Paul Wulff intimated as much yesterday in the WSU chat. While he didn't roll out the pom-poms and lead everyone in the fight song, you could tell in his own, understated tone that he likes the direction. He really went into great detail about his feelings on these here "internets" and such:
Allen (Covington): Coach- in your opinion do Internet recruiting services help or hinder your recruiting process as a coach? There's quite the debate online and offline (see Meat Market by Feldman).
|Paul Wulff: They do both.|
Well OK then.
Due to the lengthy responses from coach Wulff, I'd like to warn our affiliates we'll be going over...
To repeat, warning our affiliates, we WILL BE GOING OVER our allotted time....
But back on topic, there are questions. MANY questions for this team, and what's to come. Not to TOTALLY RIP OFF Vince Grippi from yesterday....by the way, Vince, "JC Levenseller"? We love you, and you won that phony election last year...but come on man.
Anyway, here are three super-terrific questions that we thought were relevant to what needs to be addressed, cleaned up, fixed, blown up, whatever....
1) WHO IS GOING TO THROW IT??
We WANT to be thrilled with Marshall Lobbestael's potential. Seriously thrilled. And let's face it, the kid did show some major moxie in his limited time last year. Oh, he didn't go out and lead a titanic upset or anything. He had a few shining moments against Oregon, but how excited can you get over a 63-14 loss?
But in looking at Lobbestael, you almost have to just throw out the win/loss type stuff and realize all that was working against him last season. Such as a patchwork offensive line that had a different starting lineup throughout the first seven games, an ineffective running game, and an offense in general that lead the solar system in giveaways. Combine that with a massive malaise that overtook this team the first half or so games of 2008 with the flip-that-culture program running into some, uh, resistance, it is now pretty apparent that he simply wasn't going to succeed. But to Marshall's credit, he came in under said circumstances and held his own, leading the team in passer rating (103.7) and TD passes (4) in five games.
Wow, think about that for a second. A redshirt frosh QB played in just five games, and LED the team in TD passes with FOUR?? Who the?? WHAT THE?? Ryan Leaf used to have that many in one game, heck, one HALF. Mike Price is rolling over in his palatial El Paso estate (I didn't say rolling over in his grave because coach Price isn't actually dead....it's just his career that has flat-lined). But those team-leading four TD passes is a real eye-opener isn't it?
The biggest worry about Marshall is that knee.
I mean the kid did just blow that thing out on October 11th of last fall. It might feel like a long, long time ago, but that's less than six months from right now. We hear that he's made a ton of progress, enough so that he'll actually participate in seven-on-seven skeleton drills this spring. Encouraging? Absolutely. But will he REALLY be ready for game action this fall? Not only do we have to hope for a full recovery in his knee, but will this injury rob him of his ability to move effectively? He's not a Jeshua Anderson-type sprinter, but the kid could move pre-blown knee. Will he be able to do so post-injury? And how long will it take him to not only survive, but actually thrive on that knee? Mentally will he build up his confidence? I don't know what you think, but he can wear the yellow no-contact jersey all fall camp and look great doing it. We aren't really going to know until the season opener vs. Stanford. And we can be assured that the Cardinal D isn't going to take it easy on him either. He will get hit, hard, for the first time in a long time. We just won't know until that moment if he is all the way back.
So if Marshall just isn't ready, what are the other options? JT Levenseller showed some spunk. But he has thrown just 34 passes in very limited time. He was tied with Kevin Lopina for 3rd on the team in TD passes. Of course, that number is ZERO. Young Levy has good feet, and from the looks of it, his arm passes the eye test. His skill-set appears to be a good match in the Todd Sturdy offense.
I know I'm excited as can be about this kid's upside and reported intangibles from all who have been around him. But again, a bushel full of questions with him.
Finally, Kevin Lopina. What can we say? He evolved into a leader in the locker room, calling out the quitters and bad apples when things were falling down around him. For that, he gets points. And that throw to Jared Karstetter was enormous, a throw that will go down in AC history as one of the biggest plays in the series, pro-WSU style. And he is tough as can be, coming back off a fracture in his back to give it everything he had. But all that said, is it enough? How can we ignore his zero TD/11 INT ratio? Is that a starting QB in the PAC-10? You hate to be harsh on the kid, as he gave every ounce of sweat he had for this program last year. But I think many can agree that we might be best served if Lopina is the backup.
One nugget from the Paul Wulff chat yesterday is that the door is NOT closed on Lopina starting.
David California: On a recent radio show you stated there would be only one senior starting on offense in 2009. Would it be safe to assume that person is Kenny Alfred?
Paul Wulff: At the time, what I meant was there could be only up to one senior starting, the only proven senior being Kenny Alfred. But obviously, Tony Thompson has a clear shot at starting, as well as Kevin Lopina and Dwight Tardy.
2) WHO'S GOING TO CATCH IT?
Gone is Brandon Gibson, who led the team in catches (57), yards(673) and TD's (2). All numbers down across the board when you look back at how productive a player Gibson was in his career, but given the overall state of the offense, not too shabby either. Jeshua Anderson is back, second in catches (33) and yards (305), but yeah, there's this whole track thing to think about. Hard to know exactly what he'll be able to do by this fall after missing another spring practice session this year. Can't exactly fault the kid either, I mean he's clearly special in track and field, Olympics-type special. But there is also no doubt that he's missing some valuable practice time to mesh with the updated offense, potential new QB's, etc. It is what it is.
But the youngsters, while they didn't pop with blazing numbers last year, are intriguing. Kevin Norrell played a lot as a true frosh, and while not a big physical presence, he did show some upside averaging 11.3 yards per catch. He'll get a huge chance to shine this spring/next season. Daniel Blackledge was a little beat up last year but he too showed something, and has drawn some recent praise from Wulff. And Jared Karstetter was pretty overwhelmed as being force fed into the lineup as a true frosh last year, but there are some things to be excited about with him. Like, oh, I don't know, a certain 48-yard catch in a certain game last year?
Most of all, these youngsters all got their first season out of the way. If anything, they've learned what it is like to line up across an all-conference talent like USC, Oregon or Cal rolls out every week. They shouldn't be as overwhelmed by the moment this year. But boy, they will need to step up and be ready, asap. Plenty of opportunities available!
3) WHO WILL LEAD THE DEFENSE?
Gone is the "triangle" of Greg Trent at middle linebacker, A'i Ahmu at defensive tackle, and Matt Mullennix and his 1.5 knees held together with scotch tape at defensive end. All three gave what they had, each and every week, to help shore up a porous D that gave up tons of yards per game(443+) and points per game (43.8). While the world crumbled around them, they did what they could to try and hold things together.
So who shall lead them? My money is on Louis Bland, Xavier Hicks and Andy Mattingly. Bland, of course, burst onto the scene as an undersized true frosh who slid to outside linebacker. Next thing you know, he's all-frosh with 55 tackles, nine for loss, including a couple of sacks, an INT return for a TD, and some huge knocks in the Apple Cup victory. But Bland has exuded "special" since he set foot in Pullman, and there was already talk LAST YEAR about Bland possibly being a team captain!
Xavier Hicks meanwhile has really turned it around. A big hitter with some meathead moves off the field, he appears to have taken well to the leadership of Coach Wulff. Even missing the first three games of last season didn't keep him from finishing second on the team in tackles (78) and tied for the team lead in interceptions (2). Hicks might be the best all-conference candidate of the entire defense, and the timing might be right for a huge senior year.
Finally, Mattingly. A huge 2007 season as a breakout force at linebacker with the well-documented tackles (91) and sacks (8), 2008 was a lost year. Mattingly's move to defensive end resulted in almost HALF the tackles from 2007 (44) and his sacks were trimmed from eight to just one in '08. The good news is it appears they have seen the light, and Mattingly actually moved back to strong-side linebacker the last couple of games in 2008, and sure enough, the move is now permanent with the release of this spring's depth chart. Very nice.
So that's it. The three biggest questions (with possible answers?) to this team. There are many more, of course, ones that we didn't even scratch the surface on. What do YOU think are the biggest questions facing this team? And what answers might you have to fix what's BROKE?!?
That's it for a Thursday. ENJOY YOUR DAY, and GO COUGS!