Archive for the ‘Spring Football’ Category

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!

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Bad Omen for Pac-10?

March 20, 2008

Valpo, coach Romar? Seriously?? VALPO?? Cats and dogs, living together, mass hysteria. What the hell is going on with UW’s hoop program? Are they reverting back to what they really are? Were they just a fluke with Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy and Bobby Jones? After their sweet-16 run in 2006, they now have one post-season appearance, and it’s a loss to Valpo.

Yes, UW screwed the proverbial pooch tonight, dropping the opener of the worst post-season tournament of all-time, the C-Blah-I. Oh yeah, Brockman gutted it out for 14 points on a bum ankle, but in a microcosm of a season gone wrong, he also bricked a pair of free throws with 4 seconds left in the 72-71 loss. Unbelievable.

After you stop laughing, ask yourself this – is this something to wring your hands about for tomorrow? Is this a bad sign for the Pac-10 overall? Granted UW was in the CBI for a reason this year. They were one of the worst free throw shooting teams in America (actually Winthrop is right there with them). They finished 16-17 and looked every bit the up-and-down, .500 team. But is this bad for what we actually care about, as in, WSU??

Hard to say. After all, we did need two OT sessions – at home no less – to finally dispose of UW. And UW did beat UCLA, Arizona, ASU and Oregon this year. I’m leaning it’s not a big deal….but I can’t help but feel queasy on the eve of March Madness!

Meanwhile, Cougfan has a FREE write-up of today’s practice. Hooray FREE. In the FREE write-up, they talk about practicing indoors and – gasp – running the option with all the QB’s? Wow. This really isn’t your grandfather’s (read: Doba) WSU offense anymore, is it? Anyway, enjoy.

March Madness – WSU Football Blog Style

March 17, 2008

Obviously the focus this week is on these guys, and for good reason. A 4-seed in Denver is nothing to sneeze at, as we wind up our best 2-year run ever in terms of NCAA appearances. I won’t get too deep into it here, but as we commented yesterday, the message this week is simple – ENJOY this while it lasts. Tomorrow is guaranteed to no man, and that applies to this hoops program. We don’t know what the future holds, so try to enjoy the gift that is the “precious present”. That’s easier said than done, and around 4:20 on Thursday many of you will be gnawing the fingernails and gnashing the teeth, but do everything you can to keep things in perspective!

But today isn’t just about hoops. Since it’s March, we’re also talking about FOOTBALL! Unbelievable. Yep, spring ball is set to roll. Here’s a link to the official Spring Primer from the school. It’s a pretty good read. But we’ve got a LOT of questions that need to be answered. We’ll go through a few areas the rest of the week, so check back as things roll on. Without further adieu, here are the top-3 questions for the offensive skill positions this spring:

1) Who’s the QB?

The leader in the clubhouse at this point is Gary Rogers. Great size at 6-7, with an arm so strong Jack Thompson raves that he could throw it through a car wash and have it come out dry on the other side. Thompson also says he’s Carson Palmer, but with better feet. Uh, OK. That’s kind of a stretch, but hey, it’s March. Optimism runs wild this time of year. It’s not so much Rogers and his whopping physical size and tools, but my question is how will he fit into this offense? While much is made of the idea that this offense is the spread/read option offense, you don’t need Dennis Dixon or Pat White as a runner back there. This is really a modified version of that offense, NOT a true read-option where the QB fakes a handoff 80% of the time with the idea that he can tuck it and run. The challengers are Cole Morgan, Kevin Lopina and the young dark horse, Marshall L (I’ll refrain from constantly misspelling the last name, so he’ll simply be Marshall or Marshall L going forward).

2) Who Will Be the Running Back(s)?

This is a big question that needs to be addressed. New OC Todd Sturdy said it a few times at the football dinner a few weeks ago, but despite being a no-huddle shotgun offense, we WILL run the football. In fact, the goal is a 50-50 run-pass ratio, so healthy bodies are going to be a premium for the offense. With Dwight Tardy out with the knee injury suffered while celebrating vs. UCLA (I don’t care what anyone says, he hurt that knee after scoring the TD vs. the Bruins), Chris Ivory will be the undisputed starter from the opening practice.


Tardy however got the starter nod with the first depth chart released in the Paul Wulff era, so things might be different in the fall. I will say this however – Chris Ivory, at least to me, looks to have more upside that Dwight Tardy. Not to say that I don’t like them both, and I think combined, if they are both healthy this fall, that’s a heck of a one-two punch. But Ivory appears to me to have more explosion than Tardy, both in the short runs with more punch and he even has an extra gear that could make him pretty special. A couple of other kids in the mix are Marcus Richmond, who’s had very little opportunity at this point to do much, and Logwone Mitz, a powerful 6-0, 230-pounder who came in with some recruiting buzz last year but didn’t play. Hard to say now, but by the opener this position could be one of real strength on the offense, and we may end up being a true 50-50 run-pass offense after all.

3) How About the WR’s?

We all know Brandon Gibson will bless this team with his return next year. After losing Bumpus, Charles Dillon and Jed Collins, all I can say is THANK YOU Brandon. And from the early talk, it sure as heck sounds like Wulff and company are going to do all they can to reward him for his return. Wulff even mentioned, albeit briefly, that you are going to see them get the ball to Gibson in all sorts of creative ways. The leading receiver in the conference from 2007 and a guy who’s big plays won us the Apple Cup, Gibson is poised to have a gigantic Senior year. Just hope that he clicks early in the offense and most of all, STAYS HEALTHY this spring! We all know what he can do, so let’s just handle him with kid gloves, hmmm?

Jeshua Anderson showed a tremendous upside as a frosh last year, and he’s truly got “world class” speed as he will completely miss spring ball, instead working on his track team skills. Anderson is rumored to be a true candidate for the Olympic team, so it’s hard to bet fully on his return to football at this point. We’ll see how it all shakes out. Benny Ward is back, and while he’s experienced, he hasn’t exactly been a world-beater. But he’ll team with Gibson as a senior starter at one WR spot. At flanker, promising sophomore Daniel Blackledge is back as a raw, yet talented youngster. Outside of those three players, the depth is thin. At least it’s thin based on past production, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t any good. They had some good players ahead of them the last few seasons, so the opportunities haven’t been there. The good news is Mike Levenseller has stuck with the new staff, and can concentrate solely on coaching up the WR’s. No need to worry about calling plays or bickering with the OC Mike, just coach up these youngsters and let’s see how much we can improve this spring!

Tuesday Ramblings

March 11, 2008

Rambling about the Sonics mess was something I was going to lead off with, but you know what? I’m tired of it already. Yesterday both sides fired off letters, first Ballmer and the rest of the A-team signing an April 10th deadline to get this Key Arena deal done or else their $500 MILLION dollar gift disappears. Of course the state responded in their usual, BS way, this time hoping that a non-binding letter proclaiming that they will form a committee to review the idea sometime “next year”?? Uh, no. Not going to fly. Basically the statement is if they wait until next session, there won’t be anything to study. As Ballmer has said, the “moons are aligned” for this thing to happen now, but it must be fully in place by 4/10, a week before the board of governors meet to decide the Sonics request to move. Here’s a direct link to the letter. These guys are beyond serious here, and there is very little grey/gray area to what their intent really is.

What I found interesting is the Dino Rossi angle. Here’s a guy who barely lost to Gregoire and many to this day still claim he should have won. And he came out swinging yesterday after meeting with the A-team, convinced like the rest of the general public that this is such an overwhelmingly amazing option for all citizens of King County that they just can’t possibly pass on this…..can they???

I guess either the state is playing major politics here, waiting until the 11th hour to agree and look like heroes? Either that or our elected officials are certified morons that fit the image of bloated, slow-moving government to a T. I’m not fully giving up hope, but this ship sure seems to lack not only a rudder, but it’s clear now that the captain has completely frozen in her tracks.

Moving on, and yes, FOOTBALL related stuff here! Most of you know that the school has released the spring depth chart. Cougfan does a great job of running it down here.

The thing that caught my attention the most is what Wulff has been saying all along, and that is we are not good on the defensive line right now. How bad is it? Stud LB Andy Mattingly is actually moving to defensive end (gasp!). Mattingly had a fantastic run once he took over as a starter 5 games into the season, and finished the year with a remarkable 91 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss including 8 sacks, an INT, 4 pass-breakups, 4 forced fumbles and a partridge in a pear tree. I think Mattingly was sighted selling popcorn in the stands when the offense had the ball. And he’s moving to defensive end? I can’t say I’m all that thrilled with the idea. Mattingly has NFL linebacker size at a legit 6-4, 241 lbs. He’s already rated by NFLDraftScout.com as the #11 linebacker eligible for the 2010 NFL draft, and they have him as a “rising” player.

I guess Wulff and Sears and Ball are going to do what’s best for the defense, but I just hate the idea of having him not playing in space. Then again, Mattingly doesn’t appear to have the top-shelf speed burst in him that the great outside linebackers have. He’s listed as having a 4.74 40-time, and that’s clearly too slow for the NFL. But 4.7 is sure as hell quick enough as a defensive end.

Another thing that shows you how bad the d-line is? Andy Roof, who’s now back in the program, is shifting to d-tackle. Roof is generally regarded as the strongest guy on the team, and he’s got a nasty edge to him, no doubt, so maybe this move is OK. Just seems unusual given he’ll be a senior and there seems to be an opening at left guard, but instead they are projected to go with Andrew Roxas.

One more thing here – I think spending too much time on the pre-spring depth chart this year is a little foolish. We know that by fall, when things get serious, it’s going to look a lot different. We also know that other than Broussard and Levy, we have a brand-spanking-new coaching staff. They’ve barely got to know this new group of players, and this will be their first hands-on experience coaching them. We don’t know how everyone is going to fit into Wulff’s new system. So I think the thing to pay attention to here isn’t so much what the depth chart looks like now, but instead to focus on what it looks like coming OUT of spring and in particular how it looks towards the end of fall camp. I think right now there are just too many unknowns to get bent out of shape about anything!

Finally, the Quacks are on the hoops radar for Thursday. Woody commented yesterday that Lunardi is doing some back-peddling on our Cougar seed, now firmly as a 7 in Raleigh, starting at a 2nd-round match-up with the Dukies. So maybe it is more important than we thought to go out and win a couple of Pac-10 tourney games after all? That appears to be our best hope of improving that seed. The thing is, I know I’ve heard Lunardi say before that when he does this thing, he gives it thought about not only where teams are now, but also he tries to project where teams will be by the time the brackets are announced. So maybe he’s got us pegged for a 7 no matter what? I don’t know, but we’ll see how it all plays out. Personally I think the 3rd place team in what is regarded as the best conference in America should be better than a 7, but I don’t spend any time studying how the hell this all breaks out, and that’s basically Lunardi’s full-time job!

Enjoy your Tuesday. Oh yeah, if you haven’t already, e-mail the governor and Frank Chopp. Give a quick call at 800-562-6000. Tell them to do the right thing and save the Sonics. It’s right there in front of their big, fat, bloated faces.