Archive for the ‘Spring Fish Wrap’ Category

Spring Fish Wrap – Hawaii Warriors Edition

June 30, 2008
Welcome to Hawaii. My name is Mark, and I’ll be kicking your ass.

In what is looking like a potential vacation for many, Cougar fans will head to the warm November weather of Hawaii after the 101st Apple Cup is in the books this year. Will it be a welcome change to dreary northwest weather on 11/29? Will the Cougs have anything left in the tank? Can they get up for one last game, playing a regular-season game after the Apple Cup for just the third time since ’88?

For a season that is starting to look like a bowl game is going to be a long-shot, at best, at least we can pretend. Hey, UW did it last year, and along the way nearly ruined Hawaii’s BCS chances. To a man, everyone thought UW would get steamrolled over there, what with Hawaii’s Sugar Bowl bid on the line and UW licking it’s wounds after the Apple Cup heartbreak. But they came to play, and nearly pulled the upset. And we did it in Jason Gesser’s first season, where he rallied the troops as a frosh to a 22-14 win in ’99 over a 9-win Hawaii team. That game was considered the defining moment to the start of Gesser’s career. Don’t take my word for it. Check out Washington State Magazine’s look back to that game:

He sometimes seemed fragile, but he was always throwing his body at yard-markers, at safeties, at whatever got in his way. He and others recall his defining moments as late in that freshman season of 1999, when he had a bad thumb but led a team of meager capability to a victory at Hawaii.

On one play, he dove for the chains and in his words, “got cleaned in the ribs.” Wincing back to the huddle, he had established a tone. Safety Billy Newman told him that from that moment forward, everybody in the program knew that nothing less than a best effort would do.

So what the heck? The game is on the schedule. It’s a chance for the players to bond, one last time, and to hopefully build for tomorrow. And who knows, maybe there will be a defining moment in the Wulff era that will come out of that game?

Moving on, let’s look at how Hawaii is setting up, post spring Fish-Wrap style. And, sorry to say it Hawaii fans, but it ain’t lookin’ so good.

Head coach June Jones? Gone to SMU, finally getting off the island (and rumored to have flirted with WSU for a short time last December??). All-universe QB Colt Brennan? Gone to the NFL. Top four WR’s, three of which had over 1,000 yards receiving? All gone. The defense? Seven starters, gone, including six of the top ten tacklers. This is a whole new era in Hawaii football in more ways than one.

With Jones out, Greg McMackin takes over as the head coach. McMackin was the d-coordinator under Jones and turned the Hawaii defense around in ’07, where they went from the #93 ranked defense in ’06 to #34 in ’07. But being the head coach is a whole different deal, and the fan expectation will be to keep enjoying winning seasons and bowl games. But McMackin is 0-fer-0 as a D-1 head coach, and was an OK 24-14-1 as an NAIA coach at Oregon Tech in the late-80’s. This whole head coach experience at this level is something entirely different. But who knows, maybe he’s ready. He has to shed the “grandfather” image, according to these quotes from when he first took over for Jones. McMackin isn’t a screamer, but when you do something he doesn’t approve of, he’ll let you know.

An interesting angle however are the new coordinators. Instead of going with an established D-1 guy, Hawaii turned to some local legends and are giving them a shot. St. Louis High School coach Ron Lee, a coach who ran the run-n-shoot offense at the Honolulu high school and coached them to 14 state titles, will run the offense here. And, yes, that’s the same St. Louis High School in Honolulu where none other than Jason Gesser rewrote the record book, including a perfect 24-0 record as a starter over his last two seasons. But the defensive coordinator is Cal Lee, Ron Lee’s brother. Cal has been with the Warriors for the last five years as linebackers coach, and this will be his first shot as the d-coordinator. But before that? Also a St. Louis high school coach, and also a coach Gesser played for. Interesting connection there, with Hawaii turning to the high school legends to fill the coordinator positions. That can only help Hawaii recruit the islands and try to keep the majority of the talent home. The Lee brothers will carry a lot of weight in living rooms all over Hawaii.

2007: What can you say? A dream season that ended with a thud, getting bulldozed out of the Super Dome by Georgia in a real man-vs-boys match-up. The SEC speed was on display and they absolutely ran outside, inside and right through the Warriors. Still, a 12-1 season is nothing to sneeze at, and the fact that they elbowed their way into the BCS party is a hat tip to them. I don’t care what conference you are in or where you are located, getting to 12-0 and a BCS bowl is a major flippin’ accomplishment.

Offensive Scheme: It will still be a run-n-shoot offense under Ron Lee, but with some variety mixed in. If you don’t know, the run-n-shoot is basically throw the heck out of the ball, with one running back and four WR’s, two of which are considered slot receivers. Think of it as ditching the fullback and tight-end for a couple of receivers. Sort of like the read-option rage that everyone is switching to today in college football, it’s a quick-hitting offense designed to spread the field and exploit mismatches. But it is much more a passing offense than anything else, and you don’t see many rushing yards out of the QB position. Colt Brennan only had 27 net rushing yards last year. But as Timmy Chang and then Colt Brennan have shown, you don’t need a John Elway-style rocket arm to succeed in the offense. It’s more based on a smart QB who can make the lightning-fast read and exploit the match-ups. Last year they were #1 in the nation in scoring at an impressive 43.4 points per game, #2 in passing offense at 439 yards per game, and #3 in total offense at just over 512 yards per game. It’s pretty entertaining football and it produces yards, points and wins. Check it out:


Top Offensive Player: This is kind of a tough one. They lose just so much on offense, with Brennan’s 4300+ yards and 38 TD passes. Plus their WR’s lose Ryan Grice-Mullen, Davone Bess, Jason Rivers and CJ Hawthorne. All those four did were combine for over 4600 receiving yards and 44 TD’s last year(!). Yikes. I wanted to go with the projected starter Tyler Graunke, a senior QB who came off the bench last year to start for Brennan due to some injuries and led them to some wins. Graunke threw for over 1200 yards last year and had 10 TD passes, including the only TD vs. Georgia in the Sugar Bowl once Brennan came out of the game. But Graunke didn’t look all that great this spring and had some off-the-field issues to deal with, so the door is open for junior Inoke Funaki. Funaki barely played in ’07, but looked decent this spring. And there are others in the mix as well, including a couple of JC transfers that will be in for fall camp. As of right now, no starting QB has been named by McMackin, so they will all battle it out for the job once camp begins.

Due to the uncertainty at QB, I’ll go with Kealoha Pilares as the top returning offensive player.

He was the leading rusher last year, with 388 yards and 3 TD’s, averaging 5.7 per carry as a true frosh. But Pilares also caught 26 balls last year, which makes him the #1 receiver coming back in ’08 in terms of number of catches. Pilares will actually change positions this year, moving out to the slot WR position and will likely be the go-to-guy early on as the offense tries to get settled with all the new faces. Former Washington high school running back Leon Wright-Jackson will take over in the backfield for Pilares. Jackson, if you remember, was a big-time recruit from Washington who ended up heading to Nebraska, but had a falling out there and ended up transferring to Hawaii. Jackson played a little bit last year, rushing for 219 yards, but he averaged 6.6 yards per carry and should take on a lot more of the load this year.

Defensive Scheme: Hawaii’s defense is a high energy, attacking unit that generally plays a 4-3. They play hard and hit hard, and generally play with a chip on their shoulder, especially at home. Even though Cal Lee is the new coordinator, he’s been on the staff for the last five years, so it’s not like they are totally starting over on that side of the ball. And McMackin is a defensive coach by nature, so his fingerprints will likely be heavy on the defensive game plan every Saturday.

Top Defensive Player: Hawaii’s linebackers are stacked, with Adam Leonard and Solomon Elimimian both back this year. They combined for 246 tackles last season and 20 tackles for loss. They are both the emotional and physical leaders on a defense that flies to the football. But I’ll go with Elimimian. Simply put, he’s a tackling monster at linebacker, racking up an amazing 141 tackles and 10.5 for loss. He’s not a huge guy for a middle linebacker, built more like a safety at 6-1, 220, but he is as quick as any middle linebacker we’ll see next year. He can also lay the wood a little bit:

Top Spring Question: Have you SEEN THAT SCHEDULE??

Wow, it looks rough. There is no time for warm-ups here, no soft landings. Kick ’em out of the nest and see if the kids can fly, as game number 1? AT THE SWAMP in Florida on 8/30. With just eight total starters back for next year, you have to wonder how they will handle that environment. Not only will they be over-matched physically, as we sort of saw that when they played Georgia last year in terms of sheer size and speed, but opening up at Florida is just brutal. After a slight reprieve by hosting Weber State the following week, they come back to the mainland and play at Oregon State. Reser Stadium isn’t exactly the Swamp, but it’s a Pac-10 foe on the road, always a tough place for any opponent, and that will be tough as nails to come out of there with a win. Then after a bye they hit the WAC regular season, which will include road games at Fresno State and at the smurf turf, Boise State. Another interesting angle is that not only do we play there after their conference schedule is over on 11/29, but the following week, the Cincinnati Bearcats come to Hawaii to wrap up their season. Cincinnati was one of the surprise teams in the Big East last year, winning 10 games and their bowl game over S. Mississippi. Maybe it would have made more sense to have a schedule like this with Colt Brennan and all those starters back in ’07, but this year looks like it could fall off the rails pretty quickly.

WSU Football Blog Bottom Line: Hawaii has to be one of the most unpredictable teams on the WSU schedule. With so few starters back and so many new faces at key spots, and with a brand new staff combined with a brutal schedule, who knows what they will look like by the time 11/29 comes around. But it’s pretty obvious now that this team is looking like a shell of it’s former self, and a repeat of last year is pretty much out of the question. I mean who the heck can predict what they are going to see out of this team with so many new things yet to be introduced for 2008? It’s only natural to see a step back from the dizzying heights of ’07.

That said, they still could be a bowl team if everything goes their way, and most off all, they take care of business at home where they are 50-16 over the last eight seasons, 15-1 over the last two. While the mobile, athletic junior QB Funaki might have more of an exciting upside than Graunke, at least Graunke has been there in big situations and done pretty well when called upon. If they want to try and win now and worry about the future, well, in the future, you would think that Graunke will get every chance to win that job outright by the time the season gets here. But who knows. This could be a major rebuilding job after all, and going younger at the most important position on the field might be a payoff for 2009, when all the young faces they see today are a year older and they have been through the battles of 2008.

Hawaii has only lost four games the last two years combined, but looking at that schedule, it’s not hard to picture at least that many, if not more, in 2008.

Well, that’s it for the ’08 Spring Fish Wraps. We hope you enjoyed these early looks at the WSU opponents for the upcoming season. I think it will be somewhat interesting – if not amusing – to look back at the fish wraps once the season gets going, just to see how WAY OFF we were in some of this stuff! That’s the beauty of it, really. You can read and watch video of these teams, but our view is really the view from 10,000 feet. And there are always surprises along the way. I mean really, if everything went according to plan, and the favorites won every week, wouldn’t life be pretty damn boring? Why even watch if everything goes like the experts say they will? That’s why we watch, because you just never know!

ENJOY YOUR TUESDAY, and most of all, enjoy your holiday weekend coming up. GO COUGS!

Spring Fish Wrap – The Jake Locker’s Edition

June 26, 2008

This won’t be the same as the other “fish wraps” we’ve been doing around here. Why? Because if you are reading this, you likely know UW pretty well. WSU fans are well aware of what’s going on at UW (uw football blog east?). It’s the little brother thing I guess. Whatever. It is what it is. So, I don’t think what follows will actually be all that “newsy” to you, but here goes.

First of all, I thought about making fun of all things Jake Locker and UW. You know, the love affair with #10, the unrealistic expectations that he’ll never fulfill. But I just can’t do it. Why? Because Locker is a hell of a kid. A great leader on and off the field, with countless anecdotes of what a class act he is in every thing he does. There is no joy in trying to tear anyone down, especially a kid like Locker who does so many things right. So there won’t be any BS about Locker.

That said, is Locker really all he’s hyped up to be? Is he really the Tim Tebow of the west?

Now, Locker is a great athlete. He’s a big, physical runner who is strong as an ox. He could probably play running back, linebacker or safety and be a top-shelf talent at any position. He’s that athletic. He ran for an unbelievable 986 rushing yards last year, with 13 TD’s. His yards per carry average of 5.7 was actually better than leading rusher Louis Rankin’s 5.6 average. For a QB to average more yards per carry than the leading rusher on the team is very impressive. Even better, Locker’s average of 82.2 rushing yards per game was good for 5th in the entire Pac-10. The only runners ahead of him were Jonathan Stewart, Justin Forsett, Yvenson Bernard and Louis Rankin.

And you know that he’s a heck of a baseball player as well, reportedly armed with a 90+ mph fastball. He’s even playing some outfield this summer for the Bellingham Bells. According to this article, Locker would have been a first-round MLB pick out of high school if he would have sent strong enough signals to baseball that he would consider signing. But this whole thing about playing QB and throwing the football, well, that part of his game needs a little polish.

For some proof (and you can’t hide from the stats), check out Locker’s passing line from 2007: 155 completions out of 328 attempts, good for a 47.3 completion percentage. Locker tossed 14 TD’s, but he did throw 15 INT’s. His 171 passing yards per game placed him 7th in the Pac-10. And his passing efficiency rating was 8th in the conference, ahead of only Stanford’s Tavita Pritchard.

In other words, yes, this kid might become John Elway. But he isn’t there yet.

I think the media hype can be a little much. For example, I heard KJR’s John Clayton a few weeks ago claim that Jake Locker was “a better passing version of Tim Tebow.” Seriously Mr. Clayton? Hmm, let’s see – Tebow was “only” 234 out of 350 passing attempts last year, completing 66.9% of his passes with 32 TD’s and only 6 INT’s. And oh yeah, Tebow also ran for 895 yards and an amazing 23 rushing TD’s. Granted Tebow won the Heisman, with arguably the greatest first-year starting QB that the game has ever seen. But this isn’t a shot against Locker. It really isn’t. It just shows that the media slant on Locker in the northwest is so strong that even John Clayton, the hall-of-fame NFL writer, can get lost in the glare.

The other thing with Locker is the whole running QB thing. You can run people over if you have the junk in the trunk, and Locker as is strong and thick as they come at the position. But ultimately kid, the tread will wear out on the tires. You have to wonder how many hits he can take before something serious happens.


There was the scary headline shot he took vs. Oregon State, where it initially looked like he might have suffered a major injury that could end his career. But he took an absolute beating last year vs. Ohio State and USC, including some very cheap shots as the opposing defenses looked to rattle the kid:

If I was a Husky fan, I would literally hold my breath every time #10 tucked it and ran. As exciting as he is, there is no doubt he’s got a bulls-eye on his chest, and the opposing teams aren’t going to lay off when they get the chance.

Anyway, on to the Dawgs, and how things look post-spring/pre-fall camp.

2007: A disappointing 4-9 record, including a 2-7 record in the conference, good for last.

Offensive scheme: Somewhat traditional/west coast offense, with two backs, a TE and two WR’s in the regular offense. But UW introduced a lot more shotgun last year, and even looked at some schemes that teams like West Virginia ran with QB Pat White to see how they could take advantage of Locker’s talents. Tim Lappano remains the offensive coordinator after some rumors about his head coaching candidacy last year, including some links to good ‘ol WSU.

Top Offensive Player: Duh.


Defensive Scheme: It’s a whole new world for Ty Willingham. Ed Donatell comes to Montlake, an experienced NFL defensive coach who brings a fresh approach to the defensive side of the ball. Donatell’s ideas are welcome to improve maybe the worst Husky defense in SCHOOL HISTORY last year. The Dawgs allowed over 446 yards per game last year, ranking ninth in passing defense and last in the Pac-10 in rushing defense and total defense. Six different teams ran for at least 219 yards against them last year, topped by an unreal 465 yards rushing by Oregon at Husky Stadium. In a word, brutal. Nowhere to go but up here.

Top Defensive Player: I am tempted to say it’s LB EJ Savannah, who totaled 111 tackles and 12 tackles for loss. But Savannah has battled some injury issues with his shoulder and neck, and to top it off, broke his arm in the last few weeks while arm wrestling? Strange story. Anyway, instead of Savannah I’m going to pick defensive end Daniel Te’oNesheim.


The junior pass rusher had a team-high 8.5 sacks last year, and will be far and away the best defensive lineman on the team in ’08.

Top Spring Questions:

1) How much will Ed Donatell really help the defense?

This has to be the top question for the team coming out of spring. UW nearly had UCLA’s hot coordinator of the year, DeWayne Walker, but at the last minute he fell for Rick Neuheisel’s charms. But Donatell is a really strong “get” for UW. However, it is hard to look at the numbers and think this will suddenly become a fearsome defense, no matter who’s wearing the headset. 446 yards per game and 32 points per game in 2007 is overwhelming. But the spring produced some positive buzz about how much better things should be on that side of the ball. Some personnel was shuffled around to inject some energy into the unit, and Donatell’s D showed more aggression and physical play.

But a coach can only do so much. It’s still about the material he has to work with if he is going to be successful. While Te’oNesheim is a stud up front, he’s the only one out of the top six defensive lineman from last year who is returning this season. You can bet opposing offenses will pay a lot more attention to him this year. Savannah’s injury is a big question mark, as he’s right there with Te’oNesheim as potential defensive MVP and all-conference selection. That said, the secondary might see a real boost this year. That area is Donatell’s specialty, and three starters return in corners Mesphin Forrester, Byron Davenport, and safety Jason Wells. There’s also some good young talent back there in Nate Williams and Quinton Richardson.

2) We know how great Locker can be, but what about the skill positions?

This is an exciting, yet scary area for UW. Louis Rankin became the first 1,000+ yard rusher for the Dawgs since 1997, but he’s gone. Brandon Johnson will probably start at tailback, and he looked good in stretches last year, including 121 yards vs. a Cal team that simply quit last year. But the WR’s are a real concern. Only ONE player out of the top seven pass-catchers from last year is back, and that’s TE Michael Gottlieb with 12 catches. There is youth everywhere with kids like Curtis Shaw, De’Andre Goodwin, Anthony Boyles and Alvin Logan. But the young one everyone is drooling over is Chris Polk, the true frosh who was in for spring ball. Polk is a dynamic athlete with incredible speed and could be a real game-changer once he settles into the offense.

3) What is up with that schedule??

Say this about UW, they aren’t afraid to beef up the schedule. They’ve had Notre Dame on the schedule off and on for the last several years. They’ve scheduled Ohio State and Oklahoma as well as up-and-comer Boise State. They’ve already added LSU to 2009. But this year could be the toughest yet, as Phil Steele has ranked UW’s schedule as the toughest in the nation. In a year that has Ty Willingham on the hottest seat in the Pac-10, a brutal schedule might be the worst possible thing to happen to his job security.

WSU Football Blog bottom line: As good as Locker can be, there is bound to be some growing pains while the young skill position pups get their feet wet. They open at Oregon to start the season on 8/30, and that’s no picnic. This first game could be a real land-mine in front of the Autzen crazies. So many times you hear the experts talk about how it takes a little while of game experience for WR’s to “get it” in terms of the timing with the QB. You see it in the NFL all the time, where a WR is drafted high based on his college stats and his incredible combine numbers, but once they get to the NFL it’s a slow start. Why? Because the instincts haven’t taken over yet, and the player is thinking too much on the field. If the player thinks too much, maybe he’s a couple of steps too slow in his indecision and route-running, and suddenly the phenom becomes rather ordinary. And it’s one thing to throw the ball around in the indoor practice facility in shorts and a t-shirt, it’s quite another to strap it on and have an opposing defense trying to get inside your head.

But it isn’t just the Oregon game that is a concern. Then they have to come home and play BYU, a team that many are touting as “this year’s Boise State” in terms of a talented, experienced team from a less-heralded conference that could upset the BCS apple cart. But the week after that? Oklahoma rolls into Seattle on 9/13, a team that everyone has in their pre-season top 5 and returns eight starters on offense from an 11-win team last year. There’s also a potential sticky game at Arizona on 10/4, and they also travel to USC on 11/1.

At first glance, you would think UW will be improved just given another year’s experience by Locker. His ability could elevate the game of those around him. And they will be better on defense with Donatell, but unless Locker absolutely explodes into another stratosphere, there will be some struggles on offense based on all the youth.

One huge key is that UW has potentially lost 6th-yr senior center Juan Garcia to the dreaded lisfranc foot injury, and that could make it even more dicey on the offensive line. Garcia is regarded as an excellent center and a real leader up front. His loss could put even more pressure on Locker’s shoulders to lift the entire program. There really does look to be too many questions to place them high up the Pac-10 ladder, but I do believe they will be better than last year. How much better remains to be seen, but I don’t think this is a last-place team.

Spring Fish Wrap – ASU Shocker Edition

June 20, 2008

Anyone know what the deal is with ASU fans always flashing the SHOCKER symbol all the time? I know, it’s supposed to be a pitch fork….but I think we know what’s really going on.

Anyway, why go with SHOCKER for an ASU fish-wrap? Well, for one thing it’s cool to see cheerleaders doing the SHOCKER. For another thing, the whole Dennis Erickson to ASU backstory? SHOCKER in itself.

Here’s some solid rumor-mongering for you (take this as you wish, but we have heard from more than one person that this actually happened). Back when ASU was interviewing around for their head-coaching position upon giving Dirk Koetter a copy of the “home game” after the ’06 season, AD Lisa Love of ASU stumbled upon good old Mike Price. One thing led to another, yada yada yada, boom – Love is totally feeling Price, so much so that she was ready to hire him. Only one small thing. As part of the hiring process at ASU, Love needed Price to list some referrals on his application. Guess who was #1 on the list?

psst – if you can’t tell, that’s Dennis Erickson.

Anywho, so Lisa Love calls Dennis, and she’s like “So, hey, tell me about Mike Price” and he’s all “Oh, Mike’s a great guy, graduates his kids, successful on and off the football field…..”and she’s all “Cool” and he’s all “…..hang on a second Lisa…..so….this ASU job….is it still officially available?” And she’s all “Uh, YEAH!” and he’s like”….can I tell you that I’m interested?” And boom, bada bing, yada yada yada, suddenly Lisa Love is on a plane to Moscow! We know how that turned out….

Meanwhile old friend King of Poop Island is back in El Paso wondering when the deal is done and what color tie he should wear to the press conference…..hmmm, Sun Devil gold? Maybe maroon? Oh, hey, how about BOTH! Maroon and gold stripes! Honey, can you run to the Walmart and see if they have maroon and gold striped ties!??! Yet like a watched pot that never boils, Price’s cell never rings with Love on the other end. News breaks that Love is in Moscow, and the dots are connected. Price’s heart breaks. That SOB did it again.

Ok, in all seriousness, we don’t know with 100% certainty that is the way it went down. We only have heard some chatter about the situation which made it’s way around the RV scene when ASU was in Pullman last fall. It could be complete BS. It could be completely innocent, and Love changed her mind after talking to Erickson. Then again, with a track record like Erickson….you make the call.

On the verge of taking the Miami job: “I’m not interested.”
On the verge of taking the Seahawks job: “I’m not interested.”
On the verge of taking every other job on the planet: “I’m not interested.”

All that out of the way, one cannot ignore Erickson’s college record. 158-68-1 in 19 years at the NCAA level? That is pretty remarkable. Even more, everyone predicted he would turn things around down in Tempe, and sure enough, year one saw them win 10 games before getting throttled in the Holiday Bowl by Texas. That was the game that Mack Brown’s moronic step-son just couldn’t help but try and be part of the game:


That kid took a lot of heat. The thing is, look at all the extra Texas people on the field on that play. It could have been anyone to reach down and hit the ball. One coach in the background is at least 5 yards onto the field. But whatever. It’s good blog-fodder, but that’s about it.

Anyway, how does ASU look coming out of spring ball? Are they ready to challenge for the conference title?

2007: 10-3, 7-2 in the Pac-10, tied for first with USC. After starting 8-0, finished 2-3 including Holiday Bowl wipe out, 52-34, at the hands of Texas.

Offensive Scheme: In the classic Erickson attack, it’s a one-back system, with three WR’s and a tight-end. We’ve seen that same offense in the Palouse for the last 20 years, so you know what they do. The offense played OK last year but I think ASU fans expected a little better. They were only 56th in the nation in total offense, and struggled in the running game, averaging 137 yards per game, or 77th in the nation. With seven starters back, including the QB, they should be better in their second year in the Erickson offense.

Top Offensive Player: QB Rudy Carpenter. The kid is still black-n-blue from the beating he took last year, a ridiculous 55 sacks(!). Our own Andy Mattingly had a career day against ASU last year, blitzing from every angle to bag four sacks of Carpenter in Pullman. But Carpenter still got the job done last year, throwing for over 3200 yards and 25/10 TD to INT ratio. Still, Carpenter took a beating last year:

Carpenter has a good arm and throws a nice deep ball, but he is not your prototype QB in terms of size. He stands 6-2 and weighs in at just over 200 lbs. Not Flutie-like or anything, but 55 sacks would take a lot out of any QB, and he certainly doesn’t have the build for that kind of punishment. It’s hard to finish off the season strong when your QB is on his back every other pass attempt. As Indiana Jones said, “it’s not the years honey, it’s the mileage.”

Defensive Scheme: 4-3 alignment, but somewhat conservative last year. This year is billed to be more aggressive, attacking, blitzing defense now that everyone has settled into the schemes. Craig Bray is the defensive coordinator, and yes, that is the same Craig Bray who spent considerable time at WSU, including help coaching up the defense for the 1994 Palouse Posse and the 1997 Pac-10 champions. The first year under Bray went pretty well, ranking 30th in the nation in total defense, and 21st against the rush. They were third in the conference in passing defense and scoring defense as well. Seven more starters are back on D for the upcoming year, and with a renewed commitment to attacking more, they could challenge USC as one of the top defenses in the west.
Top Defensive Player: Strong safety Troy Nolan looks like the best of all the returning defensive players. Nolan had six int’s last year, just one behind Oregon’s Jairus Byrd for the most in the Pac-10. He also had an impressive 64 tackles and 13 passes defended, good for #8 in the Pac-10. Decent size at 6-2, 210, he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty on defense.

Top Spring Questions:

1) 55 sacks last year? What’s the deal with that? Are they trying to put their own QB in the morgue?

That is pretty amazing to think about the QB actually going down that many times. What you don’t know is how many other hits he took in just getting rid of the ball. But there is supposedly a new commitment to keeping Carpenter healthy this upcoming season from offensive coordinator Rich Olson, including some more “spread ’em out” additions to the playbook. Also look for more quick-hitting pass plays vs. the traditional 5-and-7-step drops. Finally, they will be breaking in three new starters on the O-line. After 55 sacks, as well as the 77th ranked running attack, that can only be viewed as a positive thing.

2) Besides Nolan, who else could shine on an experienced defense?


The answer is actually two-fold, but ASU’s defensive ends look really impressive. Dexter Davis and Luis Vasquez will both be seniors this season, and they combined for 15 sacks and 25 tackles-for-loss last year. Davis alone had 10.5 sacks, tied for 2nd in the Pac-10 last year.

But Luis Vasquez….hmm, sound familiar to you? That’s because he committed to WSU out of junior college late in 2006, but once Robb Akey left for Idaho, Vasquez bailed on the Cougs, instead opting to go with Erickson. Thanks again Dennis!

3) How about the rest of the skill positions?

They did lose Ryan Torain, who was having a strong season for the first half before suffering a knee injury that ended his senior year. But the rest of the top running backs are back, led by Keegan Herring. The 5-10, 195-lb back had 815 yards and 5 TD’s last year, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. But junior Dimitri Nance is a load at 5-10, 220. He had an even 500 yards last year with a team-high 7 rushing TD’s.

But where they are really strong is at wide-out. They looked stacked, where they might have the best receiving unit in the Pac-10. Chris McGaha led the team in catches(61) and yards(830). But Michael Jones is the true home-run threat. He had 769 yards, a 16.7 yards-per-catch average and an impressive 10 receiving TD’s, tops on the team and 9th in the conference in scoring. Jones is a nightmare on the edge, at 6-4 and 200 lbs and outstanding hands and speed.

WSU Football Blog Bottom Line: A lot of the experts see big things for ASU in ’08. Some are even saying that they will threaten USC for the conference title, and are showing up as the #2 team in the Pac-10 in virtually every pre-season rag. But are they what they seem? On the surface, I wouldn’t hesitate too much to put them squarely behind USC in the pecking order. But after looking at them a little more, well, I’m not so sure at this point.

First of all, we all know how important the schedule is. Last year, ASU opened the season with four straight home games, and then a road game at Stanford. The road to 5-0 was paved in gold. In fact, six of their first eight games overall were at home. This year, it’s sort of the same…but not really.

Sure, they open with four straight at home again, but one of those four is a doozy – GEORGIA, everyone’s darling pick to win the SEC and even possibly the top BCS title contender! But after that game, they begin a stretch of four road games over their next five. They travel to Cal, and then to USC before hosting Oregon. Then they take consecutive trips north to begin November, at Oregon State on 11/1 and at Husky Stadium on 11/8, before WSU comes to Tempe on 11/15. We all know, playing in the NW in November can be a dicey proposition for a team out of Arizona.

That looks like a real grind beginning with Georgia. They get waxed in that one, it could be tough to get up off the mat, but with the meat of the Pac-10 on the horizon, they won’t have a choice.

But most of all, I really wonder if they can take the heat off Carpenter. The beating he took last year just cannot continue in ’08. If it does, he won’t survive, especially when Georgia gets off the bus on 9/20. I don’t know if you caught the Sugar Bowl last year vs. Hawaii, but that defense was as fast and nasty as I saw out of any team last year, and that includes USC. And while they look loaded at the skill positions, breaking in three new offensive line starters could cause some strain on Carpenter. They better get the kinks worked out early.

No matter what, they are going to be a real interesting team to watch in ’08! It should be another entertaining year. We’ll see if they can match the expectations.

Only two more fish-wraps to go – UW and Hawaii. They will hit next week, and that will be it. Also we’ll be monitoring the Seattle Times tear-down piece on WSU. As soon as it hits, we’ll do our best to filter through the BS and get to the heart of the matter.

ENJOY YOUR WEEKEND!

Spring Fish Wrap – AZ Mildcats Edition

June 17, 2008

Great weather, nice stadium that seats over 56,000, great hoops program…..but a football team that hasn’t been to a bowl game since 1998?? What is it with Arizona’s football program that they just can’t seem to put it together? It’s a hard thing to put your finger on. You would think from a distance anyway that they should be successful, but for whatever the reason, it’s been a long, dry spell without success.

Maybe part of the deal has been their choice of coaches since Dick Tomey was relieved of the job. Tomey had a strong run of success, racking up a 95-64-4 record and seven bowl games in 14 seasons before losing his job with a 5-6 record after the 2000 season. John Mackovic anyone?? DISASTER, going 10-18 and a mid-season firing, where things got so bad he nearly had a player revolt on his hands. They turned to the hot young assistant in Stoops from Oklahoma beginning in 2004, and it has been an uphill climb ever since.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of Arizona, I think of the fantastic desert swarm defenses led by Tedy Bruschi. I also think of that heartbreaking 1994 loss, where the Palouse Posse and the desert swarm went toe-to-toe for 60 minutes. Speaking of toe, I will always remember watching Tony “The TOE” Truant slowly setting up for a field goal, while the play clock was winding down 3….2….1. I’ll never forget looking over at the WSU sideline, and the ENTIRE FLIPPIN‘ TEAM was going APE, screaming TIME OUT! TIME OUT! But the players on the field never called it in time, delay of game penalty was called, and the next play Truant’s kick was wide left and 10 yards short from the moment toe hit leather. What a sad ending to a hell of a defensive fist fight.

I also think of Ortege Jenkins flipping the ball over his shoulder (illegally, I might add) in overtime, a thrilling 35-34 WSU win in 1997.

By the way, in that game, if you were there or watching on TV, does anyone remember Jenkins complaining to the ref about crowd noise during the 4th quarter and overtime? To the point the ref warned the crowd to be quiet?? I was there, and there were MAYBE 30,000 fans in the stands that day. First of all, I never knew a crowd noise rule existed in the Pac-10, let alone college football in general. If it does or did exist, it certainly was never enforced. But for the refs to actually stop play to ask the Martin Stadium faithful to be quiet?? UNBELIEVABLE. Granted this happened in 1997, long before blogs that waste your time like this one were even thought of. If something like that happened today, it would be all over ESPN, Sportline, Cougfan, AOL Fanhouse, you name it! Whatever.

Anyway, I also remember a great 12-1 season in 1998, beating Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl and finishing #3 or #4 in several polls. Since then? Not so much. Not only do they have this bowl drought going on, but did you know they are the only Pac-10 team that hasn’t yet won the conference title? Granted they haven’t been in the conference too long, just since 1978, but still, it hasn’t been easy.

Which brings us to the coach that has redefined the hot seat – Mike Stoops. Over the last three or so seasons, Stoops has his name firmly planted on top of the annual “hot seat” lists. Win now, or else! But these last two years have seen a major escape by Stoops, who lives on to see yet another season. In 2006, they started out a miserable 2-4, and the clamour was rising that the time had come to pull the plug. But in somewhat-Oregon-State fashion, the ‘Cats circled the wagons, going 4-2 to finish the year at a bowl-eligible 6-6. Stoops was saved, the program was heading in the right direction, he finally had a non-losing season in year three of the rebuilding job. But then 2007 happened, and they were right back in 2006. This time they started out a lousy 2-6, and the obituary was being finalized in all the local rags. THERE WAS NO WAY HE’LL SURVIVE THIS ONE! But Arizona once again finished strong, winning three of their last four to finish 5-7. And Stoops, again, survives.

So, is this the end? 17-31 in four years would get you fired in a lot of places. After all, Doba took the fall with a much stronger 30-29 record. Yet here we are. Read on to see what 2008 looks like for the Mildcats:

2007: 5-7, 4-5 in the Pac-10. 3-1 finish to the year saves Stoops from the chopping block. Also ruined Oregon’s BCS hopes by beating down the Ducks, 34-24 in Tucson, where Dennis Dixon tore his ACL. Ouch.

OFFENSIVE SCHEME: PASS! That’s pretty much it. Spread ’em out and throw, throw, throw. It’s the Dykes offense, led by OC Sonny Dykes, who came from the Texas Tech Red Raider offense in 2007 to completely overhaul the snooze-fest that was the Arizona offense. QB Willie Tuitama had a fantastic first year in the new scheme, leading the conference in TD’s with 28, and second in the league with over 3600 yards passing. Overall, Arizona’s offense went from scoring just 16 points per game in 2006 to 28 points per game in 2007.

The running game, however, was brutal. 76.7 yards per game, #114 in the nation! They do have a talented sophomore tailback in Nic Grigsby, who had over 700 yards rushing (and he shredded our Cougs to the tune of 262 total yards, including 186 yards rushing and 76 yards receiving. Double-Ouch.).

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: It has to be Willie Tuitama. The senior (wow, he’s a senior already?) took to the shotgun passing offense better than many thought he would. His numbers were great last year (3683 passing yards, 28-12 TD/INT ratio, 62% completion percentage, and a QB rating of 134.24). He’s got excellent size at 6-3, 220, and stayed healthy for the first time in 2007 after battling concussion problems in ’05 and ’06. He is the perfect fit in a quick-hitting passing attack. He should not only be an all-conference candidate, but he is a serious threat to the offensive player-of-the-year award in the Pac-10.

Sorry to do this…but…2007, Tuitama had his greatest game vs. our Cougs. 346 yards, FIVE TD’s, zero INT’s in a 48-20 rout in the desert.

The biggest concern for Pac-10 defenses? Arizona welcomes back a conference-high TEN starters on offense this fall. The only new starter is left tackle James Tretheway, but even he’s an experienced senior. Otherwise they are all back. They return at least six players who caught 20 or more balls last year, including the top WR in the conference in Mike Thomas. Thomas had 83 catches and 11 TD’s, but, clearly you can’t just focus on Thomas to slow them down.

The one to really keep an eye on is rising TE Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski had a huge game vs. WSU last year (then again, who on Arizona didn’t have a big game against us last year?), with 115 yards and two TD’s. The true frosh had over 500 yards receiving last year, and the 6-6, 260-pounder is a future all-everything performer who should be a force this season.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: A 4-3 attack. They had been somewhat conservative on D, but this spring they have already stated they will blitz more than ever. An emphasis was placed on blitz packages, and a renewed focus on gang-tackling and everyone flying to the football.

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER: While senior free-safety Nate Ness led the team with five INT’s last year and returns as the leader of the secondary, the honors go to linebacker Ronnie Palmer.


Palmer was number two on the team with 83 tackles. He’s a big, 6-3, 245-lb physical force against the run and will compete for all-conference honors this year as the leader of the Arizona defense.

TOP SPRING QUESTIONS:

1) Yes, they will score points and rack up yards against pretty much everyone. But with only three starters back, can they stop anyone?

It is a daunting proposition to only have three defensive starters back. But the new focus this spring on blitzing and energy on defense was important. And, new faces might not be a bad thing in the grand scheme. Last year they returned an impressive nine starters on defense, but they underachieved for most of the season. They were 59th in scoring defense, and a disappointing 71st against the pass, despite having two NFL prospects with corners Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot. Cason will especially be missed, a four-year starter who was a first-round pick in April. But again, fresh bodies could be the best thing to happen to the defense. Apparently there were issues last year, where some bad apples were rumored to spoil the whole thing.

2) They couldn’t run last year. Does it matter in their offense?

No matter how many yards and TD’s Tuitama hangs on people this year, you do at least need some semblance of a running game. 114th in the nation last year isn’t going to cut it this year, and could be the most underrated key to their offense this year. An aerial assault is fun to watch, but at times you have to have the ability to move the chains, or more importantly, devour some game clock if/when you have a late lead. Live by the pass, but you can die by the pass just as well. They do have the talent in Grigsby, who could be a 1,000-yard threat now that he has a full season under his belt. So it’s not like they don’t have the ability to run. They just need to figure it out.

WSU Football Blog Bottom Line: WSU will be getting Arizona on November 8th. Hope for the November chill and swirling winds to whip through the Palouse. Otherwise it could be a tough one. That said, we might be getting them at just the right time. They will be coming off a bye, but before that, they’ll be finishing a tough two-game home stretch vs. Cal (10/18) and the monster, USC, on 10/25. Also, the game after WSU, Arizona is set to go to Oregon on 11/15. Depending on how their season is going, it could be a serious trap game.

Why would I call WSU a “trap game” for Arizona? Because, well, I’m calling it right now – Arizona has the look of a real surprise team of 2008. Senior QB with a ton of starters back, a fresh look and new energy on defense, and most of all, the schedule?? CUP-CAKE CITY. How does Idaho, Toledo and New Mexico sound for an out-of-conference schedule to begin the year? With 12 games on the schedule, if they start out 3-0, as they should, they are halfway to bowl-eligibility.

At least Stoops better hope they are the surprise team. With all these factors in their favor, if they get ANOTHER non-bowl season?? It’s Good night, and good luck!

ENJOY YOUR TUESDAY!

Spring Fish Wrap – Harbaugh’s Heroes Edition

June 13, 2008

Ah yes, Captain Comeback. We remember him from his NFL days, sure. Not the most skilled guy around, lacking the gun for an arm or all-pro quickness. And Mike Ditka hated his guts (but what QB did Ditka actually like? He even hated the punky QB known as McMahon, even when he led them to 19-1 and a SB title!). But the guy was a gritty veteran that somehow dialed it up when things got hairy. Harbaugh shouldn’t be undersold for his NFL prowess. Check it out, via the always-helpful Wikipedia:

For his NFL career, Harbaugh played in 177 league games with 140 starts. He completed 2,305 of 3,918 passes for 26,288 yards with 129 touchdowns. Particularly during his time with Indianapolis – such as when he led the Colts to come-from-behind wins over the Chiefs and Chargers in 1995-96 playoffs and a near upset over the No. 1 AFC seed Steelers – he earned the nickname “Captain Comeback” (the second player to be so nicknamed after Roger Staubach) for his ability to win games in the fourth quarter after overcoming significant point deficits.

Wow. I knew Harbaugh was a journeyman NFL QB, and had some “shining moments” here and there. But 26,000+ yards? Not too shabby.

That said, I was among many Pac-10 fans who raised eyebrows when Stanford hired him in late ’06. Jim Harbaugh? Really?? Harbaugh was an assistant for some NCAA teams, then an NFL offensive assistant with the Raiders for a few years before he landed the head job at U of San Diego. That, my friends, is where he really showed his coaching chops. San Diego had a lousy program prior to his arrival, but afterwards? Extreme Makeover-time. They went an amazing 22-2 from ’05 – ’06, winning their league title and the “mid-major national title” in both seasons. Harbaugh in three years overall went 29-6. Clearly the guy could coach up 18-22 year olds, but the raised eyebrows deal was based on such little head coaching experience to land a coveted BCS job. Even if said BCS gig was 1-11 Stanford. Now I know some on the outside wondered about our choice of Paul Wulff, based on him never having a D-1 head job. But at least CPW had EIGHT years as a head coach at just one step below D-1, so, he wasn’t nearly the unknown commodity that Harbaugh was in landing the Stanford deal.

A few weeks ago, I ran into an old acquaintance who is a former Stanford player. He played for the Cardinal in the early 90’s, under Bill Walsh of all people. Anyway, we chatted about the program, and naturally, Harbaugh. I expected him to gush about everything Harbaugh has brought to the program, but I didn’t get that vibe. He said that there were a lot of former players still close to the program that were concerned about the choice. Now he did say he’s made a very favorable first impression among the former players and donors. The enthusiasm and energy are completely off the charts, just like it appears from the outside looking in. They also believe he has a good plan and things are headed in the right direction.

Speaking of the USC upset, how about one more look?

I love how out of it the announcers are. Not only do they yell “TOUCHDOWN USC!” when Stanford scores on 4th down, but the color announcer starts saying they are going to go for 2 after the score, even though it’s a tie game!?! Gotta love the VS. network! Another parting gift from outgoing Pac-10 commish Tom Hansen.

But don’t place that order on the marble statue of Harbaugh just yet.

Just like any other Pac-10 program, I guess Stanford fans are like the rest of us. They have a newly-renovated stadium, they are in a desirable place in the country and are an elite high-learning institution. Even with their recent struggles since their last winning season in ’01, they have expectations of at least a bowl-eligible season, if not contending for an upper-division finish. I know the 1-11 record of 2006 stands out, as they were widely regarded as one of the worst Pac-10 teams of all-time that dreadful, dark year. But they did win 9 games as recently as 2001. They were almost bowl-eligible in 2005, going 5-6. And who could forget that the hated Trent Edwards led the Cardinal to wins over WSU in ’04 and ’05. Trent Edwards, Trent Edwards, TRENT EDWARDS (sort of like the Seinfeld episode where Steinbrenner explains why he traded Jay Buhner: “My scouts kept saying, Ken Phelps, Ken Phelps, KEN PHELPS!”) So we’re not exactly talking dumpster-diving here.

But as this Stanford acquaintance told me, hey, the kids are at least smart! Combine their brains with the passion and energy of Harbaugh, and they might have something special, sooner rather than later. And they have been very successful in other sports, such as hoops and even baseball, so, why can’t they win again in football? Hard to argue with him at that point.

All that said, where are Harbaugh’s Heroes today, spring fish-wrap style? Let’s see.

2007: 4-8, 3-6 in the Pac-10, tied for 7th. But perhaps the biggest Pac-10 upset of all-time, winning at USC as a widely-regarded 40 or more point ‘dogs.

Amazing catch to win it too. I don’t think that video above did it enough justice.

Offensive Scheme: Traditional west-coast offense, with a running back, fullback and tight-end on typical plays. Another team that hasn’t moved forward with the rage of the read-option shotgun attack. David Shaw was the offensive coordinator last year, a guy with a lot of NFL assistant experience and Harbaugh brought him to Stanford after Shaw was his OC at San Diego in ’06. That said, it was a ROUGH first year. Stanford’s offense was, well, brutal last year. 102nd running the ball, 105th in scoring offense, and overall, 107th in the nation in total offense. That’s good for “bottom ten” in the nation. Part of those struggles can be laid at the feet of the QB’s, as the starter heading into the ’07 campaign, TC Ostrander, struggled with injuries and inconsistency.

He was ultimately replaced by the one that got away from WSU, of course, in Tavita Pritchard (by now you probably know the back-story here, but Pritchard is from Clover Park in Tacoma. Big deal, right? He’s also Jack Thompson’s nephew, and wanted to be a Cougar, but strangely wasn’t really recruited much by the prior staff. Oh well.). Overall, an avert-your-eyes season with Stanford whenever they had the football. 2008 might not be quite as bad, but it could still be a big-time struggle on offense. Pritchard didn’t have a stellar spring, and even though he started seven games last year, beat USC and is on top of the depth chart after practice sessions, it still sounds as though the job is open. Jason Forcier, a transfer from Michigan, will be in the mix to at least compete for the backup job, if not get some snaps with the 1’s.

Top Offensive Player: WR Richard Sherman looks like the top returning offensive weapon. Sherman had a team-high 651 receiving yards, averaging a strong 16.7 yards per catch to go with 4 TD’s. Sherman has really good quickness and size for the position (6-3, 190). Sherman was 2nd on the team in catches, but his yards per game were good enough for 10th in the entire Pac-10. The junior-to-be caught nine balls for 91 yards in their spring game, so he looks like he might be on the verge of a real break-out ’08 season.

The scary part for Sherman is that he’s suddenly the biggest man on campus at the WR spot. WR’s Mark Bradford and Evan Moore combined for 90 catches last year, but both have finally moved on. Yet Sherman should still be a weapon to be accounted for on every snap. Some of the video I watched of him reminded me a little of Brandon Gibson in terms of body type and the same kind of hands and athleticism. Here’s one TD catch he had vs. San Jose ST last year:

Defensive Scheme: Another 4-3 defense, but Stanford will attack and blitz to bring pressure. They good news is that they have nine starters back on defense, the most among Pac-10 teams for 2008. That includes their three best defensive linemen and their entire starting LB corps. But the bad news? They lost their d-coordinator Scott Shafer to Michigan. That is regarded as a loss, as Shafer is though of as a defensive guru with a very bright future. But that said, even with Shafer they were pretty bad on D last year. 107th against the pass, 98th in total defense. But one could put some of the blame on the feeble offense. Nothing deflates a defense more than constantly having to come back on the field after yet another three-and-out by the offense. If the offense can at least inch closer to average this year, the defense should benefit tremendously.

Top Defensive Player: Stanford has a couple of names that could work here, what with nine returning starters and all. But I’m going with LB Clinton Snyder. The senior is huge at 6-4, 241, and moves well for a linebacker of that girth. He had 96 tackles last year, averaging 8 per game, placing him 9th in the conference. He also had eight sacks, showing his all-around versatility. Here’s an impressive sack-and-fumble recovery vs. Cal last year in the Big Game, a 20-13 win over the Berkeley Bears:

TOP Spring Questions:

1) With Pritchard starting so many games last year and having the ultimate upset of SC under his belt, why is their QB situation unsettled?

Not an easy answer, but I think the biggest thing is really two-fold: First, Pritchard didn’t set the world on fire with seven starts last year, completing just 50% of his passes and nearly doubled his INT-to-TD ratio (9 int’s, 5 TD’s). He was also sacked 23 times. Statistically his best game was vs. our Cougs in Pullman, where he threw for 263 yards, but with zero TD’s and two costly picks, one which was taken back to the house by Abdullah.

Second, Pritchard will already be a senior. This is only Harbaugh’s second season in Palo Alto, and he may lean towards going younger to develop his program vs. going with Pritchard and then having to start over at the most important position on the field in 2009. There is some pressure to win immediately and improve on the 4 wins from ’08, but if Harbaugh really wants to build for tomorrow he may try and go younger at QB.

2) Even with the QB issues, is there any chance they will improve on offense?

They probably will be better. After all, they do return seven starters on O, and on paper at least, that’s a good thing. But while we highlighted Richard Sherman as the top offensive player, it must also be noted that 651 receiving yards isn’t exactly All-Pac-10 material. When someone with 37 catches last year is labeled as your top returning star in Sherman, you have some issues. That said, the Cardinal running game might be a pleasant surprise in ’08. They did finish 102nd in the nation in running the ball last year, so there is nowhere to go but up! But in the same breath, they do return their top four ball-carriers from last year, led by senior Anthony Kimble. Kimble had injury issues last year and played in only seven games, but he did average 4.4 yards per carry and had a team-high eight TD’s on the ground. All told, the four returning rushers had over 1300 yards combined on the ground. Not fantastic by any stretch, but you can see that the depth in the backfield combined with a big loss at the WR positions will lead to an emphasis on the running game.

Most of all, the O-line looks to be much improved. They return four out of five starters up front, led by Alex Fletcher, an all-conference second-teamer at guard last year. This spring he slid over to center and will start there this fall. But the most talented of them all is left tackle Allen Smith, but he’s coming off a knee injury. It remains to be seen if he’ll be ready by the opener, but if he’s ready to go, the Cardinal running game could be formidable.

WSU Football Blog Says: Stanford’s schedule is a little odd. In a weird twist, they play their first two games against Pac-1o foes, opening at home vs. the Beavers on a Thursday night, August 28th game before heading to Tempe to take on the favored Sun Devils on September 6th. They don’t play out of conference until at TCU on the 13th, their third game of the season. One interesting aspect for when we finally play them on November 1st is that both teams will be coming off bye-weeks.

So, can Harbaugh’s lads take another step after an improved 2007? They did go from one win in ’06 to four wins last year, with the highlight of course the USC stunner. There is some legit momentum behind the program right now. They even got a bump up in recruiting, landing a top-10 QB in Andrew Luck, a big Texas high school star who surprised many by casting his lot with Harbaugh. While they are headed in the right direction, 2008 will still be tough. Losing their WR depth will hurt, and the QB situation still looks unsettled. Outside of Sherman, they lack speed and play-makers on offense, and that could ultimately be their downfall. Combine all that with the idea that they have seven road games next season, and it’s not a stretch to see another 4-win season. But their down times may not last much longer! Get ’em while you can.

ENJOY YOUR FATHER’S DAY WEEKEND!

Spring Fish Wrap – Boys From Troy Edition

June 12, 2008


As a younger Coug fan, I used to hate USC. I really did. Back in the mid-to-late 90’s, they seemed to have a bunch of talented-yet-unmotivated kids who seemingly always underachieved on the field and loved to pop off about how great they were. But today, well, not so much. I’m not fair-weather, and I wouldn’t count myself as an SC fan, but something is different about them. Maybe it’s because I find it hard not to be in awe of what USC has going on. All those wins and Heisman trophies over the last several years, right the center of the celebrity universe that is LA. And maybe it’s something about representing the Pac-10 on the national level and kicking the crap out of teams from all corners of the country, just to show that we can play this game out here?

I’ve got it. It must be Pete Carroll. Arrogant, sure. Emotional? Absolutely. A hell of a recruiter? Check. A guy that not only can recruit the five-star talent, but keep them hungry and motivated at the same time? A guy who keeps things loose with practical jokes, yet isn’t afraid to have “open Wednesdays” where all starting positions are considered available for the taking at practice and the players go after it with all they’ve got? Somehow this guy gets the superstars to “buy in” to the USC way. And he has fun with the whole thing. I mean what other Pac-10 coach can go swimming with Will Ferrell?

That’s Pete Carroll.

Oh by the way….beyond the glitz and the glamour and the bull that goes with being the head man in the biggest football show in town, Carroll is now an unreal 76-14 in 7 years at SC. We got excited about three straight 10-win seasons, and rightly so. But these guys have AVERAGED a 10-2 record under Pete Carroll over the last 7 years. That is unbelievable. “High School Harry”, Carroll’s nickname given to him by former players from his NFL days as being an emotional rah-rah guy, is just a perfect guy in the right situation.

Ok, so that’s settled. I dig Pete Carroll. Now where was I? Oh yeah, spring football. On the field, a lot of NFL talent has fled LA-LA land after another 11-win, BCS bowl winning season in ’07. What do they have left this year? Let’s take a look at their post-spring state and see what’s up.

2007: 11-2, Rose Bowl Champs featuring a 49-17 beat-down of Illinois. Ho-hum.


Offensive Scheme: Traditional in an NFL sense, they are very much a pro set/west coast offense hybrid. Lots of snaps under center by the QB and they often have two backs and a tight end on the field. Steve Sarkisian is the OC and has been in place since Norm Chow bolted for Tennessee (and now back to UCLA). Sarkisian is a hot head coaching candidate, and nearly had the Oakland Raiders job prior to 2007. But USC is still somewhat similar to the USC of old, where they were tailback-U. They were balanced last year, averaging almost 200 rushing yards per game (197) and 237 yards passing. The bad news in trojan-land is that only four starters are projected back for ’08. The Trojans lose QB John David Booty, as well as tight-end Fred Davis and four-fifths of the starting O-line. Big shoes to fill, yes. But nobody reloads like these guys, where their depth are four-five star kids who have dreamed of playing in the Coliseum forever. It’s not like they are everyone else in the conference (and particularly up here) where a few key injuries and you are toast. And about that O-line. Sure, four starters are gone. But that number is misleading to an extent. Several starters from USC’s O-line last year missed time with injuries, so young linemen that are now atop the depth chart this season actually saw game action last year. So it’s not exactly as dire as it might sound.

Top Offensive Player: Joe McKnight. The true sophomore had as much hype as any true frosh heading into last season, and McKnight was thought of as a comparable talent to Reggie Bush. In hindsight, it was a little too much. McKnight did show flashes of brilliance, and you can see why everyone was ga-ga for him coming out as the #1 or #2 running back in the nation in the ’07 signing class. He did log 540 yards rushing and 3 TD’s, not bad for a true frosh in a crowded backfield. And the kid absolutely DESTROYED Illinois in the Rose Bowl, racking up 206 total yards of offense alone. He’s not exactly Reggie Bush, and he might not even have been the fastest frosh in the conference last year (Jahvid Best of Cal?). But he is pretty special and looks to have a monster year in ’08.

Defensive Scheme: A fairly vanilla 4-3 under d-coordinator Nick Holt. But while Carroll may have the d-coordinator in Holt on the staff, his fingerprints are all over the defense. Carroll’s bloodlines run deep with defense, and it shows with USC. They don’t bring the house too often, because they really don’t need to. Last year especially with D-tackle Sedrick Ellis and D-end Lawrence Jackson, as well as a ton of other depth up front, they got more than enough out of the D-line. They will blitz, but it isn’t a staple of what they do.

But oh, what a defense. Number-two in the nation in both scoring defense and total defense last year. And their linebackers? Unbelievably good, with all-everything candidates in Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing. Both guys have Rose Bowl defensive MVP awards under their belts. But the linebackers might not even be the best unit on the defense. The secondary is lights-out, led by Taylor Mays at free safety, a 6-4, 225 lb freak who looks like an NFL outside linebacker. Coming into ’08, as a unit they look to be as big, physical and as talented as any group you can find, this year or any other year for that matter. The secondary only gave up nine TD passes on the season, tops in the conference and almost half of what the number-two defense gave up through the air last year. That’s simply dominant.

Top Defensive Player: You could probably argue this one, but I’m going with the absolute monster in the middle, Rey Maualuga. 6-3, 250, eats lightning, craps thunder, your basic nightmare. He led a deep defense last year with 79 tackles, 10.5 for loss, with six sacks. And a TON of frightening hits over the last couple of years. Yeah, you basically don’t “F” with Rey.

Gary Rogers, if you see #58 coming at you with a full head of steam, get the heck out of the way ASAP. You don’t want to join the “hit list”.

Top Spring Questions:

1) The offense only has four starters back, and they lose Booty. Will the new QB, whoever that is, be good enough?

While there was a competition to replace Booty, the leader coming into the spring was the leader coming out of the spring. Mark Sanchez (pictured) will be the starter, holding off Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain for the starting gig. Sanchez actually played a few games last year as Booty went down with a broken finger, and did OK. Not great, but not terrible. He did complete over 60% of his passes with 7 TD’s against 5 INT’s. But this year is a whole new deal. It will be interesting to see how long a leash Sarkisian and Carroll have for Sanchez. Carroll especially isn’t one that will hide from an obvious QB controversy, so if Sanchez gets off to a slow start, you can bet Mustain will get a legit chance to play.

2) The defense sounds great, but can they really fill the shoes of the stars they lost?

That’s the one thing. Sure, they have 7 starters back, and they look like they will be a great defense. But they did lose some real leadership in Sedrick Ellis, Lawrence Jackson and Keith Rivers, all three guys first-day NFL draft picks. Jackson was really special last year, with 17 tackles-for-loss last year including 10.5 sacks, and character that was off-the-charts. You usually don’t see Seahawks GM Tim Ruskell making trades to get a player unless it’s a guy like Jackson. Ellis was pretty amazing himself as a d-tackle, with 12.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. That’s a lot of production to lose off your d-line. But if any team can deal with it, it’s USC. They will look more to heralded sophomore Everson Griffen to replace Jackson off the edge, and hyped senior d-tackle Fili Moala will need to step up his game to offset the loss of Ellis inside. That said, when you have so much coming back at all the other spots on defense, you know that they’ll figure something out!

WSU Football Blog Says: USC is playing their usual tough schedule, opening up at Virginia before hosting Ohio State on 9/13 in what will be billed as the top out-of-conference game in the nation in ’08. Whoever wins that one will likely be looked upon as having a major edge in the race to the Orange Bowl, this year’s BCS title game. But beyond Ohio State, the early schedule is a little prickly to say the least. After the Buckeyes, they must go to Corvallis on 9/25, then they host Oregon on 10/4 and ASU on 10/11 before they make the trek to Pullman on 10/18. You can easily argue that Oregon and ASU will be upper-division Pac-10 teams this year, and Oregon State will at least flirt with bowl-eligibility. New QB Sanchez is getting tossed right into the deep end of the pool, so we will find out quickly what he’s got.

On the bright side, our recent history isn’t all too shabby in Pullman vs. these guys. In ’06 we played them tough until we forgot to cover Steve Smith on pretty much every 3rd down(!), losing 28-22. In ’04 we were blown out in that horrible sleet/rain/snow game that saw Doba order an onside kick to start the game, only to see it sail about 15 yards out of bounds. Reggie Bush took one to the house a few plays later and that baby was bathed, diapered and put to bed about 3 minutes into the first quarter. But we all will remember that 2002 classic, the game that ultimately decided the Pac-10 title. Remember Rien Long?

He might have clinched the Outland trophy on that game alone. Or Gesser throwing for all those yards despite being under pressure the entire game? Or Carson Palmer hitting Mike Williams over a lunging Marcus Trufant on a deep TD with a few minutes to go in a moment that seemed to suck the life out of Martin Stadium? Or Drew Dunning having the late field goal partially blocked, only to somehow have the football “gods” blow that thing back between the uprights?? On that kick, I still remember some of the USC players briefly celebrating after the thud of someone getting a hand on the ball, thinking the kick wasn’t going to make it. But somehow, it squirted through. But most of all, I will always remember Long in that game. He absolutely blew up the Trojans in that OT session, where he had a tackle-for-loss and a sack, single-handedly knocking USC out of field goal range. God Bless you, Captain Caveman!

It will be a tall task this year, obviously. But here’s hoping for a mid-October classic in Pullman.

HAPPY THURSDAY!

Spring Fish Wrap – Beaver Believers Edition

June 6, 2008

Unless you are a Duck fan, it is hard not to be impressed with the football program at Oregon State. An $80 million-dollar stadium renovation, complete with luxury seating and the largest video screen in the Pac-10 has turned what was the worst stadium in the conference to one of the best gameday experiences in the west. Head coach Mike Riley has carved out a heck of a spot in Corvallis, leading the Beavers to a 47-38 record in his 7 seasons, including 19 victories over the last two. Not only have they done well overall, but while they toil with an arrogant, blow-hard cousin in the state of Oregon, they have more than held their own. Against the green-n-gold, Oregon State is now 4-2 in their last 6 Civil War showdowns. But the most impressive thing is not just the 19 wins over the last two years, but it’s the manner in how those wins have occurred that makes you realize what they have is pretty unique in Mike Riley.

Case in point – in 2006, OSU got off to a lousy start, sitting at 2-3 after a 13-6 loss to our Cougs in Corvallis. They were faced with having to go to UW the following week, and there were rumors of Riley getting canned mid-season if the losing continued. There was even a well-publicized incident of a fan challenging QB Matt Moore to a fight at the end of the WSU game! Things were headed south in a hurry. But what happened? Riley took his kids into Seattle and they controlled UW, winning 27-17. From that point forward, they circled the wagons, winning 8 of their last 9 to close the season with a legendary come-from-behind Sun Bowl win over Missouri and getting to 10 wins in the process.

2007 was basically a Xerox of 2006. They started – you guessed it – 2-3, including an ugly 40-14 loss to UCLA at home. They suffered injuries to their vaunted offensive line, and they lost the top offensive playmaker in the Pac-10 next to Cal’s DeSean Jackson in Sammie Stroughter with some off-the-field issues. When Stroughter did finally return, he immediately suffered a lacerated kidney and was done for the year, making 2007 a completely lost season. Yet what happened? After that horrible 2-3 start, they once again circled the wagons. Riley pulled the team together when it was again on the verge of falling apart. And suddenly, they closed out the season winning 7 of 8, including another Civil War and then the Emerald Bowl over Maryland to finish with 9 victories.

Pretty amazing. When the going gets tough and everyone writes them off, these guys are just getting started. They somehow dig deep and find a way to thrive with tons of adversity. That said, it’s a whole new year, and questions abound. Here’s a post-spring practice look at the Beavs:

2007: 9-4, including 6-3 in the conference, good for 3rd place.

Offensive Scheme: They are balanced with Danny Langsdorf as the OC, and will throw multiple looks at their opponents. They aren’t another read-option shotgun offense, however, much more of a traditional one-back/west coast offense hybrid. The ground game is the focal point of the offense. All-everything RB Yvenson Bernard is finally gone, and they will miss his production on the field as well as his presence in the locker-room. New faces like Ryan McCants and Jeremy Francis will carry the load in ’08.

McCants should be the starter, and is built like a mack truck at 6-1, 236. He reportedly had a very productive spring where he established himself as the man at tailback. They’ll also mix in a speedy true frosh named Jacquizz Rodgers, a heralded recruit from Texas and the brother of last year’s speedy frosh WR sensation, James Rodgers. Both McCants and Francis are green, however, with neither player touching the ball in a game last year.

The QB’s were really up-and-down last year. Sean Canfield was given the job out of camp, but split time early in the year and never did live up the hype. He’s a huge 6-4, 230 lb. lefty who was billed as the next big thing, but he had that nasty little habit of throwing interceptions. Try 15 of them in 11 games played last year, with only 9 TD’s. Obviously it was his first shot at starting, and the sophomore was bound to make mistakes as he learned the ropes under constant fire. But he finished far below even the most modest expectations. Lyle Moevao took over for Canfield in the UW game, and things went OK as the victories piled up to close out the year, but his numbers weren’t much to be excited about either. He threw just 2 TD passes while tossing 6 INT’s, completing only 52% of his passes along the way. Seems all the more remarkable that these guys went 9-4 when their top two QB’s combined to throw nearly twice as many interceptions compared to TD’s!

Moevao had a strong spring session where he claimed the #1 job. Canfield missed the spring with a shoulder injury, so it’s Moevao’s job to lose heading into the fall. And the fans? They love him, and for good reason. He’s the anti-robo-QB in every way, built like an outside linebacker or safety at 5-11, 230. But not only does he look the part, but he plays with reckless abandon. He made YouTube fame with his huge hit vs. UW’s Greyson Gunheim last year. Check it out:


You can see why they love him down there.

Defensive Scheme: An aggressive, attacking 4-3 defense with linebackers and safeties that swarm to the football. The Beaver D was NUMBER ONE in the nation last year against the rush, giving up only 70.6 yards per game on the ground. They crushed our Cougs in Pullman last year in maybe the most forgettable game in the Bill Doba era, and that was all about their pressure defense forcing Brink into the worst game of his life. But that was last year. The dire news for OSU is that they lose 8 starters off that fantastic defense, including the entire front 7, which was one of the top front 7’s in the nation. It could be a tough start to 2008 without all that senior leadership and experience on D this fall.

Top Offensive Player: Sammie Stroughter was expected to be all-everything as a senior last year, but was derailed with some family matters off the field and injuries on it. He received a medical redshirt, and all reports are positive based on how he looked this spring. In ’06, he had a huge season, catching 74 balls for over 1200 yards and 5 TD’s. He also took back 4 punts to the house:


If healthy and focused, he will be a huge asset to the offense and probably the TOP big-play guy in the Pac-10 for 2008

Top Defensive Player: Only 3 starters will be back next year, as the entire front-7 will be new. But there is a pass-rushing force back in ’08. DE Victor Butler came off the bench for 12.5 tackles for loss last year, including an impressive 10.5 sacks. The speedy end is built like a linebacker at 6-2, 235, but gets after the QB with quickness and energy. His pass-rush ability, body type and speed reminds me a lot of WSU pass-rushing great D.D. Acholonu. He made the most of his opportunities last year as a pass-rushing specialist, but this year will see him as a starter. We’ll see what he has in the tank as an every-down d-end.

Top Spring Questions:

1) We know about the QB job and the new faces on defense, but what about the special teams?

Groza Award winner Alexis Serna is gone, and he will be missed. But he really had a down senior year, hitting just 18-of-27 field goal attempts, including just 5-of-9 from 40-49 yards. For whatever reason he wasn’t as effective as prior years. The new face is Justin Kahut, a Serna-like 5-8, 160 lbs soaking wet. Kahut played well this spring, including a pair of field goals from outside 50 yards in the spring game, so he’ll likely be the starter by the opener.

2) With the D thinned out by graduation, beyond Victor Butler, who or what is left on that side of the ball?

Besides Butler, they also bring back another pass-rushing force in DE Slade Norris (great name!), who logged 9 sacks as a backup end last year. But like Butler, Norris wasn’t a starter either in ’07, as he came off the bench in passing situations. He has good juice on the outside, and teamed with Butler should give the Beaver front a fierce look against the pass. But all that said, the secondary looks the strongest. Three out of four starters are back, led by senior corner Brandon Hughes and his 57 tackles, as well as a couple of picks and a team-high 12 pass-breakups.

Hughes will join returning starter Keenan Lewis at corner, and safety Al Afalava is back as starting free safety. The Beaver secondary should be right there with USC and Oregon as the best in the conference this season.

Bottom Line: The schedule looks fairly tough to start the year, opening at Stanford and then going to Happy Valley to face Penn State in the second game of the season. After playing at home vs. Hawaii, they have a biggie vs. USC on 9/25. Then they go to Utah for a Thursday night game before hosting the Cougs on 10/11. They’ll have 5 games under their belts by the time we get to town, so most of the new faces will have settled down by then and we’ll get an idea of who these guys are. But right now it’s pretty tough to tell how they will do in ’08.

They are familiar with Wulff’s schemes, throttling EWU in 2006 52-17. However, that was pre-Todd Sturdy and the no-huddle shotgun offense.

So, will this be the year that Riley’s magic touch runs out? Is there enough here to circle the wagons if they get off to another slow start? There are so many faces gone from last year’s team. They really will miss Bernard on offense, and all that talent is gone from the top rushing defense in America. But the cupboard isn’t totally bare, and Riley has put together a strong program. I wouldn’t put them up in the group with USC, ASU or even Oregon at this point, but they are squarely in the bowl-eligible pack of teams like Cal, UCLA and Arizona. We’ll see!

ENJOY YOUR WEEKEND!

Spring Fish Wrap – UCLA Bruins Edition

June 4, 2008

The Rick returns to the Pac-10. And the countdown is now on to see when he appears before the various NCAA infractions committee’s, such as the picture above. I’d give the over-under at, what, 3 seasons? Too high perhaps? Maybe 2.5 seasons. Anyway, you just know what’s coming down in Westwood.


The last we saw of Neuheisel after the ’02 AC, he was dodging bottles of 151 as he ran off the field at Martin Stadium, flipping off the WSU student section in the process. I am pretty sure I yelled something at him as he went to the tunnel, but I really can’t remember. It’s all such a blur. But does the thought of Neuheisel returning to the Pac-10 at UCLA worry you? He was 33-16 at UW and led them to a bowl game in all 4 years at the school. He got himself in a lot of hot water by pissing on the NCAA rule book, time and again, and just couldn’t stay out of the coaching rumor mill whenever a hot job opened up. He takes the brunt of the blame for UW’s situation, and his passion for finesse really turned the team into a shell of what they used to be in the 90’s. Yet here he is, with one more chance to make things right at his alma mater.

The best news for UCLA is who exactly Neuheisel has chosen to hire as his coordinators. DeWayne Walker is regarded as one of the top defensive coordinators on the west coast, if not the nation. Tyrone Willingham and company pushed as hard as they could and according to one report, they had him as the next UW defensive coordinator. Walker was even a head coaching candidate this winter, interviewing for the UCLA job and a rumored candidate at several other schools. But the moment Neuheisel took the job, he claimed his #1 recruit was DeWayne Walker, and sure enough, he kept him on the staff. That’s a strong enough move. But to also nab Norm Chow as the OC?? Now that is impressive. Chow was the architect of all those great USC offenses with Pete Carroll. Of course it helps that Carroll gave him Heisman trophy winners to run said offense, but, Chow’s rep is as a brilliant offensive mind and a guy who has done great work with QB’s. Many from the SC days claim it was his arrival that turned Carson Palmer from an inconsistent, “toolsy” QB into a Heisman winner and top NFL draft pick because of Chow’s guidance.

Here’s a look at the post-spring state of UCLA:

2007: A disappointing 6-7, but 5-4 in the Pac-10. Still it wasn’t enough to keep Karl Dorrell around, and he was quickly shown the door after the season. Except for one breakthrough season in 2005 and an upset of USC in 2006, Dorrell was basically a .500 coach, and that doesn’t fly down there for very long. The most disappointing thing about last year was because of yet another late-season fade. UCLA started 5-2 and looked certain to be headed for an upper-division bowl game, but would go on to lose 5 of their last 6, including the Las Vegas bowl. In fact, the 27-7 loss in Pullman started their annual tailspin into the abyss.

Offensive Scheme: Chow’s a versatile offensive coach, employing tons of different looks in his USC days. Some one-back with triple WR sets, some power or offset-I formations, some shotgun. Pretty much everything. The big difference here though is that UCLA is NOT one of the read-option, shotgun-exclusive offenses that are the rage right now. They are much more of your traditional, sophisticated NFL-style attack. This is a WELCOME CHANGE to a UCLA offense that was basically putrid last year. How bad was it? #92 in scoring offense, #101 in passing offense, and #99 in total offense. Peeee-U! However their offensive skill positions were devastated with injuries down the stretch last year, so some of those numbers are deceiving.

Defensive Scheme: Walker employs a 4-3 attack and will blitz when necessary, but they aren’t the biggest gambling defense around. They have had a lot of talent in recent seasons, and last year they were a top-30 defense, including 14th against the run. UCLA has become much more of a defensive team over the last several years.

Top Offensive Player: Make no mistake about it, UCLA is thin in the skill-position player department. But they do have Kahlil Bell back from last year, although he is coming off a knee injury. They are hopeful he will be OK to start the season. Bell led the team with 795 rushing yards, 5 TD’s and an impressive 5.6 yards per carry. He actually had 34 LESS carries compared to starter Chris Markey, who is now out of the program. If healthy, Bell has size, speed and moves. Check it out:

Top Defensive Player: The defense has some strong talent back, including DT Brian Price and his 7 sacks, LB Kyle Bosworth and his 74 tackles, or corner Alterraun Verner and his 75 tackles, 4 picks and 15 pass break-ups. But overall, LB Reggie Carter looks like the top impact player on D for UCLA in ’08. Carter had 62 tackles last year, not an overwhelming amount by any stretch and is good for third on the team among returning players. But he did have 12 tackles for loss last year, including a couple of sacks. At 6-2, 221, he runs extremely well and will now move from weakside to the middle. The junior will likely be in the 100-tackle range and will handle all the defensive calls in the middle of the defense.

Top Spring Questions:

1) What up with the QB injuries?

A good question after spring practices. Starter Patrick Cowan tore his left ACL and is already done for 2008. Backup Ben Olson broke his right foot late in the spring and will be out for several months. However UCLA does believe that Olson will be back as the starter by the opener. At least they hope so. If Olson is ready to go, he’s got to get better in a hurry. He was underwhelming in 7 games last year, completing only 48% of his passes with 7 TD’s and 6 INT’s. Olson has all the tools coaches dream of, 6-4, 235 and a rocket for a left arm. But he just hasn’t put it together despite all the hype of his arrival a few years ago, and all of a sudden he’s a senior and regarded as a reclamation project for Norm Chow. It’s now or never for Olson.

2) If Olson is OK, Who Will Protect Him?

That’s the scary part for UCLA’s offense. Just two starters are back on the O-line in tackle Micah Kia and center Micah Reed, but Kia is the only returning starter back at his original position. Reed is sliding over from guard to start at center. Even worse, eight of the top ten in the post-spring two-deep roster on the O-line DIDN’T PLAY A SINGLE SNAP in 2007! They are young, young, young up front, and that is a potentially lethal situation for any QB.

Bottom Line: The Bruins begin with a tough slate, including Tennessee to open the season and then travel to BYU on 9/13. This will be the third time in a year that UCLA plays BYU (kind of weird). Anyway, after the road game at BYU they host Arizona and Fresno State before the Cougs raid Pasadena on 10/4. That makes for 4 home games out of their first 5. Not to suggest that they will be looking past WSU, but UCLA does go to Oregon the following week. But 4 of the first 5 at home could set up some momentum as they get into the meat of the season.

Believe it or not, UCLA is starting to look like a rebuilding job more than anything else. But despite the losses of so many skill position guys, the young, thin O-line, the injured QB’s, etc, the first year might be better than people think. Neuheisel’s M-O is to basically show up and win immediately with the prior staff’s players. UCLA has recruited well over the last few years, so there is talent in the pipeline, even if it isn’t experienced. Neuheisel usually wins people over early in the game, like a breath of fresh air, and immediately things improve. But then things start to deteriorate, as you realize he recruits wide receivers, running backs and QB’s every recruiting class and basically ignores offensive and defensive linemen. He’s a sucker for the skill-positions and will load up on guys like that. But maybe this time he’s learned his lesson. Maybe the dynamic combo of Walker and Chow will be the forces behind UCLA’s resurgence. Time will tell, but this is regarded as Neuheisel’s last stand in the college ranks.

Spring Fish Wrap – Quack Attack Edition

June 1, 2008

Spring Fish Wrap – Portland State Weirdness Edition

May 27, 2008


Why is it weirdness always follows Jerry Glanville? Everyone remembers that he’s an odd duck, one who leaves tickets at will call for Elvis every week and a guy who punched one of his coaches on the sidelines during an NFL playoff game. But even today, the odd follows Glanville. If you haven’t seen this before, check out what happened during a game at Portland State last year:

Nice. The reaction from the announcers is classic. They may not win a lot at PSU, but they have a good time!

Speaking of PSU, yes, that’s one of our non-league games this season. But they might not be the layup you might think in just glancing at the schedule. Here’s some spring things to know about the Vikings.

Last Year: Struggled to a 3-8 season, 3-5 in the Big Sky, in Jerry Glanville’s first-ever NCAA head coaching job (Glanville had a long NFL career, but never was an NCAA head coach). HOWEVER, one of their conference wins? They went to Cheney and beat Paul Wulff’s EWU Eagles, 28-21. PSU was down 14-7 at half, but then scored three straight TD’s in the 2nd half to put it away with 3+ minutes to go. Portland State won the last two games against Wulff and EWU in ’06 and ’07.

Offensive Scheme: Run-n-Shoot, all the way. The same offense that made Warren Moon a Hall-of-Famer as a Houston Oiler is now at Portland State. Mouse Davis, the OC under Glanville, is regarded as the “father” of the Run-n-Shoot, something he mastered in the late-70’s. Interestingly enough, Davis led Portland State to 20 NCAA D-II passing records. His most recent success was at Hawaii, under June Jones no less. Under Davis, the Warriors led the nation in passing offense, total offense, scoring offense and pass efficiency rating. In ’07 PSU led the nation in passing offense, throwing for 360 yards per game. These guys know how to move the ball, period, and have done it for decades.

Top Offensive Player: QB Drew Hubel – The frosh came off the bench last season and excelled, including an amazing NINE TD passes in his first-ever start vs. Weber State! Hubel is huge, too, at 6-5, 200 lbs and growing. Hubel is a local kid from Corvallis who chose Portland State over Oregon State, citing the chance the play immediately, and he was right. They lost senior starter Brian White after the 7th game last year, and it was mainly Hubel from that point forward. However, Hubel wasn’t perfect, and he actually regressed over the last few games. As great as he was in throwing those NINE TD’s in that first start, he also threw NINE INT’s over his last two starts. So it’s feast-or-famine with Hubel. The other QB competing for the starting job is Tygue Howland, a backup who only played in the opener last year. Most likely it will be Hubel’s job heading into fall camp. Check out some pretty impressive video from that first-ever start:

The really bad news for PSU is how much they’ve lost in the skill positions. All those TD passes have to be caught by someone, right? Not only will they still be young at QB, but the top three WR’s are all gone from last year. But it’s not like it’s a true system that relies on superstar talent. Just look at the success Hawaii has had recently, and you realize that very few of those players from 10-win seasons are going to the NFL. So it’s definitely more about plugging in the pieces into the scheme and watching it go.

Top Defensive Player(s): While PSU lost their top tackler from last year, they do return #’s 2 and 3 from last year in OLB KJ McRae and ILB Andy Schantz. McRae had a big season last year, racking up 70 tackles, including 12.5 for loss, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and an INT. McRae has excellent size at 6-1, 240, and is an all-conference candidate on the outside after honorable mention last year. Schantz is an outstanding inside linebacker, totaling 85 tackles, 9 for loss, 3 sacks, a team-high 3 forced fumbles and was basically all over the field. Like McRae, Schantz is a decent-sized linebacker at 6-1, 235. He is regarded as a team leader in the heart of the defense, and was also honorable mention in ’07. The linebackers will be their best position on defense.

Bottom Line: This is a dangerous opponent. After coming off the road game at Baylor, we’ll still only be on our fourth game of the year. Wulff will have to get the emotions charged up for this one, not only coming off the Baylor game, but to avoid peeking ahead to the next week. For the hated Yucks of Oregon will be looming on 9/27! The scary part is that unlike our early-season opponents, Portland State won’t be too surprised by what they see out of WSU. If there is a “trap” game of 2008, this is it.

PSU opens with Western Oregon and UC Davis before coming to Pullman, and we are their first – and only – BCS school on the schedule in 2008. You know they’ll be sky-high for this one. But even with the return of McRae and Schantz at linebacker, they were pretty bad defensively last year. San Diego State drilled them 52-17 in 2007. That’s the same SD State team that Brink absolutely devoured last year. So what can you expect? Yards and points by the bushel. We’re a long way from the season, but you can see this one coming nearly 4 months away. Nice late-September weather in the Palouse, and our no-huddle vs. the Run-n-Shoot? It should (hopefully) be a fun one to watch.