Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Does QB Situation Match 1999?

*Update 9/23 3:00 PM - It's official. Kevin Lopina is now out 2-4 weeks with a fractured L-4 vertabrae. That means it's Ocho Rojo time, for at least the next 2-4 games. Dan Wagner and JT Levenseller will back up Lobbestael.

First off, this is no way an insinuation that the current redshirt frosh QB, Marshall Lobbestael, is on the same path followed by the greatest #17 in school history, Jason Gesser. But in
perusing this week's press release, something caught my eye and made me think back a few years, to when Jason Gesser first broke onto the scene. Believe it or not, there are some parallels to 2008 compared to 1999. Consider:

  • In '99, Steve Birnbaum was the established player, a senior QB who was getting a final shot at this thing. Birnbaum, you'll remember, took over for Ryan Leaf in 1998 and struggled in leading the Cougs to a 3-8 season. Birnbaum did the best he could, but never really put it all together. He does hold the record for the longest TD in WSU history, a 97-yard pass to Nian Taylor vs. Idaho in 1998. But that's pretty much the highlight of highlights for #13. Not much happened in '99 either, as the team would slog through a 3-9 season.

  • QB Paul Mencke was a junior in 1999, and had a rather undistinguished QB career. Mencke would share some time with Birnbaum, but never was able to grab the job. Mencke would set a WSU record for interceptions, tossing six in one game. But that's about all you'll find or remember about Mencke.

  • And then you had the frosh, Jason Gesser. A lot of buzz, some whispers about his leadership, and some people in and around the program who thought the kid had "it". Not top-shelf talent, not blessed with monster size and strength or fantastic quickness. But just something about him, his leadership and competitiveness, his winning ways back to high school where he never lost a game, people just knew he would be a winner. '99 saw them all split time, but Gesser never actually started a game until the end of the season, at Hawaii. '99 was a miserable season, a 3-9 year that saw them beat only Cal in the Pac-10, and something else called Louisiana-Lafayette. But then, that last game of the year, at Hawaii.

Gesser would get the start, and this was against a good Hawaii team to boot, a 9-win bowl Hawaii team in June Jones' first season on the island. Gesser would lead the Cougs to a 22-14 win, taking some repeated blows from the Hawaii defense in the process.
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 where does that leave us with "Ocho Rojo" (Eight Red), Marshall Lobbestael? I know, I know, it's one game over a non-BCS opponent. He only played in the second half. There is a great unknown for how he's going to handle things going forward. And many one-time wonders have been named Pac-10 player of the week, as success can be just so fleeting. But Lobbestael has been special in his past. Such as his bio from Scout.com:
Has a quick release, outstanding accuracy and tremendous poise. Named 2006 state Class 4A Player of the Year by the Associated Press and Seattle Times after leading Oak Harbor to its first-ever state championship game. Passed for 34 touchdowns and 2,776 yards on the season.

His prep coach, Dave Ward, says that from the time Lobbestael started as a sophomore that he knew he was coaching a Pac-10-caliber quarterback: "Marshall is the best quarterback, the best leader, the best passer, the best player I've ever coached," he says.

Burst onto the recruiting radar early in the season against Meadowdale when he completed 18 of 22 passes and a school-record six touchdowns passes (breaking a record set by his older brother John).
As a junior in 2005, Lobbestael earned second-team all-conference honors, completing 59 percent of his passes for 1,351 yards with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
The exciting thing in all this is that, two weeks ago, the QB conundrum was a tough one. Here was one QB in Rogers, a senior, who was clearly struggling to pick things up. But even if Rogers stayed healthy and had a decent year, where would that put the program for the future? Would his success hold back the development of another?

The other QB, Lopina, showed a little more success than Rogers, but really not by much. Lopina might be viewed as the better fit in terms of the short passing game and more mobility, but he's also shown a penchant for the interception, now five in just about two games of playing time. But Lopina is a junior, so even if he does flat-out grab the job, it still might be a full season of lumps before he could really click in 2009. But then he'd be a senior, and the clock would be ticking. Would his success hold back the development of another?

But now, due to injury, here's Lobbestael, a redshirt-frosh with so much ahead of him. He is something to build around, something tangible to point to in the future. He's been a success in his high school career, a leader and a winner who won a state title. Most of all, a down season can be turned into something at least somewhat positive if the down times are learning experiences for a very young program, a very young QB and leader the team can rally around. Just like 1999.

One more thing - if Mike Price had it to do over again, he would have given Jason Gesser more starts in that lousy 1999 season. Gesser would have to learn under fire in 2000, but by then he was already a sophomore. He would have some high points in 2000, such as a win at Utah and at Cal. He would also put up some big numbers in a couple of OT losses to Arizona and ASU. But Gesser would be lost to a broken leg at Oregon State late in the year. So really, it wasn't until 2001, Gesser's junior season, before he really put it together, and would lead us on the best two-year run in school history. But again, if Price could do it all over again, he would have used that frosh year to put him into the fire and take the lumps while also getting him true playing experience. Maybe 2000 could have been another story in his sophomore year. Maybe those OT losses could have been victories, and a 4-7 season could have been a 6-5, bowl-eligible year?

Anyway, just something to chew on for the rest of 2008. With Rogers now done for his senior year, and Lopina already bruised and battered, it sure doesn't seem like a bad idea now to give the ball to EIGHT RED and see what shakes. At this point, what do they have to LOSE?


buschlightalum said...

Mencke threw 6 picks in one game? I've seen Brink throw 5 in one half!!! I was in school for the Birnbaum years, and watching Brink last year made me wish that somehow, someway, Birnbaum or Mencke would magically appear on the sideline, and at least give us half a chance.

Anyway, I'm sure the readers of this blog want to put the 'Brink sucks' argument to bed. I just wish history didn't give him 4 years, and give a perpetual loser the records deserved by our greats like Gesser, Leaf & Bledsoe.

God I hope Lobbestall starts the game this week. We've been clamoring for a freshman starter this entire year...rebuild with a frosh, not a mediocre senior.

If Lopina goes out there for some reason...Student side yell "OCHO!!!" Alum side yell "ROJO!!!"

Anonymous said...

Absolute no brainer (if Mike Price were still coaching), Lopina throws like a girl, Lobster is the future.


kaddy said...

I would have to agree that there isn't much to get excited about when Lopina throws the ball, whether short or long. He does seem to be comfortable running the offense, but if you can't pass, what does it matter?

Portland Coug said...

Price did not learn from the past. He got bledsoe off the bench his true frosh year in 90 when Garcia and Gossen could not do the job. But he wasted a year of dev with Gesser. After the learning experience of 2000 he was already a junior before he was good. an experienced QB in 2000 could have been a bowl team.

I was at the USC game when Mencke threw those picks. It would have been worse as SC dropped a few they should have had and Mencke was pulled in the third quarter. It was like the seinfeld with the painting of Kramer. the guy says I hate him....but I cannot look away.

Brink was no loser. Just not a big winner and no ability to lift those around him to great heights. But no loser. There is a big diff.

Michael said...

One more thing - if Mike Price had it to do over again, he would have given Jason Gesser more starts in that lousy 1999 season.

For what it's worth, that was Price's plan all along -- ease Gesser in with some spot action early in the season, and then let him start as the year went on. Unfortunately, the broken thumb against Arizona put an end to that plan.

By the way, I have to laugh at the intellect of fans like buschlightalum who think Birnbaum and/or Mencke were better than Brink.

Atlantacoug said...

Agreed. Brink had some huge games for us. Just not huge wins.

Start the Lobster. Best case he is the future. Worst case we find out he can't do it either and we find someone else for next year.

Phil The Coug Junkie said...

Gesser AND the D led the Cougs to 2 great seasons. Gesser won nothing on his offensive strengths alone.

Same goes for ML, I wish him the best but he could throw for 1000 yards a game and the Cougs won't win much until we get some ballers on D.

Here's hoping Wulff and Co. make it happen.

Keep on rockin' in the Coug world.

LouisianaCoug said...

I know this isn't the main topic of this thread and I'm sure this has been reiterated before, but I had to comment...
Give Brink some credit, he beat Washington 3 times (should have been 4). Yes, he blew some games, but point the finger at the inept defense, pathetic special teams, or very questionable coaching first. To long for/or even joke about longing for Birnbaum or Mencke is ridiculous.

Go Cougs

Sedihawk said...

Brink will never catch a break. He wasn't the reason we lost all those games, and he did his best. But he will always be judged as the guy with the passing #'s but never a guy who took us to the post season. 2006 was the best shot they had. If Hill and/or Bumpus stay healthy, maybe the find one more victory. I wonder what people would have thought about Brink had he actually gone to a bowl game? No matter what, I know I will always believe he took too much blame for what went wrong. But that's the nature of the position I guess. Too much credit/too much blame.

Longball said...

Not to nit-pick too much but just for clarification, I dont think Gossen belongs in this conversation. I am pretty sure he was leading the nation in passing efficiency and went down to injury. Not unlike Pattinson, i think we were doing really well, then he went down and everything unraveled with our backups.

Atlantacoug said...

Another QB Out for weeks. Poor Nueve Blanco!

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