Archive for the ‘Louis Bland’ Category

Louis Bland – A New Hope?

August 13, 2009


First of all, outstanding post-practice reports from Sir Vincent Grippi. Get ’em here, here and here. Cougfan as well is spreading the info, with a free article to boot (!) in their chat with coach Wulff, as well as quotes from Louis Bland and Andy Mattingly.

Sounds like a busy day, splitting the practices between the rookies in the AM and mostly vets in the PM. And there’s good tidbits to devour throughout all the coverage. But the best news, at least from where I sit? LOUIS BLAND, per the Cougfan story:

“We’re more united as a defense,” outside linebacker Louis Bland said. “Last year, it seemed when times got hard, we laid down a little bit.

“Right now, we’re not backing down from anything.”

Bland has been slowed by a left knee sprain suffered during spring practice, but he saw his most extensive action of camp on Wednesday. He joined the starters in a practice that involved only the No. 1 and 2 offenses and defenses.

I think I’ll be ready for the first game,” Bland said.

The part about Bland saying he thinks he’ll be ready for the first game, yeah, I gave it some bold text. Now, Grippi doused the excitement a bit, with a quote from Wulff saying how Bland isn’t quite 100% and still speculated that he may not be ready for the opener. But you can’t help but love to hear some good injury news on such a vital part of the defense!

We can’t say enough about Bland, after a breakthrough frosh season last year, playing his heart out as a 205-lb outside linebacker in his first NCAA action. That picture above, Bland hitting Toby Gerhart with basically his face, just speaks volumes about the kid. But to see that he’s up over 220 lbs now, and running with the one’s during some hard-hitting practice this afternoon? Very, very good news for a defense trying to rebuild it’s image.

Also some good stuff on the rookies who stood out, including QB Jeff Tuel, WR Gino Simone and DE Travis Long. Simone and Long participated in the veterans practice, while Grippi reported that Tuel had thrown pretty well, even in the rain, and there were some drops due to his “fastball”.

Anyway, I know I/we have been cool to the idea of Tuel actually playing this year…but…well, have you seen what’s going on at USC? With Aaron Corp suffering an injury that is going to keep him down for a few weeks, true frosh Matt Barkley is taking the reins, at least for now. That’s right, a true frosh QB. Clearly Barkley is on another level, I mean we’re talking about the TOP GUN coming into NCAA football this year. He’s ultra-elite, and was projected to at least battle Corp for the job anyway. Tuel, I think everyone agreed, should be redshirting….but….IF he shows a lot, should he….aw, never mind. Redshirt the kid, let him get his feet on the ground, and we’ll see what happens next year.

Look for a Longball recap of practice in the coming days. As always, GO COUGS!


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!

How Does it Feel to be an All-American?

December 19, 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

ENJOY YOUR FRIDAY, 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!

What a Day!

November 23, 2008

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!

When All is Lost….

November 3, 2008

It is so easy to fall into the negative ditch right now. We try to stay positive, but right now it’s tough on all of us. But I can’t imagine how the players and coaches feel right now. Like Kaddy pointed out, the team is likely divided between guys who don’t give a rip and can’t wait to get outta Shawshank, and the other half are guys who are simply too young or not even playing to have any impact whatsoever on the product you see every Saturday. It’s a ship completely adrift with no leadership or direction. But we’ve harped on leadership – or a lack thereof – before. We’ve been down this road.

But it’s not as if they aren’t trying. Closing practices during the bye week, trying to get through to some of these kids, and yet, as Kevin Lopina said again after Saturday’s game, players are quitting as soon as they get down. We’ve seen teams lay down before when the going gets tough, but in all honesty, this has to be one of the worst give-up teams we’ve seen around here. It’s embarrassing for the coaches and fans, and it’s tearing the locker room apart.

But enough of the harping. Today is a day for trying to look forward. Today is a day to not feel crappy about the weekly blowouts or a hail storm of turnovers (now minus-20 on the season, tied for the worst in America). Today, let’s look forward to something/someone you are excited about in the coming seasons, not dwell on where we are today. So here goes:

1) I’m excited to see how the young offensive line comes together. Just think, after another year of lifting and eating right, these young kids will be bigger and stronger and ready for the rigors of a PAC-10 season. And a glance at the depth chart for Stanford shows the offensive line going, from left to right, freshman, sophomore, junior, sophomore and sophomore. All these lumps they are taking now, believe it or not, WILL pay off.

2) I’m excited to see how some of the young skill position guys look, as soon as next year. Jeshua Anderson is lightning fast, which we all know, and will only be a junior next year. With a healthy off-season and a full spring/fall practice session, I bet we see a major leap forward with him next year. But there are others to be optimistic about, including Daniel Blackledge, Kevin Norrell and Jared Karstetter, who could form a decent WR corps next season.

3) I’m excited to see how the running backs look for 2009, provided they are healthy. Dwight Tardy and Chris Ivory will both be seniors next year, but there will be more involved, including James Montgomery, the transfer from Cal, to be in the mix. I’m also impressed with how Logwone Mitz has looked of late. Mitz will be just a redshirt sophomore next year and could really be something as a power back in short yardage, as he continues to get stronger. And even Chantz Standen has shown a little bit as a junior, and he’ll be back there as well in 2009. That’s a pretty deep group of five backs to feel good about for next year.


4) I’m excited to see what J.T. Levenseller can do from here on out. Let’s HOPE THAT THE COACHES ARE GOOD WITH THE IDEA OF SEEING WHAT HE CAN DO THE REST OF THE YEAR!??!? Let’s hope he gets more than one first-half series this week?? Look, we have four games left this year and it doesn’t look promising in any of them. Let’s throw the kid out there more and more, and let’s see what happens. Let’s give him a foundation to build with as this year winds down, and he has something to build off for 2009. Who knows, with Lobbestael’s knee injury a little worse than initially feared, and Lopina going to be in his last year next year, J.T. MIGHT truly be the QB of the program for the next few seasons. Might as well start building the foundation TODAY.

5) I’m excited to see what kind of a linebacker Louis Bland can become. He’s already touted as a big-time leader and a kid that others can rally around. He’s not afraid to put his face in there and hit like hell. And in the way offenses are going, you will see more and more of the smaller, faster linebackers on the outside to defend spread style attacks. While he’s built more like a safety at 5-10, 205, he’s got a big heart.

6) I’m excited to see what the defensive line can do next year. The redshirt comes off for Bernard Wolfgramm, the top recruit from Wulff’s first signing class. He will be a big boost inside next year. But there are others, including Josh Luopo, a 300-pounder who will likely be in the mix next season after he enrolls this coming January. Add in Toby Turpin’s huge 6-6, 280 lb frame with another off-season of hitting the weight room, and who knows what he could turn into. He played a lot vs. Stanford after Eichelberger was pulled out, and Turpin will likely play a lot the rest of the season.

7) The secondary has been torn up this year, but it’s not all their fault. Anyone that knows anything about the game knows that if you don’t have any semblance of a pass rush, no secondary in the country can hold up for more than a few seconds. But the youth back there has in fact shown some promise. Romeo Pellum might be a just a sophomore, but he’s not afraid to get in there and mix it up. He now has 52 tackles this year, second to only Greg Trent on the entire team. And Xavier Hicks is playing hard, and even better, he didn’t quit against Stanford, racking up 10 tackles. Even Tyrone Justin, all 157 pounds of him right now as a true frosh, is doing all he can out there. So there is some decent youth back there, many of whom will have another year in the Wulff system to get bigger, stronger and more experienced.

8) Finally, I’m excited about signing day in February. Believe it or not, the recruiting IS GOING WELL. While it isn’t looking so good with Lynnwood’s Geoff Meinken, still, the current crop of verbal commitments is as strong as we’ve had in a long, long time. There is only one two-star player on the list, but the rest are three-stars. I know we never get too geeked on commitments, because it all can change rapidly with 18-year olds, but still, even with the bad times on the field, it’s going well towards building to tomorrow.

So there you have it – what I’m excited about, beginning in 2009. What are YOU looking forward to? Chime in with your thoughts, because we need all the positive karma we can get right now.

ENJOY YOUR MONDAY, and GO GOUGS!

Paul Wulff Radio Show Recap – Week Six

October 1, 2008

I will try and be brief, yet hit the key points. As usual, we’ll jump right in:

  1. Practice report from Tuesday was an “excellent” practice. Everyone came ready to work hard and the coaches were all impressed by the effort and enthusiasm. It’s tough right now, obviously, but they are doing everything they can to remain positive. Have to have the right mindset, and realize that in a brand new system, in just five games they have already started three different quarterbacks, five different offensive line combinations and five different groups of wide receivers/tight ends. For a season of change, it’s been nothing but change across the board every single week, and it’s really difficult to develop continuity/consistency that way.
  2. They are already down to just three QB’s on the roster, so, next Monday, if you are on campus and can play the position? Head on down for TRYOUTS! Right now we simply need the body, period.
  3. Wulff talked about Marshall Ocho Rojo. He thought he did a very good job, considering 1) the quality of the opponent in Oregon, one of the quickest, most physical teams he’ll see all season; 2) the youth of our offensive line and skill positions; 3) the fact that it was his first start, at home, for homecoming. Add it all up and he did just fine. Had three drives that went well, two for TD passes and one other one that he had Brandon Gibson wide open for a TD but missed him. Wulff also said that he has no doubt that Marshall’s game is going to come fast, faster than they expected initially. He’s classy, competitive, hates to make mistakes. He’s an absolute film guy, all the way, and Wulff said right now he’s watching more film than anyone on the roster, coaches included! He is calm, cool, collected, and handles him self extremely well. Wulff has no doubt he will develop into a fine player over the next four years (this is the closest I’ve heard Wulff “gush” about a player on the roster, so, I think you can read between the lines to understand that Lobbestael is going to be THE GUY for the forseeable future).
  4. Wulff mentioned in the open that there will be some new faces, again, in the lineup. Wulff said that Louis Bland will start at linebacker, as he has moved ahead of Ken Dunn. Wulff did gush a little about Bland, in how he was a two-time state champion wrestler, two-time class president, all-state, all-area, all-everything, player of the year, etc. And a really good looking young linebacker. Bland has the mental toughness and physical traits that they want to build the program with going forward, exactly the kind of kid they are looking for. Tyree Toomer will also play this week, although probably as a backup, but he will definitely play in the secondary. Wulff went out of his way to say how both Bland and Toomer are talented, but also showing some tremendous leadership and they’ve only been in the program for a few months. Very impressive kids.
  5. A caller asked about recruiting, and especially about the units they will make a priority going foward. Without hesitation Wulff mentioned (surprise!) the D-line. They need depth, now, and they will spend multiple scholarships on defensive linemen. A quick look at the current commits, and out of six players, three are defensive linemen. We can expect more to come most likely. The caller also asked about the traits they look for in offensive linemen. I thought this was interesting in that Wulff stated for tackles, they are looking for big kids, but they want the lean body types coming out of high school, almost the offensive tackle/tight end kids in that 6-4/6-5, 250-lb range. They want to be able to add the “right kind of weight” on their frames and that the weight they have at a young age is lean. They want their tackles to be quick enough and have good enough footwork to handle the speedy defensive ends that they will face every week. For the guards, they want the thicker kids, but still, ones with a good frame that they can pack on the muscle with proper weight training and nutrition (more on that later). For centers, they want a strong mental player, one that is capable of handling all the line calls on every play, things like that.
  6. Bob-Rob asked about the recruiting process right now. So far it’s gone well, and they are working hard. Wulff stressed that “you have to recruit every single day, or else you will pay for it down the line.” I thought this might have been a bit of a swipe at the prior staff? But Wulff stressed repeatedly how recruiting is 24/7 now, much different compared to back in the day. They watch tape of recruits, write letters, make phone calls, everything they can do on a day-to-day basis. They also are constantly contacting the high school coaches and also are part of some recruiting services where they always get updates on players they are looking for.
  7. Wulff also touched on the relationship with the state of WA coaches. It is a HUGE deal, and he said that the relationship is so good that many of the high school coaches WANT to help and send kids to Wulff! (I know that was touted when he was hired, but I think that will really pay off going forward.) They also have visits every weekend, and just had four kids in for last weekend.
  8. One very cool thing, and an example of the President’s involvement with the program, is that President Floyd actually met with one of the recruits and his family last weekend! Wulff said you will rarely find that at any school in the country, where a President will actually meet with football recruits. It just doesn’t happen very often.
  9. Wulff also touched on his first recruiting class, signed in February. Wulff said that they are all doing well, and the encouraging thing is that nobody has quit the team(!). But seriously, they are all working very hard and are getting a chance to play if they earn it. They all get up at 5:30 in the morning and hit the weight room too, each and every one of them, so the seeds are being planted right now with this group of what it takes to get better. But most of all he said many of them are driven, passionate and there are some very good leaders in this first group.
  10. Wulff was asked about UCLA. He said that they are somewhat similar in that they are down a couple of QB’s as well, and they have a whole new staff. He also stressed that with new staffs come completely new systems, and you have players making many mistakes in the first month of a new regime. It happens everywhere. Wulff stressed that turnovers continue to kill them, and they are now minus-13 in turnover ratio. Once again, that must change immediately if they have hope to get a win. They cannot afford to keep doing it.
  11. Wulff talked about Kevin Craft at UCLA and how he’s played. He said sure, he’s got five INT’s this year, but four of them were in the first half vs. Tennessee. He’s had some rough spots but he’s already doing a better job of taking care of the ball.
  12. A caller asked about the culture and what goes into making changes. Wulff said basically they are trying to set some new, basic standards for what the players will be accountable for. But they are trying to preach about how the right way to do things, things like the weight room and proper nutrition. Wulff said if they don’t take it seriously, especially the nutrition, then they will never reach their peak physically. They must eat correctly, they must do the work in the weight room, or else. The caller asked if they were getting a lot of push-back from the veteran players? Wulff said well, yes and no. He said some of them are happy with the changes and are getting the structure they crave. But others aren’t taking too well to it. But he said it’s nobody’s fault, really, and that it’s just a new way of doing things. People in all walks of life are often resistant to change, that’s no secret. But he said that mainly the older players it’s harder on because they just don’t know any different than what they’ve been taught all along. It’s the old dog/new trick deal, where you are trying to get them to break the bad habits and develop some new ones. It takes time to get there.
  13. Wulff was asked about in-state recruiting and how important that is. He stressed, again, the relationships with the high school coaches and that they’ve got a very good advantage there when it comes to the staff he’s assembled and their experience in recruiting the state. But Wulff said that’s only half the battle, and they still need to entice the kids to stay at “home” as much as they can. They have to WANT to stay home. He also touched on the stadium renovations and how much that will help going forward. That stuff really does help sell recruits and contribute to the gameday experience. He also spoke about the Oregon schools and how much they have put into their facilities, and what do you know, look at how it’s paying off? Both schools have pulled ahead of the WA schools in the northwest, and it’s no coincidence that their facilities improved, so did their records. Wulff truly believes we will close the gap, and sooner rather than later. The biggest thing with recruiting is the opportunity to build layers upon layers of depth, but it simply takes time to get the kids in and then develop them.
  14. Finally, sort of a funny one but Wulff asked Levy today about his thoughts on this year’s team. Levy has been at WSU for 17 years, and has seen some real highs and lows, obviously. But Levy did say that he honestly sees progress, and really believes they are about to show some big improvement. He can see it coming. HOWEVER, Wulff wouldn’t reveal exactly where he rated the 2008 WSU Cougars compared to some of the other teams Levy has been a part of! Needless to say, it’s not hard to figure out where he ranked them. 🙂

That’s about it. I really hope/wish some of you could hear Wulff say these things in his own voice. You hear him speak from the heart, and he sounds as though he really believes they are going about things the right way, and that their system will ultimately prevail. It’s hard NOT to feel better about things after you listen to him. He’s not a RAH-RAH guy, but you can hear his energy and passion about the job in his voice. He’s got to be the rock in all this, but I don’t think anyone is taking these losses harder than he is. Don’t forget about all the personal equity he has in seeing that this thing is a success, and I don’t think anyone is going to work harder than Wulff to see that the job is done.