Monday, June 30, 2008

Spring Fish Wrap - Hawaii Warriors Edition

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! Read more ...plus comments

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sunday Hot Links

Some quick-hitters to get your Sunday going:

Jeshua Anderson's Olympic dreams are over for 2008. After winning the 400m hurdles on Friday, he placed fifth last night. Only the top four can go on to the next round, so, Anderson's done with track for now. That should (hopefully) green-light his return to football. At least he said so after Saturday's loss, that he's now going to get ready for football. Can't WAIT to see him spread out wide and running under some deep fly balls from Gary Rogers!

Cole Morgan has left the building. Morgan will head to Western immediately after signing on for a scholarship on Friday. Will we miss Morgan? Hard to say. He only played in one game, in 2006, but otherwise was buried in the QB rotation, never rising above 3rd string. Maybe he would have had a decent shot at the job next year, but it's all moot now. Good luck Cole.

Breaking recruiting news from last night - WSU has a third verbal in Cali d-tackle Justin Clayton, a high-energy, 6-4, 245-pounder from Napa. He made all-Bay-Area on both offense and defense as a junior last year. From Scout.com's profile:

A first team all-league selection on both lines his junior season, Clayton was also named first team all-county on defense. Has a motor that doesn't quit. Projects as a defensive tackle or could potentially also play defensive end in college.
Nice. That's three verbals and it's still June. Last year when Wulff took the job in mid-December? Three verbals. What a difference.

Yes, JR Hasty is now officially out of UW. No, he won't be headed to WSU, despite the obvious ties with the senior Hasty. If Hasty were to pursue another D-1 opportunity, he'd only have one year of eligibility left. He's much more likely to head somewhere like Central. If you remember, Hasty was as touted as they come in high school, a 4-star tailback who had 50 TD's his senior year. His entire UW career? Six carries, 18 yards. What happened???

Finally, our own "Big Apple", Alex Brink, signed his contract in Houston. And, yeah, they TOTALLY DIG HIM down there! Check out this article. Read more ...plus comments

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Spring Fish Wrap - The Jake Locker's Edition

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'o-Nesheim.



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'o-Nesheim 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'o-Nesheim 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. Read more ...plus comments

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Wulff Responds With Audio; Other Links

Just a few things to get your Tuesday going.

After the Sunday story in the Times, Paul Wulff came on KJR with Ian Furness and talked about the aftermath. Wulff did his best to explain the different issues he had with the story. Give it a listen. I thought he came out of it fine in how he continually stated that they are moving on and the positive changes are in place and already working. I also like how he stated at the end that this isn't just a WSU, UW, Oregon or Oregon State issue. It's about all college kids making mistakes at all programs, and the things that they can do to help correct the issues. It will take some time to "flip this program" but it will happen if Wulff gets the chance.

Interesting read from Cougfan regarding former O'Dea and Cal defensive back Brandon Jones. Jones was regarded as one of the top corners in the northwest in 2005, and he chose Cal over many schools, including UW and WSU, out of high school.

What's cool though is that he made a strong connection with Wulff while he was back at EWU during the recruiting process. But even though he was regarded by some as one of the fastest players on Cal's roster for the upcoming year, things didn't quite work out for him in Berkeley and he has now shown up in Pullman. He'll sit out 2008, but like fellow Cal transfer James Montgomery, he can play in 2009 and will have two years of eligibility. When you consider that Alfonso Jackson is slated to start at one corner as a senior this year, you can see there will be an opening to start next year.

I can't help but notice that's now two players from Cal who have both transferred and will be eligible to play in '09. This is like getting two impact JC transfers to help immediately next season, a year in which there will be plenty of chances to play for these guys. But the best thing is that both have been in D-1 Pac-10 programs. And unlike your typical JC guy, they won't need half the season to break into the program. They'll already be practicing for a full YEAR with the coaches to get ready for '09. Sounds good to me!

Someone at the Cougfan.com forums found this old article on Timm Rosenbach from the NY Times.

It's from shortly after Rosey retired from the NFL to pursue other interests, and some of the controversy. The theme that Rosey touched on speaks volumes for what players have to do to get ready to play the game:

But there was more to it than just the bruises of the business. "I thought I was turning into some kind of animal," Rosenbach said in a recent interview. "You go through a week getting yourself up for a game by hating the other team, the other players. You're so mean and hateful, you want to kill somebody. Football's so aggressive. Things get done by force. And then you come home, you're supposed to turn it off? 'Oh, here's your lovin' daddy.' It's not that easy. It was like I was an idiot. I felt programmed. I had become a machine. I became sick of it."
And this is coming from a QB. Imagine what a linebacker or defensive lineman thinks during a game? Hooty spoke to this on Sunday, about what it actually takes in terms of aggression to get up for the actual games. And sometimes we forget about what happens on the field, the nature of the game itself, how brutal it can be, yet we expect them to grab a halo and angel wings once the game is over?

Finally, the Go-2-Guy caught some crap from UW'ers at the Detlef Golf Tournament. Detlef even yelled "wear it with pride!" when spying Moore wearing his WSU windbreaker. Whatever Det. Moore should have yelled back "play some defense for once!" While everyone loved Det during his Sonics glory days as the third wheel to GP and Shawn, I remember him as the weakest link in the otherwise nasty pressure SOS defense employed by Bob Kloppenberg on George Karl's staff. Anyway, hat tip to Moore for having the stones to wear the colors to a UW event like that the day after the big story.

ENJOY YOUR TUESDAY! Read more ...plus comments

Monday, June 23, 2008

Oregon Loves to Show Off


I remember hearing about some of this stuff a few years ago, how Oregon had someone to do "comics" of their recruiting targets, looking for every advantage possible. Well, SI.com has gotten ahold of the Jonathan Stewart recruiting tool. Here's a snippet:

Back in 2005, Oregon coaches enlisted students to design custom comic books for the Ducks' top 20 recruiting targets. Each comic portrayed the recruit as a hero who leads the Ducks to a national title. Oregon sent each prospect one page per week during the recruiting period. Here is the entire comic made for running back Jonathan Stewart, one of the nation's top recruits at the time.

It's uh, well, kind of strange. Give it a look here.

Here, they tout their locker room. High-speed internet, personal cooling system, satellite TV's, DVD, x-box, the whole works.



Here you see, of course, Stewart scores the winning TD. I love the Phil Knight "yay!" from his luxury box. Look at what my money can buy! And you can see his handlers are telling him to cheer.
I just can't understand how it is these young men come to college with a, shall we say, an inflated sense of self? Imagine being in high school and having someone not only recruiting you as hard as they can, but actually handing you a full-blown comic about what a freakin' GOD you will be at their school? Amazing. Now you can see what we were up against, and this is just one small thing from Oregon. It's still interesting to think that we were in the final two for Stewart. How could we compete with glitz like this? Then again, we've said it before, but if kids are only going somewhere for the uniforms or plasma's in the locker room, then they aren't a fit at WSU. Still, would be nice to get a sugar-daddy. What could have been, Paul Allen. Read more ...plus comments

Sunday, June 22, 2008

So That Happened...

Well, what can you say? The Times story has broken, and it's not pretty. Top-fold, front-page Seattle Times story about the struggles of your football program isn't a good Sunday. Granted we're at a point in time today that newspapers are in big trouble, and bad news sells papers (if it bleeds, it leads, etc). And I don't care what anyone says, this story is to help placate some cranky UW'ers when their program was dragged through the mud for the scathing '00 Rose Bowl champions run afoul of the law.

But I have to admit it.....I thought this would be worse. Yes, like all of you, I'm disappointed by what appears to be a program with kids making far too many mistakes in the Bill Doba era. Yes, Doba himself admits that they really blew it after the Holiday Bowl, getting "too big for our britches" or something along those lines. And Bill Doba looked the other way, ran too loose of a ship, etc. But was much of any of this stuff actually new "news"?

Now, obviously DUI's are no laughing matter. Drive hammered, get nailed. DUI's are big mistakes that kill a lot of people every year, and the penalties for such things should be severe, no matter the individual or the circumstances. And I was surprised about Mattingly drilling another kid with a frying pan (WTF?). That was a little weird. Then again, one of his friends had his teeth knocked out. Not to totally defend the action, but Mattingly was doing what a lot of kids that age do, which was to seek retribution for his friend. Stupid? Yes. Does it happen? All the time.

But all that said, was there anything that blew you away? Maybe all the bad news this offseason has made us numb to everything? No cover-ups by Whitman county prosecutors. No grades being changed by crooked administrators or coaches. No murder, rape, or weapons possessions. No plasma TV's, $50,000 loans, illegal gifts to players, illegal recruiting practices or anything else that happens at a lot of other schools.

That said, the article is, overall, an embarrassment. It's something that the coaches are going to have to address on the recruiting trail when Mom and Pops ask what was that all about. Wulff has said it since day one, that there is a real culture change needed on a variety of levels. He wasn't kidding was he??

The thing I didn't like most of all was what Courtney Williams had to say:
"WSU is a hard school to go to, man," Williams says. "You ain't got nothin' to do but get drunk and smoke weed, and not go to class because you're too tired from doing what you're doing."
Ouch.

And Leon Burtnett basically laid it out that we are the little brother in-state, never once in his time at WSU getting a player over UW. We have the built-in disadvantages, we have the small market, small stadium, blah blah blah. But again, nothing that we haven't heard before, right?

But yet, you have to consider the individual as well. Aren't people, even young men, at least accountable for their actions? Do angels come to WSU and suddenly transform into drunken, weed-smoking thugs looking to fight? Of course not. Is there something to the idea that there can be some slow times in Pullman, especially if you are from an inner-city situation and used to the bright lights? Absolutely. As the old saying goes, "idle hands do the devil's work". In other words, boys with little supervision and extra time on their hands can be a less-than-ideal situation! But the individual needs to figure that out and do the right thing, and the majority of them have figured out how to do just that.

But on that theme, Hooty weighed in on what was coming, and it is a perspective of reality:

'Thankfully Andy Roof "only" broke that guy's face. We can still fall back on the "at least our football players haven't killed anyone" argument.

Rubbing alcohol mixed into contact solution? Is that really much worse than peeing in someone's half-filled pitcher under the table at the Coug? We're probably ALL guilty of that, right? Are you with me? Guys? Jen?

Fights on Greek Row are certainly no cause for alarm. I'd probably worry if there WEREN'T a scrape or two every now and then. I myself was once sucker-punched by Calvin Griggs. It's part of life on a college campus.

Here's the thing...

Every position in football (with a couple obvious exceptions) REQUIRES that in addition to physical skill, players have the ability to turn to a source of rage to get them through the battles of the game. Chris Spielman used to line up and look across the line, imagining the guys on the other side raping his wife and hurting his family. He said at times he'd have tears in his eyes when the ball was snapped. Is that healthy? No, but it's what allowed him to play with rage.

One could make the argument without making too much of a stretch, that it's unreasonable to expect an individual to completely harness that rage and limit it to the football field. It's not a far cry from training a soldier to kill; send him off to war to do what he was trained to do; and then have him come home and immediately blend right back into life as we know it. It doesn't make sense.

Before anyone throws a college-aged football player under the bus and passes judgment on him, they should first try and understand what it takes to actually play the game of football at this level; and then think back to when they were in college and all the stupid shit they did and got away with, because they weren't subject to the scrutiny of the media.

What did the Times accomplish with their series on UW? Nothing. Water under the bridge as far as I'm concerned. It all happened at a different time, under different leadership. As far as the program was concerned, they had moved on. The only thing shocking about that story was the preferrential treatment some of those guys received from the judicial system. THAT'S your real story.

Just like UW, we too have moved on, so take your best shot while you have the chance. "


Finally, it's not all bad. It only seems that way from the article. It was very lightly touched on, but for example, the team currently has a GPA of 2.72, highest in 30 years. Alex Brink was a model student and claims that the support systems are in place, but in the end the individual needs to be accountable for their own actions. They already cut ties to a kid that was looking like a potential problem in Calvin Schmidtke. And coach Wulff has already created a new approach, implementing something called the "Unity Council", consisting of 16 players that will sit in judgment against players who make mistakes. They will recommend punishment from missing classes and meetings to more serious criminal charges.

More than anything else, Wulff has a personal stake in all this. Not only is he the head coach at a place he's always wanted to be, but as a former player and student, this is HIS school, HIS team. I think Jim Sterk said it best in his e-mail:

"Although the attitude and behavior of our football student-athletes is not in a crisis situation, there is room for improvement," WSU athletic director Jim Sterk said in an e-mail last week to boosters to brace them for today's story. "While there are no quick fixes, the program is heading in the right direction."
We should certainly acknowledge the mistakes, and not downplay them. They happened. But the focus should be on what happens today and tomorrow. At least now the stuff is out in the open and the coaches and administrators can talk about the things that are going right. But this is hardly a program that is out of control. And for that matter, don't fully dwell on what went wrong yesterday. Today is all you can control anyway. Read more ...plus comments

Friday, June 20, 2008

Spring Fish Wrap - ASU Shocker Edition

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! Read more ...plus comments

Thursday, June 19, 2008

M'What M'Next?

Stupid title, I know; but the missus and cubs took off for two weeks in Yellowstone with Nana and Papa and I've had a few celebration beers... I'm not even going to bother with pictures.

So the M's are officially cleaning house. John McLaren is out and Jim Riggleman is in.

You always feel bad for a "company man" like McLaren. He's been around a long time - So long in fact, that I remember rubbing elbows with him back when I was an employee of the M's in 98 and 99. The other nobodies and I used to grab dinner at Mac's Smokehouse right across Occidental from the Dome. The coaches used to do the same and Mac (I can call him that because we ate BBQ together, even though he didn't know my name. God, I feel so cheap...) was always really nice to us. That had to have been a really tough pink slip to write for Lee Pelekoudas, who has been around about as long as Mac (I think he preferred the pork butt with beans and slaw...) - but it did give him an excellent opportunity to show off his jet black businessman's special. (Seriously, if he fails at this GM gig, he can team up with Keith Hernandez and Clyde Frazier in those Just for Men commercials.)

So here's what I'm thinking, and maybe later, I'll actually do some research to see if my theory is right...

That whole John McLaren situation sounds pretty familiar to us doesn't it? (The company-man part, not the me eating BBQ near him part.) Ol' Dobes and Johnny Mac are birds of a feather. Highly-regarded, long time assistants who were handed the reigns when the old coach/manager unexpectedly bolted; and then promptly pissed down their legs.

Here's why it's not their fault: They're long-time assistant coaches. Keyword: assistant. They have been the good cop to the head-man's bad cop for too long; and while they may have the respect of their players, it's more like the respect you have for your grandpa who served in the war - you respect him, but you'd still sneak a beer or two from him whenever you felt like it. They're not like your ball-busting dad, that you actually fear because you know he measures the booze in his bottles and counts every Schmidt in the 'fridge. Get my drift? Longball, you got me?

The reason why Jim Riggleman may actually work is that he's new to the organization. The players still don't know that much about him - but they do know that he's managed in the majors and been a successful minor league manager. If Riggleman sheds the good cop hat and puts a little fear in these guys as their manager, they may very well start playing with more of a sense of urgency to perform. I think this could work especially well, if we cut and/or trade a couple veterans and replace them on the roster with the clubhouse leaders from Tacoma and maybe even West Tenn. Bring up a couple kids who have proven themselves to have strong character and leadership abilities. Ala Dick Bennett, the kind of guys you think you can lose with for a year or two - but will be better for it in the long run.

Get rid of the dead weight that you know is hurting the team and replace them with youngsters that believe in each other. You may take your lumps for a while but they'll battle hard and come out of it battle-tested and ready for all comers. I always go back to the example of the Braves turning their team over to Glavine, Smoltz, Justice and Gant - but there are many more examples over the years, including the Marlins, a couple times over.

So back to the manager thing. Because the M's management is old school, I'd suspect that they'll encourage Riggleman to shake things up a bit. They've already hinted at that with the promotion of Clement. I'd be surprised if this isn't followed in the next few days by another player or two being cut - especially if there happens to be one or two guys on the team who don't feel like buying into a youth movement. Let him put his stamp on the team and see how the guys react. If it works? Great - keep him around and see if he can sustain it - but don't accept mediocrity. If the players don't respond well to him this year, get the roster even younger next year and bring in a young manager that will command the players' respect.

I wonder if they'll be tempted to go the former player route like the Cougs? Joey Cora is getting a lot of attention right now. What about The Sherriff? I'd pass on little Joey, but Norm could be fun, don't you think? Bring in Dibble as pitching coach to guilt Putz off of the DL... OK, probably not going to happen.

Personally, I'd love to get an Eric Wedge-type guy. He's young, hard-nosed and respected in the clubhouse. The M's may have a guy or two like this in the system right now. Guys that the young players will maybe have a little history with - like Gary Thurman or... how about former Coug Jim Horner? Like Wedge, Horner is the prototypical Crash Davis (minus the home runs and the belief that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.) He's a long-time minor league catcher, turned minor league manager. He hasn't been at it long, but given a little time, and hopefully a little success, he may be a great candidate. Truth be told, I don't know a thing about Horner's short career as a manager. My point is to bring in a guy who's young but is an ass-kicker and a proven leader of young players.

Want one last Cougar tie-in for the road? How about promoting former Coug Greg Hunter from Director of Player Development, to GM?

Next, we can replace that God-awful teal with Crimson...

Go Cougs. Go M's. Read more ...plus comments

There is Some Good News

While we wait for the Seattle Times to bring the heat, we did get some good news last night. Cougfan broke the story that Idaho prep linebacker Darren Markle has cast his lot with Paul Wulff and company, committing to the Cougars. Here's some highlights of Markle:

  • Rated as the 29th ranked player in the Northwest top-100, ranked as #57 in the West top 150. Also ranks as the #32 middle linebacker prospect in the nation. Had over 100 tackles as a Junior MLB last season. Currently a 3-star talent ranking from Scout. I wonder how long until Chris Fetters of Dawgman fame drops him to a 2-star after this news? Just kidding....sort of.
  • Excellent size for a high-school senior-to-be, 6-1, 230. Not lightning fast with a 4.59 40-time, but still, not bad for a projected future middle linebacker. Strength? Off-The-Charts Ridiculous. From the Scout.com profile:
    Won the 2007 US High School Powerlifting Championships today and broke the National Total Record in the 242-pound weight class that has stood for nine years. He claims a current bench press of 365 pounds and squat lift of 550 pounds.
    US High School Powerlifting champion?? Benches 365 and squats 550?? WOW.
  • ESPN.com had a good write-up of Markle, based on a Scouts, inc. evaluation. If you are too lazy to click the link, check out the content here:

    Markle is good-looking middle linebacker prospect with the great size and physicality sought-after at the position. He possesses prototypical middle linebacker size at the position and should add continue to add another 10 of good bulk to his already impressive thickly-built frame to handle the punishment of playing the middle at the next level. More of a short-range backer showing good initial quickness and burst when filling his middle run gaps. Plays with good pad level and a wide, solid base at the point of attack. Difficult to turn out of the gap when he attacks downhill with square shoulder pads. Shows great strength and power from his hips and upper-body knocking blockers upright while stacking and shedding the cutoff block. Solid tackler flashing good explosion driving through ball carriers. Lacks the hips to mirror quicker skill plays in space but can close quickly on the football with an adequate-to-good burst. However, range is limited outside the tackle box and he flashes plays where he looks a bit stiff in the hips when redirecting and pursuing laterally. Can stack the run but needs to work on slipping under the cutoff and not opening up his whole body for engagement; will be harder to consistently shed bigger offensive linemen at the next level. Shows he can close and blanket his underneath zone but his depth on his drops is inconsistent. Good blitzer with his size and deceptive acceleration in the short area, but he tends to guess gaps at times and diagnosing skills will need some polish. Overall, Markle is a tough, middle run plugger who is valuable to a team at the next level struggling to stop two-back, power running schemes. Could be limited to situational run and short-yardage duties versus wide open spread teams.
Finally, your obligatory Youtube video of Markle.




Pretty impressive. You can see his strength and at times, he appears unblockable. I was also impressed by some of his "closing speed" on a few of those plays. He's not a burner, but you can see that he not only has a nose for the ball, but he has good football speed if you know what I mean?

And now, some powerlifting highlights.



That, my friends, is MAN strength. Welcome to the family Darren! Excellent "get" coach Wulff. Markle and Meinken are a great start to a class that will be so vital to the future. Read more ...plus comments

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Seattle Times to Attack WSU Football



I guess their UW series just wasn't enough for the Seattle Times. Maybe deep down we had to know that with all the negative news this off-season and now the APR, we had to feel like something was coming.

Many of you have probably read this already, but this e-mail is now making the rounds:




Dear Cougar Family,
First, let me apologize if any of you receive this email in duplicate. We have tried to hit as many Cougar supporters as possible with this and some of you may appear on duplicate lists.

The purpose of this email is to alert you to a Seattle Times story that is scheduled to appear either later this week or early next week. From our understanding the story is an in-depth look at the WSU football program, perhaps focusing on negative issues that have occurred over the past few years. My belief is they may combine the off-field incidents of some of our players with the recent APR news as the focus of the story.

I, along with the entire coaching staff and athletic administration, evaluate each and every incident involving our football program in a very serious manner. Although the attitude and behavior of our football student-athletes is not in a crisis situation, there is room for improvement. I believe Paul Wulff has put in place a process to positively impact the culture surrounding Cougar football and that change is already noticeable. While there are no quick fixes, the program is heading in the right direction.

I appreciate your continued support of Cougar Athletics and please let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding this issue.

Sincerely,

Jim Sterk
Director of Athletics

So there you have it. I applaud Jim Sterk for getting the word out now, before the story hits the press and having to issue reactionary statements after-the-fact. And just ignore your UW brothers and sisters if/when they jab you when it hits the media. It is what it is, and as Mr. Sterk says above, the program is headed in the right direction under Paul Wulff.
Read more ...plus comments

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Spring Fish Wrap - AZ Mildcats Edition

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!

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