Archive for the ‘JT Levenseller’ Category

Is There a Real QB Question in Pullman?

July 7, 2009


Greetings Coug Nation. As usual, we hope you enjoyed a nice, long holiday weekend. But now that it’s behind us, time to start looking ahead. Over the last few months, we’ve spilled an awful lot of ink looking at the upcoming opponents for good ‘ol WSU. But now, with news slowing to a trickle in this historically slow time of the year, what better time to take a closer look, oh, I don’t know….the Cougs??

And with that, what better place to start than at the most important position on the field, the QB? And with some pretty good timing at that, as Cougfan yesterday ran a poll in regards to who should be the QB in ’09, Marshall Lobbestael or Kevin Lopina. Did you vote? Further, have you seen the results? As of 6:30 AM today, it’s Ocho Rojo in a runaway.

At first blush, it seemed a little surprising that this was even being asked of the Coug Nation. After last year, with an extended look at Lopina and just a glimpse of Lobbestael, the consensus was that young Marshall was the QB of choice, provided he could bounce back from the rough knee injury. But is it so clear-cut? Is there a chance that this will be Lopina’s job after all? Paul Wulff has been quoted a couple of times this off-season in saying that Lopina’s the returning senior, but Marshall Lobbestael will get a full opportunity to compete for the job. And what about the young wild card in all this, J.T. Levenseller? Let’s take a look….

First, the senior returner, Kevin Lopina.

2008: 87 for 153, 841 yards, 0 TD’s, 11 INT’s. 56.9% completions. 5.5 yards per attempt. Sacked 23 times, for a QB rating of 88.66.

Really a rough line, all the way around. In nine games played, including eight starts, Lopina only broke the 100-yard mark in passing yards four times. That means the majority of his appearances, he was only in double-digits in yardage. And to never find the end-zone in eight starts is kind of hard to fathom.


But it also must be said that the vast majority of Lopina’s playing time came after he suffered the fractured vertebrae. In fact, six starts came after Lopina was knocked out with the injury. And anyone who watched him play post-fracture could see he wasn’t up to speed. Not that he played “soft” or anything. The guy did play hard, as well as stepping forward with leadership in the locker room when the season was completely unraveling. For as bad as last season was in Pullman? Without Lopina calling out some of the quitters, it could have been much, much worse. As in, probably no Apple Cup win.

And let’s face it, the guy did make ONE big play on the season, a play that will probably live on in Apple Cup lore (check out the throw to Karstetter, about a minute into the video):

I guess the reality is that Lopina has to at least be acknowledged for doing what he could last year. To grit through the bulk of the season coming off the broken back, and to show leadership along the way, says a lot about the young man’s character. One can envision that even if he doesn’t win the job this fall, that he’ll still be there to help keep things together. But who knows. Now that he’s healthy, maybe we’ll get to see the “real” Kevin Lopina? The one that had people excited after he transferred in from Kansas State? The one who was a high-profile QB recruit out of Cali powerhouse De La Salle?

Now, Marshall Lobbestael.

2008: 53-for-103, 571 yards, 4 TD’s, 4 INT. 51.5 % completions. 5.54 yards per attempt. Sacked 12 times. 103.08 QB rating.

Not exactly blow-you-away numbers either. Granted, Lobbestael was a redshirt frosh, and he did only start three games last year. So we never really saw what he was – or wasn’t. The “small sample size” argument has to be made here. While he passed the eye test on a lot of plays last year, and showing some real touch on the deep balls he completed, the jury is still very much out on Lobbestael.

But again, we’re talking about a redshirt frosh dropped into the heat of the battle. For his first-ever game action at such a young stage of his career, he was more in survival mode vs. climbing the superstar ladder. And while the completion percentage is a concern, and the yards per attempt isn’t a good thing, the fact that he more or less held his own under some pretty adverse conditions might speak volumes about what’s to come.

The good news is that the kid seems to have some sort of “it” buzz going for him. The coaches have raved about him since early last year in regards to his leadership and personality. Players appear to really like the kid. So far, everyone raves about what they’ve seen of him thus far. So he’s got that going for him. Which is good.

Finally, young J.T. Levenseller.

2008: 17-for-34, 134 yards, 0 TD’s, 2 INT’s. 50% completion percentage, 3.94 yards per attempt, with a passer efficiency rating of 71.34.

Numbers alone make this one difficult, if not impossible, to really judge. He never started a game last year, appearing in just four for the lost ’08 season. He did show some good mobility, and in his last game vs. Hawaii was 6-for-11 for 53 yards, including a season-high 28-yard completion. But again, still far, far too early to make any judgments here.


Health was an issue for young Levy as well. He missed most of spring ball with a broken tibia, and while he should be recovered for camp next month, well, who knows.

In an ideal world, provided both Lopina and Lobbestael can stay healthy in ’09? With Lopina the senior and Lobbestael the more established young QB of the program, one wouldn’t mind seeing JT get a redshirt season this year. Then, when Lopina graduates after 2009, you could have Lobbestael as the starter as a junior, JT Levy as a RS-sophomore, and the promising young recruit, Jeff Tuel, a redshirt-frosh ready to compete in 2010.

So there you have it. A glance at the QB situation as we roll towards fall camp. What do YOU think? Is it Marshall by a landslide? Should Lopina be given a fair shot, now that he’s healthy and most experienced? Or does Levenseller deserve a long look as well?

Enjoy your Tuesday, and as always, GO COUGS!

Leg Injury Sacks J.T. Levy

April 11, 2009


I guess we could kind of see this one coming? Initially reported as a lower leg bruise, contusion, whatever, suffered a week-and-a-half ago, JT Levenseller was thought to be cool with being on crutches for a few days, then ready to mount up and get back at it. Well, not so fast.

RIPPED from Grippi’s scrimmage recap today is this little nugget:

Wagner and Lopina split all the snaps – Wagner finished 1 of 4, Lopina 4 of 6 – because J.T. Levenseller’s bruised knee turned out to be more than that.

Levenseller had been on crutches for a week, wasn’t getting better, so the WSU training staff had more imaging done this week. The diagnosis: a small fracture at the top of his tibia. He’ll be off the leg for 4-to-6 weeks.

Great.

So let’s see – the top two QB’s on the roster, based on everything you read or hear or have even witnessed, are either 1) coming off a major knee injury and is limited in what he can do, or 2) now done for a while in Levenseller. Wonderful!

Now let’s keep perspective. In ALL LIKELIHOOD of course, the injuries will sort themselves out by August. At least they are supposed to be a thing of the past by August. Lobbestael is moving and working hard in skeleton drills, and looked good doing it when we checked in on them 10 days ago. So that’s cool. And Levy’s deal with the small fracture might be just as described – SMALL – and a month or so of staying off the leg will leave him with plenty of time to heal before fall camp.

But man, can we PLEASE catch a break with our QB situation? Everyone we hear from wants to see one of those two guys take the reins this fall, complete with the dynamic, no-huddle offensive scheme in their back pocket. No offense to Kevin Lopina or Dan Wagner, but for the future of the program, Levy and Lobbestael need to be 1-2 on the depth chart. Most of all, they need to get as many friggin’ reps as possible, in every conceivable situation! Games, practice, skeleton drills, it doesn’t matter how, they just need the work.

The disappointing thing about this spring though is that neither of those guys are going to get meaningful scrimmage-type reps. Sure, Lobbestael’s seven-on-seven time is valuable, allowing him to take his drops, make his reads, and deliver the ball when and where it needs to go. But it’s obviously not the same thing as getting under center and dropping back with a pass rush in your face. There’s just no other way to say it, reps, reps, REPS are the only experiences that will make the young QB’s better. And right now, it’s just not happening.

At least the running backs sounded good. All three guys – Dwight Tardy, Logwone Mitz and James Montgomery – each had their moments.

The official WSU site has this recap, including stats. If you are too lazy to follow the links, just know that Tardy looked good, Mitz was physical, and Montgomery had the run of the day with a big-time juke for a long TD run.

Oh, and the o-line sounded more aggressive. And there was even a FIGHT! Wow. WE LIKE THAT. And hey, if the QB’s are the walking wounded again by this fall, ala 2K8, and we’re back to running it 45 times a game again? At least they COULD be a little more equipped to make that work with the added dose of nasty…maybe?!?

UGH. Well, whatever. It’s just spring football, right? Long way to go until it’s really nervous time. For now, it’s all about health and improvement. We’ll have second helpings of both, PLEASE!?!

ENJOY WHAT’S LEFT OF YOUR HOLIDAY WEEKEND, 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!

THIS is Spring?

April 2, 2009


Welcome to spring football in Pullman. Yikes. Not exactly what you order up for the idea of taking in a practice on April 1st?

That said, this post will be like my youngest son – short and sweet. Why? Because yesterday we ventured from the lovely Coeur D’ Alene resort down hwy 95, to at least TRY to take in some spring ball. It sounded like a great idea. The result? Not quite an EPIC FAIL…..but not that far off either. 🙂

First, the drive. If you’ve driven 95 between Moscow and Coeur D’ Alene, you know it can be a long one. But we thought hey, middle of the week, middle of the day even, and on a non-game day at that, it should be smooth sailing. WRONG. You had the snow, of course, snowing sideways and making visability a chore at that. But then you had the locals on the road, doing 35 – at best – in many instances. And good luck trying to pass on a day like this. So let’s just say I started sweating it when we only went 30 miles in the first hour of our 84-mile trip.

And all the while, our own Longball had set up shop in Dupus Boomers, anxiously awaiting our arrival with a birds-eye view of the practice field. Alas, we never met up as Shane had to take off before we could get there. Sorry Shane. We’ll try it again sometime. And hopefully Longball has some good insight to add in a future post, as he watched most of the first hour or more of practice himself.

However, we DID make it for the last 30 or so minutes of the practice. And we did see some things that were worth the trip….

First and foremost, and I’ll get this out of the way. Due to our delayed drive, where we spent about three hours on the road, we only saw the end of practice, and really just the 7-on-7 skeleton drills. That’s pretty much it. And we took in the action from the warm, comfortable setting of the bookie, with a “Madden” EA Sports type view of the field, elevated behind the QB (which was actually pretty cool). And to be kind? The end of practice we saw wasn’t great. In fact, it was almost as sloppy as the conditions. It was tough on the QB’s to make great throws, it was tough for the WR’s to haul in cold, wet balls, etc. So the conditions were less than ideal to get a full read on what was happening.


But what did we see? Well, the biggest/best thing to me was #8, Marshall Lobbestael. And not just seeing him on the sidelines either. Yep, Ocho Rojo was in the QB rotation in said skelly drills, and he looked JUST FINE DOING IT. That’s right, he LOOKED JUST FINE. I know you’ve read media reports that he’s been in there with the yellow jersey and doing the things of a normal QB in spring drills. But I can assure any of you reading this, it will do your crimson heart well to know that he looked as good as can be expected, and then some. He took the snap, made his drops, scanned the field and delivered the ball with confidence. And without a hobble that you might expect from a kid not even six months from MAJOR knee surgery? In fact, other than a brace and a sleeve of some kind on his left lower leg, you wouldn’t have been able to tell that he was coming off an injury like that. It is an absolute marvel that he is out there competing, let alone looking as fluid as he does right now. I was honestly blown away.

JT Levenseller and Kevin Lopina were the other QB’s in the rotation I saw, with each QB alternating snaps in the drills. JT made a few good throws, but had a few sail on him as well. He seemed to be a litte more hesitant with his reads, and checked down to the backs more often than the others, but it was good to see him in there competing. He did make a pretty good throw on a deep fade to the tight end, who was in one-on-one coverage with a safety, but the tight end dropped the sure long gain, which might have even gone for a TD. Oh well, it’s spring. Plenty of time to clean it up. And Lopina looked like, well, Lopina. He seemed more decisive on where to go with the ball, a little quicker on his delivery. But semi-accurate on some throws, while some more or less floated on him as well. It was really that kind of day (or at least that kind of practice at that stage of the day?).

The WR’s were a mixed bag. Jared Karstetter made a couple of nice grabs in traffic, one in which he took a pretty good shot over the middle, but he hung on to the ball. I don’t know exactly his weight difference from last year to this year, but he looked bigger, thicker to me. I wonder if he’ll be a pseudo-tight-end this year in the offense where he’ll venture more over the middle or run more underneath stuff, utilizing his size inside? But that said, there were your fair share of dropped balls as well by the other WR’s. One thing that did stand out to my eyes anyway was that in the view we had, ala the “Madden” view, elevated and behind the QB, I didn’t see a lot of seperation between the WR’s and DB’s covering them. I think that had a lot to do with the QB’s not getting the ball off too quickly, or checking down to their outlet receivers underneath or coming out of the backfield. But it’s not like guys were running down the middle of the field wide open, waving their arms, yelling for the ball. I don’t know if that’s bad for the offense, or good for the kids in the secondary?

I guess that’s about all I can report on. I know Vince is reporting that Andy Mattingly suffered a pectoral injury and was out of pads by the end of practice, but I never saw #45 at all. He was already done for the day by the time we got there.

The reward for making the drive down and braving the snow? SELLA’S! Wow do I miss that place. It has that Sella’s smell that you know, as soon as you walk in, just like coming home. And both boys worked hard on drawing on their placemats, hoping to get theirs up on the wall like so many before them. But while that didn’t work out, they were thrilled with the whole experience, and ended up taking their placemats home with them.


Best of all? While my 5-year old was more interested in the train at the depot downtown, my 8-year old has now given a verbal commitment to become a WSU Cougar. He has been to Pullman before for football games, but it’s funny how coming on a snowy day in April has closed the deal. He loved walking around campus, loved the Cub, loved the bookie, loved the whole thing. But he also declared that “I will eat at Sella’s three times a day when I’m living here!” I told him if that’s the case, he’ll gain so much weight they will end up rolling him up and down the Hill for classes. Not going to happen.

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

Spring Practice Questions, WSU Football Blog Style

March 26, 2009

So with spring ball upon us as of today, the optimism is there. Some great comments out of all of you the last few days, so the enthusiasm for football is still alive. They just couldn’t kill it after 2-11! Now it’s not overflowing with talk of “we’re going to open multiple cans of whoop ass”, but still, there does seem to be a good feel that things are about to get better.

Paul Wulff intimated as much yesterday in the WSU chat. While he didn’t roll out the pom-poms and lead everyone in the fight song, you could tell in his own, understated tone that he likes the direction. He really went into great detail about his feelings on these here “internets” and such:

Allen (Covington): Coach- in your opinion do Internet recruiting services help or hinder your recruiting process as a coach? There’s quite the debate online and offline (see Meat Market by Feldman).

Paul Wulff: They do both.

Well OK then.

Due to the lengthy responses from coach Wulff, I’d like to warn our affiliates we’ll be going over…
To repeat, warning our affiliates, we WILL BE GOING OVER our allotted time….

But back on topic, there are questions. MANY questions for this team, and what’s to come. Not to TOTALLY RIP OFF Vince Grippi from yesterday….by the way, Vince, “JC Levenseller”? We love you, and you won that phony election last year…but come on man.

Anyway, here are three super-terrific questions that we thought were relevant to what needs to be addressed, cleaned up, fixed, blown up, whatever….

1) WHO IS GOING TO THROW IT??

We WANT to be thrilled with Marshall Lobbestael’s potential. Seriously thrilled. And let’s face it, the kid did show some major moxie in his limited time last year. Oh, he didn’t go out and lead a titanic upset or anything. He had a few shining moments against Oregon, but how excited can you get over a 63-14 loss?

But in looking at Lobbestael, you almost have to just throw out the win/loss type stuff and realize all that was working against him last season. Such as a patchwork offensive line that had a different starting lineup throughout the first seven games, an ineffective running game, and an offense in general that lead the solar system in giveaways. Combine that with a massive malaise that overtook this team the first half or so games of 2008 with the flip-that-culture program running into some, uh, resistance, it is now pretty apparent that he simply wasn’t going to succeed. But to Marshall’s credit, he came in under said circumstances and held his own, leading the team in passer rating (103.7) and TD passes (4) in five games.

Wow, think about that for a second. A redshirt frosh QB played in just five games, and LED the team in TD passes with FOUR?? Who the?? WHAT THE?? Ryan Leaf used to have that many in one game, heck, one HALF. Mike Price is rolling over in his palatial El Paso estate (I didn’t say rolling over in his grave because coach Price isn’t actually dead….it’s just his career that has flat-lined). But those team-leading four TD passes is a real eye-opener isn’t it?

The biggest worry about Marshall is that knee.


I mean the kid did just blow that thing out on October 11th of last fall. It might feel like a long, long time ago, but that’s less than six months from right now. We hear that he’s made a ton of progress, enough so that he’ll actually participate in seven-on-seven skeleton drills this spring. Encouraging? Absolutely. But will he REALLY be ready for game action this fall? Not only do we have to hope for a full recovery in his knee, but will this injury rob him of his ability to move effectively? He’s not a Jeshua Anderson-type sprinter, but the kid could move pre-blown knee. Will he be able to do so post-injury? And how long will it take him to not only survive, but actually thrive on that knee? Mentally will he build up his confidence? I don’t know what you think, but he can wear the yellow no-contact jersey all fall camp and look great doing it. We aren’t really going to know until the season opener vs. Stanford. And we can be assured that the Cardinal D isn’t going to take it easy on him either. He will get hit, hard, for the first time in a long time. We just won’t know until that moment if he is all the way back.

So if Marshall just isn’t ready, what are the other options? JT Levenseller showed some spunk. But he has thrown just 34 passes in very limited time. He was tied with Kevin Lopina for 3rd on the team in TD passes. Of course, that number is ZERO. Young Levy has good feet, and from the looks of it, his arm passes the eye test. His skill-set appears to be a good match in the Todd Sturdy offense.

I know I’m excited as can be about this kid’s upside and reported intangibles from all who have been around him. But again, a bushel full of questions with him.

Finally, Kevin Lopina. What can we say? He evolved into a leader in the locker room, calling out the quitters and bad apples when things were falling down around him. For that, he gets points. And that throw to Jared Karstetter was enormous, a throw that will go down in AC history as one of the biggest plays in the series, pro-WSU style. And he is tough as can be, coming back off a fracture in his back to give it everything he had. But all that said, is it enough? How can we ignore his zero TD/11 INT ratio? Is that a starting QB in the PAC-10? You hate to be harsh on the kid, as he gave every ounce of sweat he had for this program last year. But I think many can agree that we might be best served if Lopina is the backup.

One nugget from the Paul Wulff chat yesterday is that the door is NOT closed on Lopina starting.

David California: On a recent radio show you stated there would be only one senior starting on offense in 2009. Would it be safe to assume that person is Kenny Alfred?

Paul Wulff: At the time, what I meant was there could be only up to one senior starting, the only proven senior being Kenny Alfred. But obviously, Tony Thompson has a clear shot at starting, as well as Kevin Lopina and Dwight Tardy.

Oh.

2) WHO’S GOING TO CATCH IT?

Gone is Brandon Gibson, who led the team in catches (57), yards(673) and TD’s (2). All numbers down across the board when you look back at how productive a player Gibson was in his career, but given the overall state of the offense, not too shabby either. Jeshua Anderson is back, second in catches (33) and yards (305), but yeah, there’s this whole track thing to think about. Hard to know exactly what he’ll be able to do by this fall after missing another spring practice session this year. Can’t exactly fault the kid either, I mean he’s clearly special in track and field, Olympics-type special. But there is also no doubt that he’s missing some valuable practice time to mesh with the updated offense, potential new QB’s, etc. It is what it is.

But the youngsters, while they didn’t pop with blazing numbers last year, are intriguing. Kevin Norrell played a lot as a true frosh, and while not a big physical presence, he did show some upside averaging 11.3 yards per catch. He’ll get a huge chance to shine this spring/next season. Daniel Blackledge was a little beat up last year but he too showed something, and has drawn some recent praise from Wulff. And Jared Karstetter was pretty overwhelmed as being force fed into the lineup as a true frosh last year, but there are some things to be excited about with him. Like, oh, I don’t know, a certain 48-yard catch in a certain game last year?


Most of all, these youngsters all got their first season out of the way. If anything, they’ve learned what it is like to line up across an all-conference talent like USC, Oregon or Cal rolls out every week. They shouldn’t be as overwhelmed by the moment this year. But boy, they will need to step up and be ready, asap. Plenty of opportunities available!

3) WHO WILL LEAD THE DEFENSE?

Gone is the “triangle” of Greg Trent at middle linebacker, A’i Ahmu at defensive tackle, and Matt Mullennix and his 1.5 knees held together with scotch tape at defensive end. All three gave what they had, each and every week, to help shore up a porous D that gave up tons of yards per game(443+) and points per game (43.8). While the world crumbled around them, they did what they could to try and hold things together.


So who shall lead them? My money is on Louis Bland, Xavier Hicks and Andy Mattingly. Bland, of course, burst onto the scene as an undersized true frosh who slid to outside linebacker. Next thing you know, he’s all-frosh with 55 tackles, nine for loss, including a couple of sacks, an INT return for a TD, and some huge knocks in the Apple Cup victory. But Bland has exuded “special” since he set foot in Pullman, and there was already talk LAST YEAR about Bland possibly being a team captain!

Xavier Hicks meanwhile has really turned it around. A big hitter with some meathead moves off the field, he appears to have taken well to the leadership of Coach Wulff. Even missing the first three games of last season didn’t keep him from finishing second on the team in tackles (78) and tied for the team lead in interceptions (2). Hicks might be the best all-conference candidate of the entire defense, and the timing might be right for a huge senior year.

Finally, Mattingly. A huge 2007 season as a breakout force at linebacker with the well-documented tackles (91) and sacks (8), 2008 was a lost year. Mattingly’s move to defensive end resulted in almost HALF the tackles from 2007 (44) and his sacks were trimmed from eight to just one in ’08. The good news is it appears they have seen the light, and Mattingly actually moved back to strong-side linebacker the last couple of games in 2008, and sure enough, the move is now permanent with the release of this spring’s depth chart. Very nice.

So that’s it. The three biggest questions (with possible answers?) to this team. There are many more, of course, ones that we didn’t even scratch the surface on. What do YOU think are the biggest questions facing this team? And what answers might you have to fix what’s BROKE?!?

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

Wednesday Ramblings

January 29, 2009

Some pretty good stuff floating around so we’ll get right to it.

Cougfan had a good look at the Canadian sleeper, Johnny Forzani. He really is an interesting story. Have you ever seen such intrigue with a kid who didn’t play a down of high school football, yet has already garnered three-star ratings out of Scout.com? But the hype seems somewhat deserved in this case, and it is a special one. A hoops standout who caught serious attention with the football videos he sent around, he showed up at a tryout camp for the Calgary Stampeders junior team and blew them away with his size (6-1, 204), athleticism, and speed (4.37 to 4.45 in the 40??).

As Scout.com said in their evaluations:

“On Forzani, you notice first how quick off the line he is,” says Brandon Huffman, Scout’s West Coast analyst. “Some receivers don’t utilize their first step right but that’s not the case with Forzani.

“He’s got very good speed, and has good explosion. His size will help him in the Pac-10, especially against smaller corners. He’s got a good combination of speed and strength that you notice early and often in the film. Body wise, he looks like he could be a safety too, but I think receiver is where his best days will be.”

Nice! But that’s not all.

There was also a pretty good read about Forzani and his father, John, a former CFL WR who made a good living playing Canadian ball. The whole idea of wearing his father’s number for the Calgary team, wow, that’s pretty cool. He’s got the bloodlines, that’s for sure, and you have to wonder what will happen once coach Levy gets his hands on this kid.

I know, I know, you don’t want to get too jacked about a recruit. But doesn’t he look like your turning-over-rocks type guy who you get through hard work and thinking outside the box?? These kinds of stories, they are just the kinds of things we can probably come to expect out of the Wulff regime, don’t you think?

Meanwhile, on the theme of offense – an anonymous poster informed us that he spied none other than Ocho Rojo, Marshall Lobbestael, on campus yesterday. Big deal, right? Well, he was WITHOUT crutches. Certainly a better sight compared to last fall….


I tried checking it out today but didn’t hear much that isn’t already known. He will be EXTREMELY limited in spring ball and likely won’t truly be part of full practices until the fall. If he does get out there in the spring, it will be very, very light work. But the early word is things are looking pretty good.

While it will make for some good bar-stool chatter, and it should be an interesting QB derby this fall, I would bet the majority believe that if Lobbestael is healthy, he will be THE GUY in ’09? I sure would love to see him ready to go by August and really compete hard for the job against JT Levy and Kevin Lopina.

Most of all, let’s hope whoever the hell wins that job gets the full keys to the car so to speak. You know, like MORE than 50% of the playbook? You’ve all at least been in the system for a year, now let’s see what happens!

The Evergreen weighed in on the ’09 schedule. Not a bad look at next season, and they even take a shot at UW: “The Apple Cup concludes the regular season Nov. 28. The Cougars will head to Seattle this year, hoping to build a three-game winning streak against a Husky team that has a new head coach, a new system, but the same mediocre personnel.” So there.

Oh, and hey, they even throw out a PREDICTION – 5-7? Really? Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t it still seem WAY too early for predictions in January? Don’t we need to get through signing day and spring ball, at the very least, to see the way these teams are going to be? You know we will weigh in this spring, and that means a return of the “fishwrap” series where we look at each 2009 opponent.

We’ve made a few changes around this here blog. First of all you might have noticed the “click here for more….plus Comments”. Kind of a cool little feature, it helps keep the front page of the site without too much scrolling for stories. Plus it gives you a jump right to the comments of each story, making it easier for YOU to weigh in. We also put a “latest comment” feature to the right of the page, if you scroll down below the Spokesman Review feed. It shows you the last five comments posted to the site. Interested to see if anyone responded to what you said? Just check there.

Finally, many of you already know this, but signing day is next week….Seriously. There is a free function in Spokane on the 4th, followed by a deal in Shelton on the 5th and the Seattle dinner on the 6th. We will do what we can to get some great coverage, one way or another, and provide the best recap available! But if you attend one of these functions and hear or see something pretty cool, by all means, you are welcome to share it here. The more tidbits we can pass along the better. We’re all in this together….right??

That’s it for now. ENJOY YOUR EVENING, and GO COUGS!

Does Past EWU Struggle Offer Hope for WSU?

December 21, 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brinkhater and Beavs Bite It

November 30, 2008


Tonight, the Beavs lost their token chance at the Rose Bowl and Brinkhater lost his perfect season of Cougar prognostications, as the Cougs turned in a frustrating 24-10 defeat.

Overall, the defense looked quite inspired and Levy showed in my book that he is the man of the future. IF you saw the kid run and saw his arm strength, you know that he HAS to be the guy moving forward. He really does have the stuff to develop into a fine winning Pac-10 QB.

Here’s what I saw via the online streaming option from the island:

  • Turpin had a really nice sack on Alexander late in the 4th where he blew off the center and guard and then chased and caught Alexander on the sideline. Very impressive.
  • The D actually looked really good. We obviously still have problems in the secondary, but the linebackers in particular looked really fast and we shot the gaps well.
  • We had a cool (almost) 3-8 look on defense in the second half where we were stunting guys all over the place. We were fast and aggressive and were actually quite fun to watch.
  • I think we’ll really miss Trent at times next year, but watching Bland and Mattingly yesterday was quite exciting.
  • That said, the offense still lacks so much imagination although there were a lot of missed opportunities. Levy has the happiest of happy feet right now, but as I noted on the post, he has good Pac-10 speed for the position and has the type of arm strength that Brinkhater has been dreaming of for the last five years.

In reference to someone’s comments tonight, we DID have a chance to win that game. Levy missed Gibson by 7 inches for six in the 3rd on a go pattern. We missed recovering a fumble on a punt that would have made it a 7 point game late, and Levy overshot Norrell on a surefire touch late in the game.

Plus, Giles’ fumble following the blocked FG was beyond ridiculous.

Final notes: Tardy again ran like a champ–really, really hard. With a healthy Ivory, Mitz, and Montgomery entering the fold, expect more ball control next year. That said, if you saw the action on the play action with Levy in the game, it makes you wonder what could have been.

You can all be proud of the effort they put into the contest. In the end, they bought in.

Kudos to the defensive coaching staff for bringing the boys along in the last three games.


The offense, meanwhile, needs a whole lot of work.

Thanks for sticking with us through this season.

A Tough Goodbye and Some Post-ASU Thoughts

November 16, 2008

I know the season is winding down (thankfully), and we’re officially in Apple Cup week. Sorry for the hoops-only post yesterday, but circumstances prevented much of a gameday thread. Besides, we lost 31-0 and the game wasn’t on TV. What do you want??

We’ll get to that in a moment. But I wanted to start off today by writing a few thoughts about our beloved golden retriever, Barkley.

Sadly, we had to say good-bye to the best dog ever yesterday, as he finally lost his battle with lymphoma. He was initially diagnosed in the spring, and we decided to fight for him by going the chemotherapy route. It was expensive and emotionally draining, but to us, it was worth it. He was, in our mind, just too young to let go. But the vet was very up front with us from day one, saying this is a terminal diagnosis. While we could kick it back into remission, it will return. And when it comes back, that will be it. We had, at BEST estimates, one year left with him, and that was as optimistic as it gets. Barkley was closing in on his 9th birthday, and while 8 years and 9 months might seem like a good amount of time for a dog, well, to us he was taken far, far too early.

Initially the chemo did wonders, as he bounced back quickly to at least somewhat like he used to be. Not all the way back to normal, but not too far away. We did everything we could to make this last summer his best, taking him with us everywhere we went, making sure to give him extra attention and love at every turn. But in the last few weeks, and especially this last week, we knew time was running out. The cancer had returned, making him weaker than ever. Even worse, Barkley had suddenly developed severe arthritis in his hips, making it very difficult to not only climb the stairs in our home, but just getting up from laying down became a struggle.

The one thing my wife and I pledged to do when we started the chemo treatments was that we didn’t want to simply keep him alive for OUR own reasons. If he was ever in some real pain, we would let him go. At the end, the situation became unbearable, and these last few days were beyond painful for all of us.

I know, I know. Some of you are rolling your eyes and saying “it’s just a dog, get over it.” Yes, I understand that. He was just a dog. Some of you have gone through much, much worse. But to us, he was very special. Not just his loving personality, where everyone he met instantly became his best friend, but for many other reasons, big and small. I know you all have your own pet stories, so I won’t go too far into the details that made him exceptional to us. But I will share one big thing that made him such an important part of our lives.

Back in 2000, my wife was pregnant with our first child. Anyone who has been down that road knows the overwhelming experience that can be, as a father, mother, or any other family member. The excitement and anxiety, all rolled into one, is almost indescribable. But just over halfway into the pregnancy, something went terribly wrong. We ended up losing the baby, a girl we named Megan. To say an event like that is devastating is an understatement, and if any of you have been down that dark road, you understand.

But after we lost our baby, well, we needed something. We needed a new soul to enter our home, a soul we could love and cherish and care for, something to pull us through a difficult time. That’s when Barkley, an 8-week old puppy, entered our lives. His presence helped get us through those days, and for that, Barker Boy, we will always love you. I will see you again some day. And I know you will be waiting for me at the front door, tail wagging, thinking “Finally, you’re home!”, just as you always did in life. Rest in peace.

Moving on, ASU. You know what? Even though the final score was awful, the first half was actually pretty entertaining, just a 10-0 game at the break. There were some promising moments early, offensively moving the ball through the air. They even ground out a long drive early in the game, but missed a field goal that seemed to zap any momentum they might have discovered on offense.

But defensively, they really hung in there and fought hard. Playing exclusively early in a 3-3-5 defense, per the radio broadcast, they did a good job of getting some pressure early on Rudy Carpenter. They even logged back-to-back sacks one one possession, and on the next, drew a holding penalty on what looked like another sure sack. They were even stout against the run, not anything close to the outfit allowing 279 yards rushing per game. 132 rushing yards allowed, on 35 carries? That’s pretty damn good. And as a whole, they allowed under 400 total yards, and in a year like this? MAJOR victory.


But once again, the offense let the team down. That’s now the third shutout in our last four games. Think about that. For a team that hadn’t been shut out since the early 80’s, to now roll three goose-eggs? 130 total yards? Seven rushing yards? SEVEN?? Simply awful. Unfortunately they come out of this one a little banged up as well. Chance Staden was lost to a knee injury, adding to the list of injured backs in Chris Ivory and now Logwone Mitz. Basically it’s down to Dwight Tardy….and Marcus Richmond…..that’s about it for the running game.

And of course, Kevin Lopina was lost with the concussion. I know we have openly pined for the youngster to get his chance, and now it looks like he might if the doctors don’t clear Lopina for next week. Concussions are obviously tricky, and today’s day and age they take every precaution in the world, so the odds are probably good that JT gets the ball this week. Young Levy got into the game and made a few plays, but generally struggled to a 7-for-14, 41 yard, 1 INT performance, as well as a fumble on a sack that ASU scooped up for a score. Oh yeah, the kid also injured his left wrist on the play, but HOPEFULLY he’s ok!?!? Whether he’s ready or not, with the Lopina injury, the J.T. Levenseller era might be here after all. And what a week to start it, vs. UW.

Here’s a rumor for you regarding UW. We got this from a reliable source too. But UW might unleash a surprise at QB this week. No guarantees, but let’s just say you shouldn’t be shocked if #10 is under center for UW.

Finally, the hoops team won. Hooray hoops! And the kids played well too. Baynes led with 14 points, but Marcus Capers had nine boards and six assists?? Wow. And DeAngelo Casto had four blocks?? NICE. 16% shooting, and 25 points allowed, the lowest total given up since 1948?? This is going to be a fun, interesting season of college basketball (and I KNOW from comments yesterday some of you despise basketball!).

ENJOY YOUR SUNDAY, and GO COUGS!

Enjoy the Ride

November 10, 2008