Friday, July 10, 2009

Who's Carrying the Mail?

First off, a hearty WELCOME BACK to Sir Vincent Grippi, the best of the best Coug sportswriter in these here parts! Grippi has returned from a several-week hiatus, back to provide the fantastic coverage in ways only a champion can do. As many folks have already commented on the Spokesman-Review site, he's a welcome sight for these sore eyes....

And in the usual fashion, back from vacation and some big news breaks. You probably heard already, but WSU's budget information is making the rounds as of yesterday afternoon, and guess what? Per Sir Grippi, it ain't bad. The gist: No sports have been cut, as all 17 men's and women's programs will continue to soldier on. But still, when you are dealing with nearly a million in revenue shortfall, you aren't going to get off totally unscathed:

The athletic department, according to Sterk, had already instituted cost-cutting measures – “We’ve got a hit list about a page long of things we’ve done,” he said – and those will continue. They include leaving open positions unfilled, cutting back on travel for international recruiting and professional development, using ground transportation to competitions within 400 miles of Pullman (including Seattle football games), limiting the number of athletic publications and possibly cutting travel-squad sizes.

All sound, responsible decisions in these tough times. But you know what? Even in tough times like these, it's those who have been fiscally responsible all along who will survive. And WSU is no stranger to being responsible, per the article from the AP in late June. We are used to doing more with less, so this shouldn't be THAT big of a deal??

Moving on, we continue to look at the state of our Cougs on a position-by-position basis. Earlier in the week it was the QB's. Today, it's running back. Who's going to carry the mail in '09? Will someone emerge from what looks like it could be a crowded backfield? Or will it be a by-committee approach, where everyone will get a chance to do some heavy lifting? Let's take a look-see....

First of all, we would be remiss if we didn't look back at the running game from last year. And in 2008, it wasn't pretty. As in 95.1 yards per game, good for a measly 110th in the country in rushing yards. And in those 95.1 yards per game, they averaged just 2.7 yards per carry.

Not good is it? Generally you want at least three yards per carry (three yards and a cloud of dust?), but something closer to four would be nice.

That said, in a weird way 2008 wasn't all that bad in that there was some depth that emerged at the position. Dwight Tardy led the team in carries (133) and yards (481), but still averaged just 3.6 yards per carry. But the numbers overall for Tardy were down across the board compared to his pre-knee injury days in '07. In that year, Tardy had 676 yards and 6 TD's, averaging 4.7 yards per carry, before going down in the 8th game vs. UCLA. That 3.6 yards per carry is over a full yard less per touch compared to '07. And looking back to '06, Tardy logged 667 yards and four TD's on 4.6 yards per carry.

So '08 was definitely a down year across the board for Dwight.

So, was his downturn in performance related to the knee injury? It's hard to say. I think it's reasonable to look at his performance at times last year and wonder if he had lost some of his explosiveness. But at the same time, there were moments where he ran extremely hard. He had 75 tough yards vs. UW, and the following week vs. Hawaii averaged 4.1 yards per carry, scoring the only TD of the game for the Cougs. But it also must be said that the offensive line woes contributed mightily to the situation. The O-line was a jumbled mess through the first several games of '08, where the same lineup didn't start consecutive games until well into the latter part of the schedule. Such a lack of continuity made the running game suffer, heck, the entire offense suffered last year and a lot of the blame can be placed on the "fluid" situation up front. But that's a post for another day....

The bright spot? Logwone Mitz. The kid is one physical dude, a bruising package at 6-1, 225. And who can forget his huge 57-yard TD run vs. UW in the third quarter of the Apple Cup, a play that seemed to lift the entire team in the second half?

While Mitz was second to Tardy in carries (90) and yards (441), he did tie for the team lead in TD's with three. But the most impressive thing about Mitz? His yards-per-carry came in at nearly FIVE per touch (4.9). So even just sharing the load, in his physical style of play, he still was effective in moving the pile. Impressive stuff from a redshirt frosh, and a necessary ingredient for a balanced, effective running game. Flash-n-dash is nice, but man, you gotta convert those short yardage situations. Mitz is the lunchpail and hardhat type, unafraid to get a little dirt under his nails during a hard day's work. Yes, WE LIKE MITZ around here!

The wild-card, without a doubt, is James Montgomery. The heralded transfer from Cal, Montgomery was a Parade All-American in high school, where he ran for over 4900 yards and 82 td's. had him as the 14th-best running back coming out in '06, and after a redshirt year, he played in every game for Cal in '07.

Now after sitting out '08 due to transfer rules, the junior-to-be is ready for action. More of a home-run big-play type compared to Mitz and Tardy, Monty will be right in line for plenty of carries this fall.

Yes, there are others in the mix, like Chris Ivory and Chantz Staden. But right now, it's clear that the position is all about Tardy, Mitz and Montgomery. Per the spring depth chart, Tardy was listed as the starter, while Mitz and Montgomery were backups. But I think we can all agree that those three guys bring something a little different to the table. And, no matter who prevails as the starter vs. Stanford 9/5, you can bet that all three are going to get significant opportunities for touches.

So what do YOU think? Does Tardy get the starting nod, based on his experience as the senior returner? Should Mitz get more looks as the feature guy, and not so much the short-yardage type? Or, is it time to hand the keys to arguably the most talented offensive skill position player on the roster in James Montgomery and see what happens? Let's get your takes on what could be the deepest, most productive position on the '09 Cougar offense!

That's it for a Friday. Enjoy it, and as always, FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FOR WASHINGTON STATE!


kaddy said...

The best players have to play, as long as they do the work in practice, so that means Montgomery all the way. I still expect Tardy & Mitz to get the ball, though, as they deserve time.

Sean Hawkins said...

It's a pretty deep pool of players with PAC-10 experience though, and some moderate success at that. I am beyond intrigued by Montgomery though. Even though he took the scenic route to Pullman, he's easily - on paper anyway - one of the most heralded "recruits" WSU has ever had. I mean when was the last time we had a top-15 running back, nationally, in recruiting? Even if it was back in '06, still, the guy has a high ceiling.

But I love what Mitz has shown in short bursts, and what a perfect compliment he can be for either Montgomery or Tardy. And, Tardy is the senior and still somewhat productive, although last year wasn't entirely his (or his knee's) fault.

I guess it's a good problem to have??

Anonymous said...

Yes, having depth at RB is a very good problem to have....Montgomery reminds me of a Jerome Harrison type - I think if he is showing he is the best RB in practice, he has to get the starting nod - I am not a person who believes someone gets the job based on seniority/loyalty/etc - you play your best....and besides, look at last year - all of our backs went thru injuries and missed time so I think things like this sort themselves out....if I had to say now, then start Montgomery and bring in Mitz and give Tardy some touches too...but it sure seemed like Dwight lost something last year - I am not sure I am willing to blame it all on the o-line....he seems slower to me.
Anyway, here's to run, run, run, pass, run, run, pass, run, run, run strategy this year - I think it will be the strength of the team and will help the Lobster & co. with the passing game....

Reno, NV

Anonymous said...

Makes no matter who comes out first. We can use all 3.

Lovin it, for now at least.

CoutTat said...

The schools financial situation could be greatly improved if they made any reasonable effort to fund raise.

Whats the status of your effort with them to get an online community fundraiser going?? It seems that they lack the effort necessary to really improve their own situation.

They need to be making a massive push to get that Phase 3 & 4 completed and push to get people to get to Pullman this season. I wish they would schedule concerts and other big events on football weekends this season to try and get people buying seats and planning trips over.

'03CouveCoug said...

Based on everything coming out of spring practice, I think that Montgomery gets the bulk of the carries. Mitz and Ivory do battle to see who the short yardage back will be. Tardy and Mitz do battle to see who the "hands" RB will be for 2nd/3rd and long situations because of their ability to catch passes out of the backfield (I'd be comfortable lining up either of these guys in the slot as well, while keeping Mongomery or Mitz/Ivory in the backfield).

It is really nice to have depth at RB because, to be truthful, we're going to have to be a running team to have any kind of success this season. Not only to take pressure off of the QBs as Billyblaze mentions, but also to control the clock and keep our defense off of the field as much as possible. The only way we will upset anyone this season is to play ball control, because if our D is on the field for more than 30-35 minutes a game, we're in deep doo-doo!

Sean Hawkins said...

You know, I am not so sure on winning games based on the running game. There are trends out there that show the running game is slightly overrated, and that you rely on the running game to convert short-yardage or wind down the clock after you have a comfortable lead ( touches on this, but that is primarily the NFL). I know it's the old adage of "run the ball, stop the run" for the most basic strategy, but I wonder if that's altogether true?

USC has been able to run it effectively, but their passing game has been fantastic the last several years, from Palmer to Leinart to Booty to Sanchez. Oregon is great on the ground in terms of sheer numbers, but they lost by 10 to Cal and were blown out by 34 points vs. SC last year, and all because they were in the midst of some real QB issues (scoring 16 pts vs Cal, just 10 vs. USC). Oregon could have run all day long on Boise State, but what happened in that game? They went through four QB's and turned the ball over a bunch of times, and they lost.

But it wasn't until Oregon got the QB situation straight, then the offense took off. They could always run the ball, yet lack of a good passing game sunk them early.

So, bottom line, it seems? A strong running game is great in short-yardage situations, or when you are ahead late in the game and trying to eat some clock. All teams have to be able to run the ball at some point. But I'm not so sure you can flat-out win a ton of games hanging your hat on it (unless you are Nebraska circa mid-90's, but the game has, uh, changed since then!).

This offense is going to HAVE to figure out what to do through the air to have a legit shot at some success.

Tom Tuttle from Tacoma, WA said...

(1) Fight Fight Fight for Washington State.

(2) Call-a-Coug seems to have no problem calling me 4 times a day for donations, but the Athletic Department needs more access to Alumni for donations. Whether or not they are part of the A.Assocation.

(3) I have to agree with Hawkins. QB and your run game have to be pretty symbiotic to put a "W" in the record books. But, Motgomery should be our guy; at least getting a steady diet of reps in. I think this kid is going to blow up the yardage to something cougs haven't had since Mayes.

Sean Hawkins said...

And on the fund-raising question from earlier, Coug-Tat? Nope, not a word, not a sound from our little effort. It's been TOO quiet there. I wish I had an update but there isn't anything to report. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Good information on running games. Cal-Berkley have been up the rankings in rushing yards but they are at their best when the QB is good. They faded bad in 2007 and their QB sucked and then injured and the backup who starts now wasnt good either. They always find ways to run the ball but the passing makes or breaks them.

Anonymous said...

That is exactly what I'm alluding to Sedi and Tom Tuttle (love it, by the way TT from Tacoma). First of all, I don’t think our guys are going to win any more than 4 games this year, no matter what the strategy is, or how effective the offense is. I'm saying we need to maximize our most talented position by putting the ball in their hands as much as possible. I think that running the ball more than passing it this year gives us the best chance to win and also limit the amount of blow-out losses. We really don't have any proven talent at QB or WR, and we all know that it's a helluva lot easier for our O-lineman to run block than pass block. These factors, coupled with what I said earlier about controlling the clock (that is, shortening the game which cuts some of the talent and depth gap we're sure to face in nearly every matchup) and keeping the defense off of the field will be the key to us having any success this year.

Hypothetically speaking, say we can throw the ball effectively this coming season. Say we are even in the middle of the Pac in passing. Great, we score some more points. But, what does passing do to the clock? It lengthens the game. I'm TERRIFIED of our defense being on the field for a ton of snaps. Throwing the ball, even if you do it effectively, guarantees that your defense will see the field more often. Now, I'm not suggesting that we implement the wishbone or anything; I'm just saying we should probably shoot for a 50-50 run-pass split, as opposed to the 60-40 pass-run we Coug fans are accustomed to.

Bottom line for me, we’ve got 5 great athletes in the backfield that have proven they can be effective in the Pac-10…no other position can boast that kind of talent. We need to make sure we use it as much as possible.

'03CouveCoug said...

Oops, forgot to put my name on that last post...

Soze said...

Uhhhh, am I missing something here, or did the Cougs not suck last year? We need to run the ball because (hopefully) that's the strong part of our offense. RB depth and offensive line (at least I heard the OL is a strength this year). I don't think we need to compare the 2009 Cougs to the 2008 Oregon's and SC's of the world. :)

Yes, in a few years, we definitely need to throw more than run, but right now... its the only bright spot on our offense.

Sean Hawkins said...

Hey now, nobody is suggesting we were good last year! Come on now Soze. And the comp isn't our offense to theirs, there really is zero point in doing that.

Obviously this has taken a turn off the rails, so let me just clarify. The thing I meant to say is that I'm not such a big believer in the running game anymore. I used to buy into it, big-time, but the more I look around, the more I see passing is the key. Then I read some stuff and looked at some numbers, and passing seems more important than ever. That football outsiders site is really good in how they analyze stats, and the importance of rushing yardage and what it really means. Then you apply some of that to last year, you see how teams were good or lousy based on QB play, and you can see the relationship.

By the way, a quick thing on Wulff. I remember at the football dinner after he got hired, one of the things he talked about with his offense is that they wanted to be 50-50, and they strive for that as a coaching staff. To them, with Todd Sturdy, they are striving for balance. At least with this group of backs, they have a nice collection of different talents that they can use in different ways, yet each of them can contribute to the bottom line.

But Couve', without a doubt, the running game WILL be the strength of the team next year. I have absolutely no disagreement with you there, and you make some great points! I guess I am just a little less enthused about the running game compared to what I used to believe, that's all.

Soze said...

Sedi, meant no disrespect. I was just playing around... My honest opinion is that we need run, run, run this year, because our QBs are shaky and our WRs are unproven. If things open up in the passing game early in the season, then I'm all for tossing the pigskin around. But from the looks of last year, I think we need to run the ball as much as possible. (the Oregon and USC references were my feeble attempts at humor)

For the record, I think I'm one of the few people that think we'll be even worse this year than we were last year, thus my belief in our need to run. But I'd happily eat crow, and I will be in Pullman every game weekend regardless of dubs and els.

Sellas said...

Tardy is solid yet unspectacular. Often seems like he is running in mud or something. Even pre-injury. His legs look like they are moving quick and he is making moves but rarely makes people miss or run by them...

Mitz has good speed and power. I look to see him get more carries. Ivory looks good but....

Montgomery, it will be fun to see how he does.

It will be by committee I imagine. eventually someone will come out on top and get the bulk of carries.

great to have depth at a position for once.

Sean Hawkins said...

No offense taken Soze, it's all good. We all want the same thing here! But man oh man do we need a QB to emerge.

Wouldn't it be great to have something like Tebow at Florida? I know, Tebow is one of the greatest ever in NCAA history, and he's a physical runner. But his passing numbers are just amazing. In the last two seasons alone, the guy has thrown 62 TD's with just 10 INT's! All in the SEC?? That is unreal. And he's been at least 64% completion percentage along the way. But the beauty is Florida runs it when they need to in that QB option keeper offense, like they did last year to put away Oklahoma with that last drive in the final minutes. But when they get the passing game going, they are a nightmare. But look at Texas with Colt McCoy, Okie with Bradford, Sanchez at SC last year, the list just goes on and on. Top 10 teams, BCS bowl teams with double-digit wins, all with great passing games.

HOPEFULLY we'll get there...some day.

Stiffmiester said...

I do get your point on the necessity
of a good field commander in the QB. I feel that the run game is a must to make the passing game credible when it comes crunch time. Remember how everyone was in awe of University of Houston's O? But when up against a credible opponent they couldn't close the deal. In the NFL I recently heard Warren Moon commenting on the Oiler's Inability to finish Buffalo in that amazing comeback game in the playoffs. He straight up said this was due to the lack of a running game. They ran that run and shoot in which they didn't have a two tight end set. Moon believes that when Buffalo had to stop them defensively the knowledge that smash mouth football was not on the table allowed them (and every other team) to jam the receivers and pin their ears back and go after the QB.
I know we aren't running a spread offense but when one of the best ever QB's identifies the lack of a running game as a major flaw on one of the most proloific offenses in the NFL at the time I am gonna believe.
The old adage of using the run to set up the pass is what we can look for this season. We have seen the seachickens try to use the pass to set up the run in '07 and it was painful to watch.
We desperately need a field commander with the skills to take advantage of what our run game will hopefully set up. Now we just need to find who we can throw to.

Brian said...

It's a shame that Tardy didn't seem to be his old self last year, some players never return from knee injuries. Hopefully this is one of those cases where it just takes a year to fully recover cause I really liked him a couple years ago.

That being said, I've gotta go with Montgomery. Even though I haven't seen much of him, from what I hear the guy is going to be our best skill player and you gotta get your best player the ball.

I'd like to see a committee though because we have so much talent in the backfield. I want to see us run 65% of the time because our QB's and WR's do not inspire confidence, as well as what others have said about shortening the game and keeping our D off the field.

I'd like to see us use 2 RB sets alot so we can get the most talent on the field, even use them in the pass game.

It's going to be another tough year... I think 4 wins at best. I don't care about W's and L's though, I just hope we lose games by less than 40+ points this season.