank.

As for backups, I would speculate heading into camp that Casey Hamlett, the transfer from Western, and Adam Coerper, the redshirt frosh who was the scout team defensive player of the year last year, will be the first d-ends off the bench. Hamlett was profiled in the spring as to opening some eyes with his high-energy approach. The opportunity is right there in front of him, and to go from playing at Western WA to being a regular in the defensive end rotation on a BCS school in one year has to get his heart racing! Coerper, meanwhile, is another kid on the rise, a youngster who has drawn praise since he arrived in Pullman. One of those nice, athletic frames at 6-4, 250, in the versatile mold who could play tight end or defensive end, the redshirt frosh has a real shot at regular playing time.

For a real young sleeper/long shot for ’09, Travis Long must get mentioned here. Long was one of the top recruits signed in February, and while he hasn’t yet put on the pads, there are some that believe he could see action as a true frosh. Long is, yet again, another one of those tall (6-4), athletic build-type kids at 245 pounds who can play tight-end or defensive end. He projects more at defensive end at this level, so, it’s at least possible he’ll open enough eyes in August to potentially get on the field in September.

Sadly, this is where we must mention Cory Mackay. Mackay had a big spring on the field, and was looking like he was headed for a lot of PT this fall. Then the terrible car accident a few months ago, and his life has changed for the foreseeable future. I would encourage you all to go check out the Cory Mackay fund group at Facebook, which has now grown to over 1500 members. They have done some good fund-raisers, such as car washes and even a hair-cutting service for donations, and the news has been positive there. Still, he has a long road ahead, so all our thoughts and prayers go out to Cory Mackay and family.

OK, that’s it for the d-line. Now, the linebackers.

Starters: You can book Andy Mattingly at strongside linebacker and Louis Bland at the weakside position, provided they are healthy? Alex Hoffman-Ellis and Mike Ledgerwood will battle for the inside. As for backups, we would do a lot worse than Myron Beck. Nine starts last year at strongside backer, now pushed to backup status with the Mattingly move back from defensive end. Hallston Higgins is in there as well, likely backing up Bland at the weakside.


Mattingly on one side and Bland on the other could be one of the best OLB tandems in recent times for the Cougs. They are both recognized as two of the best players on the defense, and it will be interesting to say the least at the idea of seeing them both starting from day one. However, injuries area already an issue here, as Cougfan broke a story the other day that said Bland is still nursing a bum knee, to the point that it could cause him to miss the season opener (damn). And Mattingly missed time this spring, and now has a lot to prove as he moves back to linebacker after a failed move to defensive end last year.

This is it for Mattingly, a player two years ago some pegged as a can’t miss star at linebacker. I include myself in that group who thought he was going to be the “real thing”, but last year was a loss on many levels. They finally moved him back to linebacker at the tail end of the season, and the defense overall did perform better vs. ASU, UW and Hawaii to close out ’08. Most of all, Mattingly simply looked more comfortable, almost like going home again, and should have a nice finishing kick to his up-and-down career at the strong-side position. Bland, if he can keep that knee right, looks like an absolute player on the rise. Sized like a strong safety at 5-10, 205, Bland has the heart of a lion and hits like a truck. 55 tackles, nine for loss as a true frosh last year in nine starts had him on some frosh All-American teams. The kid is a real bulldog and should be a strong leader for years to come.

The youthful match-up at middle linebacker is going to be something to watch. Mike Ledgerwood played in 10 games last year, and logged 14 tackles with 2.5 for loss in limited time behind Greg Trent. We like the looks of Ledgerwood, a solid 6-0, 225, and appears to be another young player on the rise. But Hoffman-Ellis is going to give him everything he can handle inside. The JC transfer who arrived last year, he and Ledgerwood are going to be in for a real fight for the honor in replacing Greg Trent in the middle.

As for some younger breakthroughs, it’s hard to say. Maybe a super-strong Darren Markle will emerge in the middle? Markle is a high school weight-lifting legend, with a 605-lb squat video making the Youtube rounds. 605 lbs!?!? That’s ridiculous strength. I would imagine trying to move him out of the middle is akin to trying to take down the Martin Stadium goal posts, complete with cement reinforcements. Good luck.

It is a younger group of linebackers, no question, and losing Greg Trent, Cory Evans and Kendrick Dunn thins out the depth. But if they can stay relatively healthy, they will be fine. And of course, the better the play is in front of them along the line, the better this group will do overall.

As an overall, I would say this group of front seven is in much better shape than last year. In ’08, they were too young, too light, and too few in numbers to compete against BCS talent. While six of the top eight projected in the two-deeps at defensive line are new faces for ’09, normally that isn’t a recipe for success. But I think this is a unique situation. Last year they had lost Andy Roof before the season started, so backups like Matt Eichelberger were thrust to the forefront. The personnel just wasn’t up to the challenge. Now, there is talent that is new, sure, but still it’s talent that has been on campus and in the system for a full season up until now. Bernard Wolfgramm, Jesse Feagin, both guys who should start, both guys who red-shirted last year, both older guys who have had that initial year to get used to everything. So while they are new, they aren’t exactly nervous true frosh who are overmatched from the beginning.

The best news around is that Wulff continues to recruit the big, lean frames out of high school and then have them grow and mature in the strength program, some of whom will ultimately end up on defense. It’s the old Mike Price philosophy – recruit speed and athleticism on defense, and let them develop and grow up in the program. And build it for speed, from the “outside-in”. So safeties become outside linebackers, outside linebackers become middle linebackers, middle linebackers become defensive ends, and defensive ends move inside to defensive tackle. All in a natural progression as their bodies add strength and “the right kind of weight”.

The downside to this approach, well, it’s a strategy for the long haul, not the quick fix. No 6-4, 325-lb SEC-style behemoths are walking through the Bohler Gym doors, ready to start from the day they arrive. Obviously Josh Luapo is the exception to this rule. But fear not. This developmental approach will start to bear fruit, and I bet we start seeing some of the changes this year, but really witness the evolution in 2010. Just not yet.

At linebacker, the loss of Trent and all those tackles will hurt. But moving Andy Mattingly back there gives the defense an entirely different personality. He is their big, experienced playmaker who gave the defense some extra energy when he first started getting regular PT over the last half of 2007. And it will be great to see Louis Bland take the field after his initial learning season is now out of the way. Instead of trying to survive, now we can see him attack and lead a little bit more?

Most of all, both units are going to need the other to up their game in ’09. The defensive line is going to have to do a better job of putting pressure on the opponent’s passing game by applying a consistent rush, and of course, plug up holes and occupy some space up front. But that’s just half the battle. The linebackers are going to have to play fast and physical, and take advantage of what the defensive line can give them, which is an opportunity to make plays.

So, will it work? Is the front seven in better shape in ’09 vs. last year? Can they not just survive, but thrive? What do YOU think?

That’s it for now. Enjoy your morning, and as always, GO COUGS!

Physical Scrimmage a Promising Sign?

April 4, 2009


GRIPPI UPDATE – 6:00 PM Saturday – “Jim Sterk, John Johnson and Anne McCoy are on their way back from Detroit having finished their interviews there, according to a source. We are sure they interviewed UAB’s Mike Davis along with at least two others, Portland State’s Ken Bone and, according to the Birmingham paper, former Phoenix Suns coach Terry Porter, though when and where is still unclear.”

Grippi also mentions another candidate could have been in the mix for an interview, but hasn’t been named nor confirmed. Meanwhile a site at Alabama.com has been monitoring the situation from a UAB perspective. They claim that no job offer has been made, but one “could come as soon as today” according to a source. Stay tuned.

I know some people out there aren’t thrilled with spring football. I mean really, how much can be gleaned out of March and April workouts, when it’s not even close to a full roster? Some believe it doesn’t really mean much, or that it’s just another chance for an injury (like Andy Mattingly’s injured pectoral?). Or maybe some players not even enrolled right now will be there in August, ready to make an impact, such as a JC transfer or high school frosh. Or, some just generally think it’s a big waste of time. Even Bill Doba was heard celebrating a few years ago when they decided they wouldn’t practice on weekends in the spring!

But what’s not to like about the latest from Vince Grippi on today’s scrimmage?

One observation: It’s tough to tell whether the Cougars are going to be improved – I’ll leave that to smarter people than I – but it is obvious they are more physical. The hitting today was at a level I don’t believe I saw in any practice last season. These guys like to pound each other.

Me? I like that. And I love spring football. That’s right, I said it. But not just because it’s football…in the spring…I love it because you start to see some things take shape, things only subject to speculation and internet blabber for several months at a time. You know, such as the ongoing QB competition that has Marshall Lobbestael, JT Levenseller and Kevin Lopina each getting a shot to run the offense, even if Lobbestael is limited right now. Watching those QB’s compete in the midst of snow on Wednesday was pretty cool. Not just to watch them go through the drills, but you could see in their body language that no matter what the calendar says, no matter how hard it was snowing in April, they are competing for a job that is wide open. You might not care about what happens right now, but they clearly do. Even in those lousy conditions, they were in there working hard to get better.

I love it because it gives coaches an opportunity to work on some of the finer details, such as Wulff’s emphasis on special teams in an article from the other day. Quick, anyone recall how amazingly awful the special teams were towards the end of the Doba regime? Remember all the times you saw the offense go for it on fourth down from, say, the 25 or 30-yard line of the opponent, simply because of the lack of confidence in the kicker? Remember the squib kickoffs, driven by pure fear for the inability to actually cover a routine kickoff? Remember the 2006 Apple Cup, with the blocked punt for a TD by UW which amounted to the winning points in that game? Fake punts anyone?!?? Special teams can elevate or torpedo an entire season (and take a coaching staff down right along with it).

But most of all, I love the spring for the opportunities that present themselves for a young player to get on the field and learn. Learn from coaches getting paid a lot of money to teach them the fine art of playing football at a competitive level. A chance to learn from reps, time and again, which is the only real way a player can ever hope to improve. You can only watch film and study the playbook for so long before you have to go out there and see it for real, over and over and over again.

Let’s face it, practice and reps are at a premium these days, with so many limitations via the NCAA on the amount or prep time players get with their coaches. While the full roster isn’t even on the field, and most minds are on March Madness, basketball coaching changes or MLB opening day, these spring drills are awfully important for a very young football team. A young football team still trying to learn, grow, and mature. And it’s important for THIS football team, right now. Why?

Because THIS football team hasn’t been to the postseason since 2003.

You know why that is important? Because when you go to a bowl game, you get extra practices, sometimes 15 practices or more, leading up to said bowl game. That’s almost the equivalent of an entire extra spring session, where young players can go through the reps again and again. Think of the advantages of, say, an Oregon State has over Washington State in the last five years. Oregon State, with bowl games in four of their last five years, has had at LEAST 60 MORE PRACTICES than WSU. That’s about four extra spring sessions to learn from their coaches and work on their game. WSU is now in the bottom-third in the conference in overall record since the turn of the century. Meanwhile Oregon State is right there competing for 2nd-best in the conference since the year 2000.

OK, all that out of the way, the first scrimmage is now in the books. Grippi has a good read today from the scrimmage, as well as Marshall Lobbestael’s recovery from his knee injury.

First, Lobbestael – the kid is working his butt off, and coming along nicely. But you know what else? It’s FLIPPIN’ GREAT to hear about the new hydrotheraphy facility!

Through all the stages, Lobbestael has spent time lounging in a pool, though lounging might be the wrong word, considering the pool is in WSU’s recently opened Cougar Mania Hydrotherapy Facility with its underwater treadmill that can reach 8.5 miles per hour.

Each of Lobbestael’s – or any recovering athlete’s – water workouts can be taped from different angles thanks to a series of cameras and a computer monitor.

“In rehab, I was walking on the underwater treadmill almost right away after,” Lobbestael said. “I started out really slow in there and just worked my way up.”

I remember at the last Bill Doba football dinner in the spring of 2007, coach Doba was talking it up about how much that hydro technology “thingy” will help players recover faster and more efficiently from injuries. Back then it was just a dream, but now, reality. Lobbestael is exhibit A, that this is a great investment in the athletic department.

The other thing to take is the mention of Grippi that this was one physical scrimmage. Think about it. How many times do you hear a losing team, in the post-game comments, say “the other team was just MORE PHYSICAL than we were today”. You hear it in basketball, but especially football, and you hear it all the time. The more physical team that sets a tone is generally more successful than the finesse team that backs down when things get rough. Was this a physical team last year? They were a lot of things, but physical isn’t a term I, you or anyone else would use describing the 2008 WSU football team. But I can’t help but like the sound of these guys popping the pads and getting after each other. We know the talk of the players being bigger and stronger, but we’ve heard that before. But this year, to hear that it is actually starting to translate on the field, even if it is just practice? How can you NOT LOVE THAT!?!

Nothing new at this moment anyway on the coaching situation. Interesting from Withers about the wide net being cast at the Final Four (also known as Coaches Job Fair 2009). While losing Tony sucked, and the timing is never great….well, having a PAC-10 opening going into the Final Four, when you’ve proven you can 1) win in Pullman, and 2) get paid $1 million per year in Pullman is a good thing to have in your back pocket. Could be some interesting rumors over the next few days, but we can all be assured that Sterk and President Floyd are doing their best to deliver the right fit for our hoops team.

That’s it for a Saturday. ENJOY THE WEEKEND (is that the SUN??) and GO COUGS!

Nobody Likes a Skinny Santa

March 25, 2009

“Eat Papa, eat. Nobody likes a skinny Santa.”
– Mrs. Claus, 1964, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.

We’ve all heard the line, right? Some of you youngsters might not get it, but those of you who used to stay up late for that ONE shot every December at seeing the archaic stop-motion puppets do their magic, well, you follow me. Remember the line? When Mrs. Claus is trying to fatten up Santa before the big night out? For what it’s worth, that line is now OUT OF THE SHOW. No kidding. The new exchange goes like this:

Mrs. Claus: Eat, Poppa, eat.
Santa Claus: How can I eat? That silly elf song is driving me crazy.
Mrs. Claus: You’re gonna disappoint the children. They expect a fat Santa.

Turns out that enough politically-correct folks decided the “nobody likes a skinny santa” was offensive? Something in regards to promoting bulimia? Really?? Very weird.

Anyway, why even bring this up? Because Cougfan has a good read today on the bulking up of the football team as they head into spring ball (and the article is free btw). WSU has released the first official roster of the spring, and it’s eye-opening:

Comparing last year’s roster to the spring, an eye-popping 33 players have packed on 10 pounds or more. And in some cases, considerably more.

Remember Tyson Pencer, the hulking giant straight outta BC? He showed up at 6-7, 230 a couple of years ago. Today? Try 6-7, 297! I know they’ve been banging pots and pans about getting these guys to belly up at the training table, several trays filled with food, but wow, thanks for participating Tyson. Other big names include Xavier Hicks from 196 to 211, Bernard Wolfgramm from 264 (that seems pretty light?) to 288 (that’s more like it!), and even James Montgomery went from 192 to 202. Check out that link from Cougfan for more, because there are a whole list of names who are definitely larger than last year. And given where these guys were in 2008, this is very, very, VERY welcome news!

Also some position changes here and there, but the big/obvious one is Andy Mattingly is officially a linebacker again! HOORAY position switches! And Andy Mattingly is right where he belongs.


Let’s hope to Mr. Mattingly, 2008’s position switch is a distant memory. Get back to chasing QB’s, drilling running backs, and flattening WR’s who decide to venture into #45’s area. Most of all, MAKE THE MOST OF THAT SENIOR YEAR! He still has a chance to turn it all around!

Also, the WSU Official site will post the first depth chart of 2009, sometime today. Be sure to check it out, as there are likely to be a few surprises (there always are a few?).

Some other things floating around as well on the eve of spring camp….

Paul Wulff will be in a chat today at WSUcougars.com. Check out the details here. I know some of you have participated in these things in the past, and to be honest, they were a little dry/boring? However this one should be pretty interesting as we are likely to get a ton of updates on various key players for the hopes of 2009.

There’s a new PAC-10 commissioner, and his name is Larry Scott, former head of the Women’s Tennis Association(WTA). OK. Not much reaction here. I guess he did a good job with women’s tennis.


Let’s hope the PAC-10 search committee did their homework, and most of all, that he’s worlds better than Tom Hansen. Here’s to better bowls, better TV deals, better EVERYTHING with Larry Scott!

Finally, Cougfan (again) has a good read on the UW stadium tax grab bonanza. Greg Witter does it again. I can’t do it justice, so please, give it a look. It’s pretty amazing what is going on there, and clearly there is concern among WSU nation that this thing might sneak through.

That’s it for a busy Wednesday. ENJOY YOUR DAY, and GO COUGS!

Football Friday Week XIV – Letdown Style

November 28, 2008

Brinkhater Addition Edition: Update 11:26am Saturday

Greetings Cougar Nation. Hope you all have had a joyous start to the Holiday Season.

On my front, I’ve got family galore in town. So, this post is going to be especially uninformative and brief.

Nation, as you all know, today I am playing for my second consecutive national championship. With a correct prediction today, Brinkhater goes a perfect 25-0 over the last two football seasons. Add to that only 2 losses last year in basketball (blew BOTH Arizona games) and you can see that its time for some serious streak breaking! Thankfully, I have two really, really great games to test my final mettle.

Nation, in my mind, both contests today are either going to be blowout losses or major upsets won with great moxy and execution.

First, on the basketball front, while I was too late to predict our win yesterday, I am not too late to predict our shocking upset of Pitt today. Obviously, Taylor is going to have to play much, much, much better than he did yesterday. And Mr. Thompson is going to have to play even better. But, as we’ve noted here before, our little Ole Pack defense is just really hard to figure out if you haven’t seen it before. And, as we’ve seen so far this year, no one seems to have figured us out yet, and I think Pitt becomes another victim of T-Bone’s genius.

Cougs make really nice statement for the Selection Committee as November Ends thanks to clutch free throws by Rochestie down the stretch:

Cougs 59 Pitt 55

Now onto football.

Nation, we have seen many a GOOD team finish badly over the last few years. From the 2006 Washington State Cougars to the 2007 Oregon Yucks and CAL Bears (and maybe the 2008 Arizona Mildcats), sometimes a good year just falls to pieces down the stretch.

And with that in mind, Brinkhater believes that the opposite may be true for us this season. While this group will always represent the worst WSU team of our lives in my mind, something tells me this group is headed to 3-10 for some of the same reasons Sedi noted below.

Simply put, I think our Defense is going to be stout. I think we’re going to keep the turnover ratio down just like last week, and I think that our running game and emergent short passing game is going to be enough to pull off this ball-control shocker.

WSU 25 Hawaii 24

Elsewhere:

Beavs 38 Oregon 30. You don’t win last week at AZ if you don’t win the whole thing. Its in the Cosmos, Beavs head to Pasadena as Canfield comes off the bench to rally the Beavs from a 20-7 halftime deficit.

SC 24 ND 3. I really don’t like SC’s O, but I really, really like their D.

BIG ONE:

Clay Bennett University 41 Clay Bennett State University 30

Enjoy the Game

Ah yes, Hawaii. The only state in the union that good ‘ol McLovin would actually pick for a fake ID. “McLovin? One name? Who are you, Seal?”

McLovin, the 25-year old Hawaiian organ donor. FANTASTIC.

SO, for this week, Hawaii. After a desolate season of seasons, the end of the road is finally in sight. As Paul Wulff has said for several weeks now, the moment this season is over this will be a much better football team (no disrespect to the current seniors who will ride off into the sunset). So clearly a lot of people, coaches included, have been anxiously waiting to turn the page of 2008.
What do we know about this game? Here’s just a few things:

  1. It’s REALLY important for Hawaii to win this one. At 6-5 and a bowl bid on the line, they must get to seven wins to guarantee post-season play. A check of their schedule shows #16 Cincinnati coming in next weekend, and in reality Hawaii will be the underdog in that one. This game is circled as “must win”, big-time.
  2. What will be left in the Cougar gas tank? Last week was, let’s face it, the epitome of dropping loads of emotion on the football field. It’s awfully tough to get it cranked back up on the road after such an emotional home experience over your in-state rivals.
  3. Hawaii struggled early with their QB situation, but now that they finally settled in with Greg Alexander, they are playing closer to the Hawaii team we are familiar with. They still can drop 40 or more points on a lot of teams, scoring 49 last week vs. Robb Akey’s Idaho Vandals and 42 the week before that against New Mexico State. Alexander is hot, 118 pass attempts and counting since his last INT. Things are clicking all of a sudden, and this is not the best week to play them.
  4. You cannot forget the WSU defense. Yes, it’s been better of late. A lot better actually, holding our last two opponents under 400 yards of total offense (398 to ASU on the road, 323 to UW at home). There really has been a sense of improvement since the overall change to the three-man defensive line, as well as the return to action from Toby Turpin, the big lug in the middle who has been making some plays at nose tackle.
  5. We know the Cougar offense will have some issues moving the ball, as we always seem to do on a weekly basis. Even with the big pass play to Jared Karstetter that will go down in Apple Cup lore, Kevin Lopina was hovering in the low-100’s in passing yardage. Not good. But maybe something clicked last week with the running game? For the first time all year, they stuck with the run into the second half, and it worked, with a season-best 171 yards rushing (discounting the Portland State I-AA game). The run was the key to that win in the second half and in OT as well.
    The bad news for the Cougar O is that Hawaii starts NINE seniors on defense, so they are experienced. Linebacker Solomon Eliminian is a machine, now over 400 tackles in his career. When it’s all said and done he will go down as one of the greatest linebackers in WAC history. They play well in front of their fans, as they get an extra jolt from the home crowd. Like Paul Wulff said earlier in the week, you can feel like you are down 14 points before you even take the field against these guys in their house.

So there’s the basics. On paper you can see why Hawaii is such a big favorite, opening at 28 points and actually moving to 29.5. There is one thing I think about, however, one shining light, that might make this a much better game the odds-makers are saying. I think the WSU defense will keep this one interesting. Seriously. Why? Because of the run-n-shoot style Hawaii will throw out there plays into the strength of the WSU defense.


In 2008, “strength” and “WSU defense” haven’t always existed in the same sentence. Except when headed by “lack of”…….but when you think about the Coug D, you don’t think about size. If you do, you think SMALL, not big. They are a smallish, speedier defense that has trouble against the power running teams who get five yards on every single rushing attempt. But against the pass, the Cougs are respectable, giving up 185 yards per game through the air or #5 in the PAC-10.

I know stats can be misleading, and several games earlier in the year, the team was so far behind early that opponents barely threw the ball down the stretch. But moving Andy Mattingly back to linebacker was a big boost in the pass defense last week, and he should be even better this week after a full game of getting familiar with the position. Don’t forget what that guy did in 2007, and a lot of his success came as a 3-4 linebacker. And Louis Bland played with the heart of a lion last week, making huge plays all over the field. He is a rising star by all accounts, and having him team with Mattingly and Greg Trent makes the linebacking corps our best position BY FAR on the football field.

And with the three-man front, that scheme enables them to drop more into coverage and handle the passing offense like Hawaii will roll out tomorrow night. The three-man front in football was basically invented to better handle passing offenses like the west coast offense, or even the run-n-shoot. Clog up more passing lanes with more bodies back there who can run, and it could be interesting.

In the end, I think Hawaii has too much on the line to let this one get away. They are one game away from getting back to a bowl game, and they won’t let the opportunity slip through their fingers, especially at home. They are playing much better with Greg Alexander at QB, and they should keep it going this week. I do believe the Cougar D will come to play, and keep things interesting, but I just don’t think we can bank on much from the offense. Combine all that with the emotion letdown that is likely for these young kids, and you can see where this one is headed. While I don’t believe this will go exactly the way Vegas believes, I do think Hawaii wins it by a couple of scores. I’ll go Warriors 31, WSU 17.

Other games:

Oregon 31, Oregon State 28 – The Rose Bowl dream comes to an end. The Beavs escaped big-time last week, and they are doing what “teams of destiny” tend to do, and that’s find ways to win games when all appears lost. But Oregon has had an extra week to get ready for this one, and with the Beavs minus Jacquizz Rodgers, one of the best impact frosh running backs the PAC-10 has ever seen? I just think the Yucks break some hearts in this one.

ASU 35, UCLA 20ASU can still salvage a bowl game, even after their terrible start. They are at home, and clearly the better team here.

USC 47, Notre Dame 13 – Are they really going to buy out Charlie Weis? I heard Beano Cook say earlier this week that after talking to some of his sources, Weis is in BIG trouble. The players hate him and will lay down this week to grease the skids out of town.

BIG National game:
Oklahoma 42, Okie State 38 – Great match-up of exciting offenses in a rivalry game. It’s at Okie State, but Oklahoma is probably the hottest team in the country right now. Let the BCS bitching begin.

ENJOY YOUR DAY, and GO COUGS!

Paul Wulff Radio Recap – Week Thirteen

November 20, 2008

Hmm, lucky week 13 perhaps? We’ll find out. But without further adieu, this week’s radio show, condensed-version style. Bud Nameck in the host chair for another week:

  • Bud opened the show by, of course, going right to the quotes from his press conference last year regarding UW when Wulff took the job. Paul didn’t exactly apologize for those remarks, saying “they were meant for Cougars”, something he mentioned before in the press. But he said hey, I’m the WSU coach and also a former player and a big fan. I’m not afraid of it. So why hold back? I don’t know about you, but I think he endeared himself to a lot of Cougs when he said what he said. It was, at the time anyway, a nice change from the “oh, golly gee” and a departure from the whimsical, folksy stylings of one Bill Doba.
  • Bud asked him about the practice and routine for this week, and knowing that it is Apple Cup week, are they doing anything different? Wulff said that they are trying to stick to the routine and the normal practice and preparation, but the veteran players know that it’s a special week. The rookies and other players who haven’t been in an Apple Cup don’t really understand. Even Wulff said he himself didn’t really get it until he played in one. Things are definitely dialed up a notch. And once you actually play in an Apple Cup, it’s truly an awesome event and you never forget it.
  • He said as far as their preparation, it is still a football game in terms of the x’s and o’s. But it is such an emotional game that it is always something on the coaches minds, about how to channel those emotions in the right way. However Wulff did say that overall, in the Apple Cups he was a part of as a player, they were relatively clean games. He said that the fans more or less get after it a little more than the actual players do!
  • Bud asked about the 12 noon kickoff and if that was an advantage or disadvantage? While the fans don’t exactly like it, Wulff likes the idea of getting up and getting ready to play right away instead of waiting around for the game. Another thing to consider is that they have invited some recruits in for this week’s game. Because of the early start time to the game, the coaches will have plenty of time to spend with the recruits AFTER the game. If it was a later start, that wouldn’t necessarily be the case and they could feel rushed, but not this week. A quick check of this week’s visits show Lynnwood’s Geoff Meinken, who has switched from WSU commit to “soft” verbal and is getting big love from Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. Might be a good move to get as much time as you can with this kid?
  • Bud asked about practice and the injury situations. Kevin Lopina practiced on Wednesday, so he is all set to go for the game. Andy Mattingly practiced again, and while he was a little bit limited, he is still probable to play. Tony Thompson is back at tight end, and should be set. And Tyrone Justin should return to the secondary. Not exactly magic healing waters with the Apple Cup looming, but there are some kids coming around.
  • Bud asked briefly about the ASU game. Wulff said right off the bat that they did a good job up front defensively and getting pressure on Rudy Carpenter. He was quick to point out that Toby Turpin is a big part of it, and that he has really improved as the season has gone on. The trickle-down of his return has allowed Ahmu to slide outside, and they clearly have found their best three defensive linemen. It sure sounds like it will be a three-man attack again this week, as they finally seem to have found something, ANYTHING, that actually works this year.

    Wulff said the hardest part about that game was the early missed opportunities. They had some decent drives early in the game, but couldn’t come away with anything. The missed field goal hurt their momentum, and they also had several dropped balls that could have turned things in their favor. But overall he was pleased with the defense, holding an experienced offense to 24 offensive points (remember seven of those were on a fumble return for TD).

  • Wulff touched a bit on the kicking game. Right now it looks like the job is going to go back to Nico Grasu. Wulff said they have wanted one of their kickers to rise up and flat-out grab that job this year, but it just hasn’t happened, at least not yet. But Grasu gets his chance this week.
  • A caller asked if Wulff and the rest of the coaches do any type of visits to other programs in the off-season, or even visits to NFL teams? Wulff said yes, without a doubt they will do that. They had always done that at EWU and they will do that again this year. Proximity was nice when the Seahawks trained in Cheney and Wulff used to watch their practices all the time, and took some things that they would do and use it for himself.

    Wulff said that without question, you can’t learn enough in this business, and the best way to learn is to look at what others are doing. He has a goal of taking at least one fundamental thing from these visits with other coaches and use it or adapt it for themselves. He also said that they are going to try and bring in some coaches to WSU and meet with them that way, therefore eliminating some distractions the coach might have if WSU coaches were visiting them. But they will definitely do that this year.

  • A caller asked about the high frequency of injuries this year, what’s the deal?? Wulff said they have a belief that youth and inexperience leads to a higher level of injuries. Mainly the idea is that the younger the player, the less physically prepared the player will be to handle the rigors of the PAC-10. When they are lined up across fourth or fifth-year players who have been in their programs for several years, lifting weights and eating right, they are often times over matched. Young talent needs time to develop properly, and to throw a young kid out there against that kind of size and strength can lead to injuries!

    Wulff then went again into the idea of building “layers of depth”. Having fifth-year seniors, fourth-year juniors, and third-year sophomores are his goal of the kinds of players he wants playing in games, and you build it out that way. Fifth, fourth and third-year players are usually more fit, strong and mature vs. the teams that play a ton of youth. Get the kids physically ready to play, the injuries should decrease in a big way.

  • Wulff was asked about the outcome of this game, and what it really means to the program. Wulff said something similar to what he said earlier this week, in that in reality, the outcome of this game won’t drastically alter either program. One game never makes or breaks a program. But if you win it, it can make you feel a little better in your gut! But Wulff went out of his way to say that the outcome won’t have much impact on the program overall. He said at least in recruiting, kids will rarely pick a school based on the outcome of one game. If they do? They aren’t the kinds of kids they are after anyway! Sort of like the school that is constantly changing their uniforms, and it gets reported that some recruits pick their school based on the uniforms or other things? Wulff said they aren’t the types of kids they want to build their program with anyway.
  • Bud asked about the specialness of senior day, and how this is it for key guys like Brandon Gibson, Greg Trent, etc. Wulff said that it’s different for him because he’s only been here one year, but it is also very emotional because he understands the sacrifice many of these players have made in their playing careers.

    He has been there and walked the road before, so he knows what they are going through. It just plays into the feeling of how much they would like to get a win this week and send those seniors out right in their last home game.

  • Bud asked about the game itself this week. Wulff said that he thinks some people are going to be surprised, and that he believes it will be a very good game. He said that as always in a rivalry game, you can basically throw out the records (especially this year!). It’s important to both teams, and to the fans. It should be a fun, exciting day with memories for some that will last forever.
  • Bud asked about UW’s offense. Wulff said that without Locker, they are different. But Wulff said he has seen some decent things out of Ronnie Fouch on tape. He has a strong arm, and he’s a redshirt frosh so he’s been in the program for almost two years now. He says he has the arm to make big plays, with more than enough strength to throw it deep or even across the field where you might underestimate he can get it to a certain spot. Arm strength is not an issue with Fouch.

    But again, he is young, and has a lot of freshman and sophomore wide receivers he is throwing to. While they are athletic and quick, they are also young, prone to mistakes, and it’s part of the reason they have struggled this year.

  • Wulff did have good things to say about UW’s O-line. They are big and experienced, led by Garcia up front, so they have seen a lot of things. It will be a challenge for our defense to play well against their size. Wulff then talked about WSU’s offensive line, and that he believes they have come a long way in recent weeks. He singled out Steven Ayers, BJ Guerra, Andrew Roxas, Micah Hannam and even Brian Danaher as all young players who have improved of late.

    As a fan, I have to say that I am pretty optimistic as to how the offensive line will come together in the future. There is so much youth that has been out there this year, but the core of these guys will all be returning next year and even the year after that. Another year in the system, eating and lifting and now some game experience, you have to believe these tough lessons learned this year are going to pay off.

  • Wulff then went on to talk about his own struggles they have had this year. And the first thing out of his mouth? You guessed it – TURNOVERS. They have now turned it over 35 times, and have only created 11 takeaways themselves. Yep, that’s a MINUS-24 turnover ratio, the worst in the nation and one of the worst in WSU history. Wulff said that he really believes it’s those turnovers that have led to so many lopsided scores this year, where they are literally giving the opposing team 21 or 28 points PER GAME in simply giving the ball away in terrible situations. And of course we know the trickle-down from that, where the defense is on the field a lot more than it should be, it gets worn out, then suddenly it’s a landslide. They MUST LEARN TO TAKE CARE OF THE BALL as an offense!
  • Wulff did clear up the Apple Cup “legend” about his appendix and playing in the Apple Cup. He hung it on Mike Price, who grew the legend himself. But in reality it was 2 1/2 weeks between the time from Wulff having the surgery to playing in the Apple Cup. Wulff wasn’t sure, but the last he heard it, Price was saying it was the same week or 8 or 9 days, something like that. He was sorry to spoil this “legend” but that’s the honest truth.
  • Finally, one last thing for this week. Bud pointed out that if WSU can win, it will be four of the last five Apple Cups in WSU’s favor. Something that has never happened before in the history of the series. Wulff said he was well aware of that, and that they want to win this thing, bad!

So there you have it. Actually a pretty good show this week, with more energy and enthusiasm compared to some recent weeks. I couldn’t help but come away from listening to the show that they are excited and also very focused on this game. Take that however you want, but it did seem different compared to what we’ve heard lately.

ENJOY YOUR THURSDAY, and GO COUGS!

Lopina’s Show for Another Week

November 19, 2008

Looks like it’s the K-LO show for the Apple Cup. Not that he’s been cleared to practice or anything, as he only hit the weights yesterday. But they fully anticipate Lopina getting the green light for practice today, and well, if that’s the case, then he’s your man on Saturday.

Whether or not it’s a wise choice to roll out a kid who has suffered a broken vertebrae and now a brain bruise? That’s certainly not for me to decide. That’s why they have doctors and trainers and coaches, adults who can make those types of decisions that are best for everyone involved. But while there have been a few slivers of hope from Lopina, thinking back to the first half against Baylor and doing an OK job against Arizona and even ASU in the first quarter last week, the end-result in 2008 hasn’t been anything to move the needle. Who can get excited over 10 INT’s to zero TD passes?

It’s not entirely his fault though, I mean think of the young offensive line combinations he’s had in front of him, the early-season injuries to the WR corps, the running backs going down, etc. The off-the-field stuff is admirable as well, considering he’s one of the few who decided to speak up and call out some of the quitters and locker-room lawyers.

The other thing here is that for whatever the reason, the staff seems to have really taken to Lopina. We had heard from the very beginning of the year that they loved his work ethic, and he really busted his butt in practice. He practiced like he WANTED THE JOB, not like some backup who gets a handful of reps and is simply going through the motions, knowing he won’t do much on Saturdays but wear a baseball cap backwards and hold a clipboard. Maybe it’s pretty telling when you consider how quickly they pulled the plug on Gary Rogers, which was what, six quarters of football until Lopina was in for the 2nd half vs. Cal?

In other injury news, nice to hear that Andy Mattingly is coming around with the bum ankle. The Times says he practiced with a brace, and Wulff said that “after watching him today, I expect him to play.” Now how much he’ll play, and where he’ll play, that’s a whole different question.
Talk about a lost season. Here was a guy who logged 91 tackles and eight sacks as a true sophomore last year, in only seven starts. This year? Just one start, vs. Portland State, at defensive end. He has still managed 34 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss, but that’s still less than half the tackles he put up last year. Granted, defensive end isn’t a position where you are going to rack up tons of tackles. But just one sack in 2008 for Mattingly, compared to the eight logged last year? Not even close to what we were expecting.

On a defense that needs big, strong, physical players, Mattingly was regarded as one of the best on the team coming into 2008. He made several pre-season All-PAC-10 lists, and even something called NFLDraftScout.com had him listed as a future NFL draft choice at linebacker. I hope they are serious about exploring the idea of moving him back to linebacker next year and he closes his career on a high note. Right now, I don’t think there is much argument out there that his move to defensive end has been a complete bust.

For the rest of the injury breakdown, Vince has a good run-down of the situation from yesterday. Check it out here.

From the “even more bad news” department, the Martin Stadium expansion on the next phase, you know, the one with the premium seats that we tout at the top of our page? Well, it’s hit a bit of a snag, and it looks like there will be a delay. Howie Stalwick threw in this tidbit in his piece in the P-I today:

EXPANSION PLANS: Athletic director Jim Sterk said Tuesday the credit crunch likely will postpone the scheduled January start on construction of suites and other premium seating at Martin Stadium.

The Cougars have raised $5 million and need bank loans of $30 million to $35 million, Sterk said. He said a delay of more than “two to three months” on starting construction would push the completion past the desired date, which is before the 2010 home opener.

We had heard about this early last week, that barring a miracle, this thing was headed for a delay of some kind. Now we know. Damn recession. I blame President-Elect Obama. Where is this “change” he was talking about? My 401K is in the crapper, and I still have to pay my mortgage?? Whatever. We can start blaming him, right??? 🙂


Speaking of the P-I, the Go-2-Guy on his Go-2-Blog has some info on this Saturday’s ESPN Gameday. They are actually going to interview the mastermind behind the WSU flag, Tom Pounds, who sees to it that the flag shows up on TV’s across the nation, every freakin’ week! Very cool.

That’s it for a Wednesday. No, there was no radio show last night as the Cougs walloped Farleigh Dickinson last night, 55-33. The radio show will be tonight instead, and we will have a full recap tomorrow. ENJOY YOUR WEDNESDAY, and GO COUGS!

Is the 3-4 the WSU Defense of 2009?

November 11, 2008

So the three-man line got a lot of ink from Saturday’s game. Basically some injuries had cut down Andy Mattingly and Kevin Kooyman, and with the continued ineffectiveness of Matt Eichelberger, well, the lads up front were awfully thin. Factor in the loss of d-end Mike Graise for missing practices and workouts? They were basically down to FOUR healthy defensive linemen against Arizona. Not good, not good at all. As Wulff said in the Times:

“We got to a point where we’re so thin where we can’t even line up four players that have a legitimate amount of experience at all on the defensive line,” Wulff said. “So if you go to a three-down-line look, it at least helps us there and gives us at least an extra backup that we wouldn’t have in a four-down-line look.”

And at least they aren’t burning redshirts on the likes of Bernard Wolfgramm to shore up the weakness. This is such a lost year, that to do something like that would be foolish….almost Willingham-like in it’s ineptness….

But I think it begs a bigger question. Is the three-four for WSU here to stay? Given the way college football offenses have evolved, and the overall lack of depth that this program has had for a long time now on the defensive line, wouldn’t it be a good idea to just go to a 3-4, or, even, a 3-3-5!?!

For some background, yes, we have tinkered with the 3-4 from time to time. Remember down the stretch of the 2006 season? With injuries destroying that team, and even Mkristo Bruce heroically playing on one good leg, losing Ropati Pitoitua, Aaron Johnson and A’i Ahmu just crippled the depth inside. They had no choice but to scrap the 4-3, and go with the 3-4 during the year-end fade.


It didn’t really work, and the reasons were many. It was a brand new scheme of course, as the defensive linemen had different gaps and responsibilities that go with a three-man front. But even the linebackers had to adjust to having an extra linebacker out there, and it was too late to plug the hole in the dam. But the other reason was, mainly, they just didn’t have the proper personnel to run it effectively.

While we loved Mkristo Bruce, he was a better pure pass rusher than a run-oriented defensive end. Too many times he faced double teams, and it just didn’t work out. He was at his best coming around the edge, one on one with a tackle. But the other side was much, much worse, where Lance Broadus, all 215 pounds of him, was the other end. He was basically engulfed by the opposing offensive line, so badly out of position that it was a disaster on his side of things. Not his fault, but the man simply wasn’t built for the 3-4. They just didn’t have the personnel to run something like that

To be successful in the 3-4, you have to have a legit nose tackle who can take up space and occupy blockers, and he has to be big. Why? Because on about 95% of all defensive plays in that 3-4 scheme, the nose tackle will be expected to take on the center AND a guard, all at the same time. But it’s not just the nose tackle who needs size and strength. The defensive ends need to be a little different style as well. They have to be much larger than your Isaac Brown/DD Acholonu mold, you know, the converted 225-lb linebackers who rush wide and up the field? You need defensive ends with some girth, at least in the 255-260 range in college, to hold up and handle their gaps.

All three of the defensive linemen have what is called two-gap responsibility. They are expected to hit the offensive linemen head on, and watch the play to make sure the running back doesn’t come through on either side of them. It’s almost a read-n-react defense as opposed to a one-gap scheme you often see in a 4-3, where the defensive linemen simply chooses a gap and shoots it at the snap.

But a 3-4 defensive lineman is also expected to hold their block so that the offensive linemen can’t get free and to seek out a linebacker. Simply put, the linemen play a more physical game as they are taking on one or two offensive linemen directly, play after play. And the glamour? Forget it. The 3-4 linemen aren’t your stat hounds in any way, shape or form (how many great defensive ends in the 3-4 make headlines?).

The big plus to a 3-4 are the linebackers. Basically two inside linebackers who you want in the 240-range and also with some athleticism. But the outside linebackers can be in that Louis Bland/Myron Beck mold, at least in the NCAA, and you can get away with having 210-215 lb speedsters on the outside. They can blitz from different angles, of course, but they are also on the outside as much as possible, able to use their speed out in space. And against the spread-style offenses of today, that asset of speed on the edges is CRUCIAL if you want to survive something like Oregon throws at you. You have speed like that outside, and it makes it all the more difficult for the QB to scramble or roll out effectively.

I look at how Cal has handled Oregon in recent times, and it’s really no coincidence that Bob Gregory, the Cal DC, has evolved the defense. Cal used to claim to be a 4-3 defense, but they consistently threw 3-man fronts at opposing teams. But today, they finally DO claim to be a true 3-4 team, and it has really done well against the one-back offenses you see so much of in the conference. Against the true spread, which is thriving today in the Big 12 and you now see Oregon and Arizona running versions of it every week, Cal has the scheme to deal with it.

Now, can this work for WSU next year? I think it can, and here’s why.

1) Andy Mattingly is already being talked about as moving back to linebacker for next year. Paul Wulff has mentioned this at least a month ago on his radio show, and it’s been highlighted in other articles over at least the last month. And Andy Mattingly, we remember, was a 90-tackle, eight-sack guy as a linebacker in 2007. With Greg Trent, Cory Evans and Ken Dunn all graduating next year, the need for a linebacker with experience will be gigantic. Mattingly could slide right into an inside linebacker spot next year, with his 251 pounds a perfect fit back there.

2) The other inside linebacker might be a bit of a reach, but Mike Ledgerwood has played well this year as a true frosh backup to Greg Trent in the middle. But weight is an issue, as he’s only 215 pounds.

I would think he would need to get to AT LEAST 225 to handle it, but it’s possible. Marshall Pirtz is also an option, at 6-0, 231, but Pirtz may not even be a linebacker anymore, potentially moving to running back. We’ll see what happens there.

3) The outside linebackers might be the perfect fit. In reality, both Myron Beck and Louis Bland started out as safeties anyway, both in the 205-210 range in weight. Give both guys another year of putting on weight, and they could be 215-220 next season while maintaining their quickness and speed, with the ability to be stout against the run yet able to get out on the edges and make plays.

4) The defensive line might be much better suited for this defense as soon as next year. Toby Turpin is already 6-6, 280, and with another 10 pounds or so he could be just fine as a nose tackle. He started at NT vs. Arizona, so who knows what he might do. Add in Kevin Kooyman at one end, where he’s already around 250 pounds, and he could be just fine. The other end is interesting in that the top recruit from 2008, Bernard Wolfgramm, will be ready to play.


He’s already 6-3, 275, and has a ton of experience as a defensive end from his JC days. Also, Josh Luapo will be enrolling in January, and he’ll likely be a 300-pounder by September next year. He could be a fit as a backup nose tackle.

The other angle to this is the lack of depth on the defensive line. It would be much easier to get by with 5-6 defensive linemen if you only have three on the field at once. But if you are running four of them out there every play, the depth gets that much thinner. Add in the usual injuries, etc, well, you get the picture.

Finally, the spread offense – we’re only going to see more and more of it as it continues to thrive. Already Oregon and Arizona have fine-tuned their attacks, but there will be others to follow suit. It’s just too successful, what’s happening in the Big 12, to ignore it anymore. If Gary Pinkel or Mike Leach get the UW job, there’s another team that will instantly be running the spread. And you can already see some wrinkles with it at Oregon State, where they run a ton of one-back, but love to do some read option where the WR goes in motion to take handoffs from the QB, and they do a lot of shotgun as well.

I would hope that they will seriously consider it for next year. Not only is it effective against the spread/multiple offenses, but if you have the right personnel to run it effectively, it could actually be a strength of the team. I’d love to see Andy Mattingly absolutely cut loose his senior year, blitzing from the linebacker spot next year instead of with a hand down as a defensive end. With the thin defensive line set to lose Matt Mullennix, A’i Ahmu and Matt Eichelberger next year, the lack of experienced linemen could be a big issue. Take one lineman off the field, and you can handle that lack of depth in a much more effective manner. And for once, we might actually have the correct personnel to get away with running the 3-4 at the college level, with some decent size at defensive ends and some real speed at the outside linebackers.

What do YOU think?? Should we go to a 3-4 next year? Or are we better off with the traditional 4-3?

ENJOY YOUR TUESDAY, and GO COUGS!

Can Leaders Be Created?

October 20, 2008

With Paul Wulff closing practice on Sunday, as well as several more to come, it’s clearly look-in-the-mirror time. From the head man all the way down to the practice squad, it’s time to dig in and figure things out. I don’t think this bye week could have come at a better time…..unless it was last week and USC simply wasn’t on the schedule. But really, the mental state for everyone in that locker room right now has to be in the toughest spot imaginable.

But the thing that is standing out now, after this last debacle, is the call for leadership. You are really hearing it for the first time, that there is a real void. But I think this has been brewing since August. Consider:

  • One report we heard was that several players, standing on the sidelines during a tough August practice, were seen jacking around and not paying attention. This was what led Wulff to vent to the press that some players just weren’t tough enough yet or understood what it takes to become a good football team, remember?
  • Things looked promising vs. Okie State. The team had a decent bounce about it, and the defense played a pretty good game when you consider all the offensive troubles. And even after a very difficult first half, they came out and had two consecutive TD drives to start the third quarter, and you could see some upside here. They even ran the ball fairly well, against a team that now looks like a Big 12 title threat (have you seen what Okie State has been doing this year?). Just clean up some things offensively, fix some of the brutal special teams disasters, and this could have been a ballgame. I know I walked out of Qwest thinking that there was real promise with this team.
  • But if we only knew what was to come. There was a report we got from someone on the sidelines during the Cal game that a lot of players not in the game looked completely disinterested, with very little talk or interaction amongst themselves. Just no energy whatsoever, and you would expect more excitement for the home opener. Obviously when you get run off the field like they were vs. Cal there isn’t going to be a lot of cheerleading, but this was reportedly before the game had even started, before the rout was on.
  • Against the Ducks, some reports started showing up in the media, with Alfonso Jackson saying that they were flat for the game. Coach Wulff denied that, and he thought they came out ready to play. Something sure seemed off though.
  • They actually showed some real energy in that UCLA game. I know that’s a memory now long gone, but they did put their heads in there and fight for as long as they could. Obviously it didn’t work out, with the offensive line issues and Marshall’s first road start a very difficult one to say the least. But that was at least a spirited effort. No talk at all about being flat in that one.
  • For a short time, the Oregon State game was actually interesting. Anyone remember the 2nd quarter? The flurry of interceptions, the offense had a nice TD drive, Louis Bland ran one back for a score, and they “won” the 2nd quarter 14-3. There was real emotion and again, a little bit of promise, but of course it all evaporated in the 2nd half.
  • Finally, the USC game. Wulff said afterwards that they are competing, and people aren’t exactly quitting…..but we get down early, and “the emotion just leaves us.” Bud Withers had the emotional tone in his notebook from Sunday, and openly asks where is the emotion.

Now boys will be boys, in terms of the August screwing off/disinterest on the sidelines. Summer practices can be hell in the 90+ degree heat, etc, and it’s difficult to keep a laser-like focus all the time. But you hear and read guys like Kevin Lopina, playing with a freshly healed fractured vertebrae, saying players better come here ready to fight or else turn in your gear. You hear Andy Mattingly openly question the desire, and say a few times that losing just doesn’t bother the players, that they are too used to it. And you hear things off the record, like no energy or passion, or that nobody cares about their teammates or winning.

What does that tell you? It sure as hell tells me that there WAS A CULTURE ISSUE here. This wasn’t about trying to pass blame on the prior staff, and hide from things as a coach, as some of you have openly suggested in our comments. Once again, I ask that everyone go back and read that Seattle Times article. Seriously, just go back and spend a few minutes to go over it. Remember this quote?

“WSU is a hard school to go to, man,” Williams says. “You ain’t got nothin’ to do but get drunk and smoke weed, and not go to class because you’re too tired from doing what you’re doing.”

It’s a sledgehammer reminder of where things were when Wulff walked into this mess. Rip our coach all you want, question his background, whatever you need to do to feel better about things. But do not fail to understand the enormous task he was handed in trying to get this deal going in the right direction.

That said, what can be done? Will leaders suddenly emerge from the ashes of this mess? For the first time we’ve heard Kevin Lopina and Andy Mattingly speak up about things, about how there are some problems with some players here and it has to change. Maybe they are going to naturally step forward, as upperclassmen, to take the reins. I know the buzz has been positive on Louis Bland and some of the other frosh in terms of leadership. But they are just frosh, and 9 out of 10 vets aren’t going to listen or follow a rookie, ever. They just won’t.

So what we have here is a wide gap. On one side you have the older vets who have never tasted success, and obviously it doesn’t bother many of them too much. They were raised in this program under Doba’s hands-off approach. Now Wulff comes onto the scene, with a whole new level of accountability. You have to go to class and get decent grades now. You have to lift weights, harder than you ever have before. Heck, you have to EAT the meals you are supposed to eat, and coach Wulff is going to keep track of all of it. Talk about a change.

On the other side you have these young recruits with lots of energy and leadership abilities, guys Wulff and the rest picked to be part of their program. But outside of a few of them, the vast majority are redshirts. They are simply too young to lead right now, that clearly these older players won’t follow their lead right right now. And it’s obviously hard to be a leader when you aren’t even playing.

Add it all up? It’s a transitional mess, on and off the field. I for one hope we see a new change, beginning with this bye week. I hope Lopina and Mattingly become the offensive and defensive leaders going forward. Clearly they are pissed off by the whole thing, and that’s step one to making a change isn’t it? Maybe some of the freshman and sophomores are willing and eager, but have been waiting for some upperclassmen to take the lead? Maybe this will really and truly be the turning point for the entire program?

Happy Monday, and GO COUGS.

Paul Wulff Radio Show Recap – Week Five

September 24, 2008


Week FIVE already? Wow, this thing is going fast. Anyway, this week’s radio show recap. I’ll try and condense it as much as possible but also hit on the key points.

  • Bud Nameck hosted this week, Bob Rob was unavailable but will call this week’s game. They started the show by talking about the injury to Kevin Lopina and Gary Rogers. Both were termed “scary” injuries, but the best news of all is that neither of them are life-changers and they should fully recover. Obviously Rogers is the more serious of the two and his football days could be done.
  • Wulff really went out of his way to express his disappointment about Rogers, and you could tell he felt awful for the kid. He also repeatedly said how great a job his parents did in raising such a wonderful young man. He really likes Rogers, and it’s just too bad all the way around the way this has worked out.
  • Lopina’s injury is less serious of the two, but it could keep him out for some time. Wulff said they are now under the belief that this is a three-to-six week injury, not the two-to-four week injury reported earlier in the day. They just have to take it easy and be careful with the recovery.
  • The QB situation now has Marshall starting, obviously, with Dan Wagner backing him up. JT Levenseller is the third QB, and Wulff termed him on “redshirt alert”, meaning if both QB’s go down, they will be forced to play him. One interesting angle to all this is that JT took a lot of snaps with the number two’s in practice, and Wagner only got a few reps in. They really want to see what JT can do with more practice time, so he’s getting a good look. Kind of strange in that we’ve already seen two QB’s go down, so while we like Marshall, who knows how long he’ll hold up under some serious pressure. Why Wagner isn’t getting a lot of reps in practice is a little odd, unless they are more serious about playing JT this year than they are letting on? Wulff reiterated that they really want to redshirt JT, so they are hopeful he won’t have to play. Wulff also went out of his way to claim how much progress JT has made so far, and they like what they’ve seen out of him.
  • Of course, the topic turned to Marshall. Wulff said that he brings a lot of intangibles that other QB’s don’t seem to have, and he’s a strong leader. He also said that the players seem to rally around him, and he brings good chemistry to the position. He touched on his competitiveness, saying he is REALLY competitive (can’t always coach that!). He also said that while he was somewhat surprised with his performance, he honestly wasn’t TOO surprised he did so well. He’s been working his butt off, studying film, etc, and he has confidence in what he can do.

  • A caller asked about Ocho Rojo’s grasp of the offense. Wulff said that he looked smooth out there, but they also didn’t really call anything that would make him uncomfortable. They wanted to keep things simple and run things that they knew he would do well with, but at the same time, the kid did well by moving the team and getting them into the endzone without any turnovers. Overall very pleased with Marshall….but Wulff wasn’t totally “gushing” about him. I get the drift that he’s just trying to keep everyone on this planet before we get too carried away.
  • Wulff did say they will give Marshall as much of the offense as he can handle, so they won’t try and coddle him too much. So while they will tailor the offense towards his strengths, they won’t simply remove a bunch of stuff from the playbook because he’s a frosh. He will get as much as he can take.
  • A caller asked about the no-huddle, and in particular, the calling of plays at the line. How can you prevent the defense from figuring out what you are doing if your QB is calling the plays right at the line? Wulff said they have a pretty intricate system of hand signals, and in all his years he’s never had anyone figure it out….EXCEPT FOR JERRY GLANVILLE! He said that last year, without question, Glanville stole their signals. There was a long stretch of their game last year where it was beyond obvious that PSU knew exactly what they were running. This wasn’t just being paranoid, but this was clearly Glanville’s staff stealing their signals. But on Saturday, Wulff had three coaches signaling in plays, and PSU had no clue what to do. That might be part of the offensive outburst? Wulff’s quote was “this year, we got him!” 🙂
  • Another caller asked about the sloppy play, with penalties, missed assignments, turnovers, etc. He said they try and handle that in practice, where they have a series of 12 plays that they must run as perfect as possible, all eleven guys. If they run it perfectly, that’s one less “gasser” they have to do at the end of practice. Run all 12 plays perfectly, they don’t have to do any “gassers”. He said that’s an incentive for discipline, but he really didn’t get into any individual punishments for the boneheaded stuff that might occur during a game. I don’t get the impression he’s got them out running stairs all day. But at the same time, with such a young team and a brand new system, etc, they probably need every second of practice time they can get in working on what they are trying to do in games?
  • But Wulff did go out of his way to again tout the unity council, made of up 15-20 players who meet every week to go over what’s going on with the team. It’s been a big thing so far, and it’s got some kids to really start to shine as leaders. He also said that the little mistakes are already starting to clean up, and it will get better and better as the season goes on. They ARE getting better.
  • Another called asked what the heck is going on with the d-line? Here you have Mullennix sliding inside to tackle, but he’s clearly not a tackle. And you have probably your best linebacker in Andy Mattingly playing defensive end, and he’s not making an impact. What gives? Wulff said that right now, they like Mullennix inside at tackle only on passing situations. Since PSU was such a passing team, they thought he gave them their best pass-rushing option on the inside. He also addressed Mattingly, and basically said that you might see Mattingly back at strong-side linebacker at some point this season or next season. He said that there are some things that Mattingly does at linebacker that are great, but, there are others that he really doesn’t do very well, at all. And, Wulff really likes having Kooyman, Mattingly and Mullennix as their primary defensive ends, at least for now. But the bottom line is that these changes for both guys are more out of necessity rather than by choice. They just don’t have the depth or experience up front, so they are mixing and matching the best they can.
  • Wulff talked about Oregon, and raved about their running game. He said it is the best running game in the Pac-10, and 4th in the nation right now. Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount are a fantastic combination, two of the best in the conference. But their offensive line is really a concern. Four seniors, and they are excellent as a unit. He also raved about the tight end, who is an all-conference guy in Ed Dickson. He did say that they will have an inexperienced QB back there, whoever it turns out to be, and that Darron Thomas, the frosh, is the better thrower of the group. But you get the idea that they are expecting Oregon to run it as much as they possibly can. Wulff said the key will be to try and prevent the big play. He said they will NOT stop their run, they will only be able to slow it down, but as long as they tackle well and not give up the big play, he believes they will be ok. He also said the tackling has been better, and in grading the game, they only counted two missed tackles vs. PSU.
  • Wulff also said how much better things were with having Xavier Hicks and Alfonso Jackson at safety. He said they have a lot of leadership back there and they are much stronger down the middle of the defense. He said they make the coaches look a lot better when they are on the field.
  • Someone asked about the article in the Seattle Times last week, about the whole deal with nutrition and putting muscle on these kids, leadership, etc. Wulff said that the biggest thing is that this is an area, no doubt about it, that has slipped over the last several years. He said part of it is youth and immaturity, but a lot of these kids just have no clue how to eat properly. That’s such a huge part of getting stronger, in how they play, how they feel, and that they take it very seriously. The weight room and practice field is important in terms of getting better, but if they aren’t eating properly, then all that hard work might not pay off.
  • Wulff touched on the O-line. He said they are still trying to get things figured out there, and that there were some mistakes on Saturday. However both hits that took out the QB’s were NOT the entire fault of the O-line. He said that in the play they lost Lopina, the blindside shot where the linebacker came free off the edge, there was a miscommunication. Lopina was supposed to check the running back over to that side of the line to help pick up the blitz, but it didn’t happen. Therefore the blitzer came totally free. The hit that took out Rogers was simply a late hit, and shouldn’t have happened. In a normal circumstance he shouldn’t have even been hit. But he did say the line is still a work in progress.
  • Finally, Wulff talked about what they need to do this week on offense. He said the biggest thing, above all else, is to take care of the football! They still haven’t done that in four games, and they cannot afford turnovers. The other thing is to have some balance on offense, in particular trying to get the ground game going. Oregon is very strong vs. the rush, really shutting down Purdue and Boise State on the ground, so it will be a challenge to get that balance going. But they have to keep Oregon’s defense honest and keep Lobbestael out of obvious passing situations. Finally, Lobbestael and the passing game has to be efficient, and most of all, move the chains. They have to be consistent and generate some decent drives in this game.

So there you have it. This week’s show. Overall Wulff sounded better, and coming off his first win, you can understand it. But he wasn’t overly boisterous or gushing about how well they played, etc. Like he said after the game on Saturday night, they can feel good about it, but they have to get right back to work and get ready for the next one, just like they had to move past the other losses. Yes, they are happy they got win #1 out of the way and all that, but they still have so far to go. I think that is what we are learning about Wulff, in that he’s not going to be too much of a rah-rah type of coach. He’s not the buttoned down CEO type, or flat-out dry and secretive like some other coaches in this state…..but he’s not going to go High School Harry like Pete Carroll and jump around either. He’ll show some emotion, but, he’s also the leader and wants to stay on an even keel.

We’ll be back tomorrow with Football Friday…only on Thursday. Enjoy your Hump-day, and GO COUGS!

Now What?

September 7, 2008

So it happened, and it’s over. Can’t live in the past, right? Anyone who lives in the past and laments the present will never be a success. So it’s time to plow forward. But clearly there are issues here, big ones at that, and they don’t look like they will be solved overnight.

Now that we are two games in, it’s time for some self-examination, fact-or-fiction style.

1) We don’t have Pac-10 talent.

FICTION – First of all, let’s clear this up right now. We DO have Pac-10 talent. What, is Brandon Gibson suddenly a Big Sky caliber receiver? The kid led the conference in receiving last year with over 1100 yards and nine TD catches. Is Andy Mattingly suddenly a bad player, not worthy of BCS-conference ability? Or do we just totally forget about his 91 tackles and eight sacks as a sophomore in ’07? What about linebackers Greg Trent, Cory Evans, and Kendrick Dunn, each coming off an 80+ tackle season last year? Just toss it all out the window? There is talent here, and some of it of the all-conference type.

2) We don’t have Pac-10 depth.

FACT – The problem is the same thing that’s been an issue the last several years, and that’s a lack of quality depth. Look at the offensive and defensive lines, and how beat up and out of position they are just two games into the season. Seriously, Matt Eichelberger and Adam Hineline are what we are relying on for plugging up the inside? Did anyone see the holes that were blown up yesterday? And there still isn’t any semblance of a consistent pass rush from the defensive ends. Meanwhile, the O-line is just one big, shuffling mess right now that was just overwhelmed against BCS talent in Cal. Cal was dropping seven and even eight into coverage on many situations, and we still couldn’t block them with five and even sometimes six blockers.

And how about the skill guys? We have Gibson, and Frischknecht, but after that? We are young and inexperienced at the worst possible time. Consider from 2007, we lost Bumpus and his 70 catches, Collins and his 52 catches, and even Charles Dillon, with his 37 balls for over 400 yards last year. That was a prolific offense, with an experienced, senior QB who threw for over 3800 yards and 26 TD’s.

And to take it a step further, think about the youth and inexperience we are relying on, right now, to carry the load at the skill spots. Jeshua Anderson, Daniel Blackledge, even Michael Willis, all those guys have been beat up and/or out, completely, from practices. And when you realize we are trying to implement a brand new system, with a brand new QB, and these guys have only had spring ball and fall camp to figure it out? When half of them can’t even get on the field at all, how can we expect anything other than the complete train wreck we’ve witnessed thus far?

It’s a well-known thing that young skill position guys, particularly WR’s, usually struggle initially due to the speed of the game and the complexity of the offense. In practice things are scripted, and vanilla, but when games come around, you are going against guys you have never seen before, defenses and coverages are disguised, blitzes come from all over, etc, etc, etc. When a young WR is out there thinking, he is a step, or more, slower. And therefore you don’t get to see them use their athleticism and speed, and worst of all, there isn’t any separation from the defensive backs.

3) Gary Rogers isn’t a Pac-10 QB

FICTION – I know, I know. Two games in and this looks like a fact that he has no business being a starting QB in this league. But think about all that is stacked against him right now. First, he doesn’t have game experience. Just two career starts, and very little playing time the last few seasons. Anyone who follows the game knows that there are always some bumpy moments early for a QB trying to get his feet wet, and it takes a few games to figure it out.
Next, think about who is trying to protect him. After a decent first week, the offensive line got absolutely whooped yesterday, in every conceivable fashion. Cal was unblockable at times, no matter what we tried. Rogers got the yips, no doubt about it, and on the times he did have time to throw, he was rolling away from pressure that wasn’t really there.

Third, think about the young skill guys we are trying to get by with right now, as we addressed in point number two above. Young skill guys, who haven’t practiced, in a brand new system. Wulff again admitted that players are lining up wrong, running the wrong routes, you name it. And that’s with not even 50% of the playbook still in the fold.

Finally, and this point gets lost in the shuffle, but for the second straight week, absolutely NO semblance of a consistent running game. How many QB’s out there, really, can be successful if they are always in third-and-long? There’s a reason teams commit to stopping the run on first and second down. There’s a reason they want QB’s in third and long. When you get QB’s in predictable passing situations, the defense will win that battle well over 50% of the time. All the stats in the world will back that up. And think of all the third and long that Rogers has had to face just two games into the season.

Bottom line – Gary Rogers still cannot be evaluated, because he simply hasn’t had any help.

4) This coaching staff isn’t Pac-10 worthy

FICTION – This is one of the dumbest things I’ve heard thus far, and I can’t believe some people are slinging this on the message boards after just two games (and some good advice – when the going gets bad, do yourself a favor and STAY OFF the message boards! The idiot factor increases by ten-fold, and you have the obligatory UW-Oregon fans that love to “troll” and bait people into the idiocy. Don’t do it.). These guys have been very successful at EWU.

Does anyone need a reminder of how difficult it is to win in Cheney? We hear Pullman is tough, all the time, but go drive out to EWU and see their facilities. Then realize Wulff built a winner at that program, taking them to the playoffs multiple times, and winning coach of the year honors three times. This isn’t by mistake, or a misprint. Wulff and this coaching staff is the real deal, but as has been preached since day one, this is going to be a long, tough climb, and only the strongest are going to survive.

The other factor here is the timing of this whole changeover couldn’t have come at a worse time. The APR mess is one thing, and the program was spiraling out of control as the Seattle Times pointed out in the spring. And that’s just the off-the-field stuff. But to have such a drop-off in experienced offensive talent is another thing altogether. Not only are you trying to completely change the culture of the team, and that has been well-documented thus far. Not only are you trying to implement a no-huddle, multiple offense that is pretty complex and would have growing pains no matter how experienced you are. But you are trying to do all this with guys who haven’t done it before, guys who haven’t been able to practice what you are trying to implement. You are starting over in many, many ways, and to expect them to sprint before they can crawl is a huge problem.

So that’s it. No sugar-coating things here. It’s a mess right now, and I don’t envy the job ahead for these guys in trying to do the right thing. They are trying to change things, but the deck is completely stacked against them. But who among us thought we would be 2-0 right now? Everyone has picked against us the first two games, so whether we lost 28-27 on a blocked extra point or 66-3 in a worst-ever wipeout, we’re still in the same boat. I hope we’ve hit rock-bottom after yesterday, and it’s hard to imagine anything worse than that.

Baylor is next, and instead of lamenting what just happened, let’s hope they can look forward and seize the day as an opportunity to turn it all around. Let’s hope we can take steps to get better.

Enjoy your Sunday, and hang in there. GO COUGS!