Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Spring Fish Wrap - Denny's Devils Edition


Welcome to another Spring Fish Wrap. This time we take a gander at the ASU Sun Devils, approaching year three in the Dennis Erickson experiment, coming off a year-two season that has to be considered a disappointment among fans of the pitch-fork.

Hard to believe it's already going to be year THREE for Erickson in the valley of the sun? Boy does time fly. I guess this is the year to start cranking up the old rumor-mill. You know, Erickson to ______. I mean let's face it, he's been there for TWO FULL years now. He's obviously become bored with Tempe.....

2008: 5-7, 4-5 in the PAC-10, home for the holidays. An extremely disappointing year two of the Erickson era. Why? Well, 5-7 and no bowl pretty much sucks, no matter who you are. After a quick 2-0 start, they lost a "shocker" to UNLV - AT HOME NO LESS - in a total "lookahead" game prior to the Georgia Bulldogs coming to town. But that UNLV loss started the downward spiral, Georgia pretty much dominated them the next week, and with their confidence meter suddenly on empty, the team would overall drop six in a row.

ASU dealt with some injuries as well, along the way playing TEN true frosh, most in a season in school history. But you know, after being left for dead at 2-6, they did circle the wagons a bit. ASU would win their next three games to make the finish of the season mildly entertaining. The whole thing collapsed at the end, in a 31-10 thrashing at the hands of the hated Arizona Mildcats. To top off the agony, the 31-10 loss was their worst to Arizona since 1964. Ouch.



Last year vs. WSU: A 31-0 shutout. But the Cougs kept this one somewhat interesting. ASU would outgain WSU 398-130, but it was "only" 10-0 at the half. Hey, being down by two scores at the half? Sad to say it, but something like that was a moral victory for the '08 Cougs. WSU once again lost the turnover battle, giving it away twice with zero takeaways. But the running game was BRUTAL in this one, where the Cougs would get just seven net rushing yards on the day.

At least QB JT Levenseller got into the game for his first heavy dose of playing time. Sure, he was a rather ineffective 7-for-14 for 41 yards and a few turnovers. Not a great day to burn a redshirt. But at least he saw some real action in what will hopefully benefit him in the coming season....right??

ASU FANS ARE: Disappointed, to say the least, about 2008. The losing season smarts, sure. But for ASU, you must consider the level of expectation for last year to get your arms around this thing. For you see, many, many websites, blogs and such had fallen for ASU during preview season. Coming off a surging 10-win 2007 season, with a decent amount of returning starters, including QB Rudy Carpenter, there were a lot of reasons to like them. Then you consider that the second year of Erickson should see an uptick in performance, combined with seven home games, including the entire first month of the season in Tempe? Again, a lot to like. And a LOT to be disappointed with a 5-win season.

OFFENSIVE SYSTEM: The Erickson one-back offense, albeit slightly modified. Last year, in an effort to keep QB Rudy Carpenter upright and out of traction, the offense was fine-tuned to include more short passes and quick-hitters. Rudy and the rest of the QB's took a beating in 2007, so it sounded like a good idea. And on paper, at least sacks were down (34 allowed in '08, a dramatic improvement from 55 allowed in '07). But...

'08 OFFENSIVE RATINGS: 309.4 yards per game of total offense, good for 100th in the country. 100th!? With Rudy Carpenter, Michael Jones at WR, Erickson's modified offense, etc? The passing offense was OK, with an average of 220.3 yards per game, 4th in the PAC-10. But the running game? Forget it. ASU would average just 89.1 yards per game, just 2.9 yards per carry. They would finish ahead of only UCLA in the PAC-10 in rushing yards per game, and behind teams like WSU and UW. Without a doubt, lack of a running game ruined their '08 offense. In another disappointing area, they would finish 9th in the conference in the all-important 3rd down conversion rate, moving the chains just 29% of the time on 3rd downs.

'09 RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: Seven. Not bad. But that number of seven returning starters does not include QB Rudy Carpenter or play-making WR Michael Jones.

TOP RETURNING OFFENSIVE PLAYER: On a team returning a solid number of starters, but losing leading passer Rudy Carpenter and leading WR Michael Jones, one has to dig a little to find the top guy. I almost went with returning senior WR Chris McGaha, but his '08 season was down in terms of numbers as well as being beat up most of last year. Instead, we'll go with running back Dimitri Nance.


Nance is a tough, physical back with some pretty good quickness. A stout 5-10, 220, he packs a punch and is tough to bring down. He led the team in rushing yards (410) and tied for the team lead in rushing TD's last year (3). But he shared the bulk of the carries for the most part with Keegan Herring in '08. But with Herring now gone, it will be Nance's chance to carry the mail. Combine the idea of a new starting QB, and Nance might not be just the best player on offense, but also the most important. A big year out of him could go a long way to getting back to a bowl.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: Traditional 4-3 look. Some blitzing, but they rely on the front four to get pressure. Some good speed and some outstanding talent at d-tackle and d-end, they will come after you big-time.

'08 DEFENSIVE RATINGS: Pretty solid across the board. ASU was 4th in the conference in scoring defense, 4th in rushing defense, 7th in passing defense and finally, 5th in total defense. They were third in the conference with 16 INT's, and led the conference with four INT's for TD's in '08. They even had one game where they scored four defensive TD's, a new school record.

'09 RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: Six. Not bad. But some big-time returners are back, especially up front along the d-line and at linebacker.

TOP RETURNING DEFENSIVE PLAYER: This one's easy. Senior defensive end Dexter Davis is the top returner on D in '09, and maybe the top defensive end in the PAC-10 for this upcoming season. He's that good.



Not a huge guy for a lineman at 6-2, 252, Davis is strong as an ox and extremely quick. He finished with 11 sacks last year among his 15 tackles for loss, both tops on the team. The only player in the PAC-10 to have at least 10 sacks in each of the last two seasons, Davis is the top pass rushing end out west.

Don't take my word for it. Check out the video clip for more. He's coming from the defensive end spot on the bottom of the screen.

Watch Dexter Davis sack in Sports Online | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com
First you see his initial push on the tackle to get him on his heels. Then watch the hands, where he literally swats/swims/clubs his way past the tackle. It's REALLY fast, so you have to watch it a few times to see it. But it's that big-time move that has him right by the lineman, and in an instant that tackle is grasping at air. But not only does he have the strength and moves to handle a 300+ pound behemoth, he then has the closing burst to sack an awfully strong, mobile QB in Locker with a lightning quick change of direction. Yep, Davis is pretty much everything.

TOP THREE POST-SPRING PRACTICE QUESTIONS:

1) Can the running game get any better? Please??? It was a long year on the ground for the Devils, boasting one of the worst rushing offenses in the conference. They literally fell off a cliff with this part of the offense. The offensive line was young, breaking in some new blood here and there, so that had something to do with it. While they improved in the sacks allowed department, it never came on the ground. But all is not lost. Dimitri Nance is in position for a big senior year, and will have some help back there with returners like Shaun DeWitty. But the health of the o-line is an issue, this spring and potentially this fall. Three o-line starters sat out spring ball, and for a group still trying to establish itself, this isn't good news.

2) Is Danny Sullivan ready to replace Rudy? Or is there someone else in the mix? In a pretty strong showing this spring, senior QB Danny Sullivan went out and put himself in the lead for the starting job this fall.

Sullivan is a big dude at 6-5, 238, and hasn't played much over the last three+ seasons. He did throw 43 passes last year, but this will be his first shot as a starter.

Hang on a second. Big senior, with a strong arm, some surprising mobility, but hasn't played much while sitting behind an established four-year starter? SOUND FAMILIAR!?!


Not to suggest that Sullivan is the second coming of Gary Rogers....but....you know. Just saying.

3) So if the offense sputters with a banged-up line and inexperience at QB, is the defense good enough to save the day? Mmm, could be. ASU's defense is returning some serious talent, in all the right places. They will be strong up front with not only Dexter Davis, but defensive tackle Lawrence Guy will be a force. Guy was a frosh All-American last year, actually leading the ASU defensive line in total tackles while finishing second behind Davis with 10 tackles for loss. A huge-framed athlete at 6-5, 275, Guy looks like a rising star.

But they'll be strong at corner, where starters Omar Bolden (coming off injury) and Terrell Carr are both back in '09. And they'll be set at linebacker as well, where starters Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel return for their senior seasons. Nixon and Goethel combined for 161 tackles, 15.5 for loss, and SEVEN interceptions. One of the best all-around linebackers in the conference, Nixon actually tied for the conference lead with five interceptions on his own, and finished sixth in the conference with 90 tackles.

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: I admit it. I picked ASU 2nd in the PAC-10 last year. They just seemed to have everything going for them, from the schedule to the returning starters to Erickson's second year. And I thought Rudy was just going to explode with the new wrinkles to the offense. But I know I wasn't alone out there. They disappointed a lot of people with their mid-season collapse, something that looked like a near-impossibility during "preview" season.

A glance at the schedule shows ASU with some soft landings to start the year, opening at home vs. Idaho State and after a week-two bye, it's a helping of Louisiana-Monroe. But then it gets tricky, with a road game at sweaty Athens, Georgia, where UGA and all that SEC speed will be waiting. After that, they host Oregon State to start October, then it's off to Pullman for the 10/10 showdown in Martin Stadium.

Speaking of Martin Stadium, the Cougars have done fairly well at home vs. ASU this decade. ASU won a squeaker in Pullman in '07, 23-20, on a missed field goal from going to OT (and a missed TD call from WSU winning the game outright?). But even in '05, WSU lost by just three points at home, 27-24. And WSU beat ASU in Pullman in both '02 (44-22) and '03 (34-19). So Pullman isn't exactly circled on the Sun Devil calendar as a place they love to be.

All told, ASU has seven home games. While that sounds great, remember they had seven home games last year, and we know how that turned out. And in a really tough stretch, they also get what are likely to be the top three teams in the conference on back-to-back-to-back Saturdays, in CAL (10/31), USC (11/7) and at Oregon (11/14). No doubt that stretch will make - or break - their season.

But I bet Erickson will have them with a major chip on their shoulder from the get-go. With a new QB, whether it's Sullivan or one of the others in the mix, they will recommit to establishing the run game, and will ride Nance early in the season while things settle down. And that defense looks especially good. Something tells me they might be a candidate to turn it around quickly in the muddled middle ground of the PAC-10. Things could be awfully fluid between, say, the fourth and seventh place teams, and it's hard to doubt the talent ASU has in the system. A 3-1 start heading into the WSU game isn't out of the question. But that's why they play the games! We'll see what happens.

That's it for a Wednesday. ENJOY your day, and as always, GO COUGS!

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Bad News Friday?

It seems as if it's tradition in the business and political world to float "bad news" on Friday. You know, to hope that nobody is paying attention due to the weekend, that sort of thing? Maybe sneak something through that is controversial, but hope that it all fades from the public consciousness by the time Monday rolls around? But some not-so-good things have emerged in the WSU universe in the last few days.

First, Ryan Leaf. It just continues to "get away" from him, doesn't it? This time, indicted on burglary charges, controlled substances, etc, etc, etc. Not good.

We've all heard the knucklehead stories about Leaf, far too many to mention here. We have a friend who played golf with him at Coeur D' Alene once, and the guy was such an immature baby and he played so poorly that he walked off the course mid-round. There's another story of him getting completely bombed with Kerry Collins at a celebrity golf tournament several years ago, and not recognizing Johnny Unitas, told him "hey old man, GET ME A BEER!"

But Ryan Leaf is a difficult nut in the WSU universe. It's difficult because Leaf gave us all something special on the field in that breakthrough '97 season. If you are reading this, it is very likely you lived and died with that 1997 team, and were either at the Apple Cup in Husky Stadium or made it to Pasadena for the classic vs. Michigan. So much glory that year, and he was a gigantic part of school history.



When the bad news comes in bunches on the guy over the years, while it's tempting, we don't want to totally push him in front of the moving train. But at the same time, the guy has redefined the spoiled brat/super privileged who has blown it on every conceivable level that it boggles the mind. How could someone so talented, so lucky to have what he had, just piss it all away? Maybe someday he'll write a book (OK, he'll have someone write it for him) and shed some light on where it all went so wrong?

Meanwhile, the Cougs are losing a linebacker. Marshall Pirtz, a young, hard-hitting linebacker who was somewhat behind on the depth chart, is leaving WSU. NOTE - it's a premium article but the headline states he's "leaving for more playing time". Pirtz played on special teams last year in his redshirt frosh season, and recorded just four tackles on the year.

Pirtz signed as an undersized, somewhat overlooked prospect out of Boise. I still remember watching the recruiting film on Pirtz after signing day, and being awfully impressed with the kid. He was undersized, but could run, and flat-out HIT people with a passion. Doba loved him at the football dinner that year, throwing out the "he loves to hit with his face" line when describing him. Pirtz had put on some weight, and was up to 244 lbs in an effort to get ready to play the strongside linebacker position. Coming into spring he was listed as the backup to Andy Mattingly on the depth chart. But for whatever reason, it didn't quite work out. Good luck to Marshall.



Next, the stadium fund-raiser/scholarship effort. It continues to drag on and we do not have a final answer for you. I will leave it to BH to give a more extensive update, hopefully next week. Not bad news....at least not yet....but it is what it is at this point, which is still not full-blown reality. Believe me when we say we are trying to get it going. But we will update you all when we get it figured out.

Anyone out there been reading Buster Sports? They have been writing a ton of new content on the upcoming PAC-10 season from Nick Daschel. His latest in his EIGHT part, "Five Things to Watch" segment says this about potentially the worst game for the upcoming season:

Here is all you have to know about the Sept. 19 game in Pullman between SMU and Washington State: combined, these two teams beat one Division I school in 2008. And that was an 0-12 Washington, by the Cougars, in double overtime.

It's awfully easy to look at the '08 records and dismiss both squads the following year. You know, they sucked last year, they'll suck again. I think we all believe that WSU is going to be better, maybe not in pure W/L record, but it will be a better product on the field. And I'm sure they believe the same thing at SMU. But whatever. It's preview season, and it's an easy choice for U-G-L-Y game of the year.

I guess he could have looked at the huge showdown of 2-win Idaho at winless UW on September 12th? Weren't those teams a combined 2-22? And WSU did in fact beat UW? Oh well.

Finally, some of you may have noticed it was a slow week around here. Well, that is sort of by design. First of all, it's May. There isn't a ton of Coug news out there. Second of all, we have lives too. I wanted to get the next "fish wrap" out there, but things come up. You know how it is. But don't sweat it, we aren't going away. At least not for a while.

ENJOY YOUR HOLIDAY WEEKEND, and as always, GO COUGS!
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Monday, May 18, 2009

Spring Fish Wrap - Quack Attack Edition



Time for a look at opponent number five on the WSU schedule, the Quack Attack. And let me just ask, first off, what do the Coug fans think of Oregon? I think it's a real love/hate thing with them. I think we love them when they embarrass UW on a yearly basis, as they have for the last several seasons. I can't help but admit that it's fun to watch them steamroll the purple-n-gold. But on the flip side, it's probably true that WSU fans on a regular basis? Yeah, they pretty much despise the green-n-yellow. A cocky NW rival who are rich, powerful and absolutely in LOVE with themselves, they aren't an easy bunch to wrap your arms around. They probably come in a solid second in "self-worship" in the PAC-10, just behind USC and slightly ahead of UW? I know, that sounds like petty, jealous crap from a have-not school like WSU. But it is what it is.

That out of the way, how does Oregon look, after their first Chip Kelly-led spring session? Let's take a look...


2008: 10-3, 7-2 in the PAC-10, good for a 2nd place tie with Oregon State. After humiliating the hated in-state rival Beavers in a wipeout of a Civil War....and killing the Rose Bowl dreams for said Beavs in the process.....Oregon culminated a 10-win season with an entertaining victory over Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl, a 42-31 thriller that saw over 1,000 yards of total offense combined!

Now 10-3 was great, but there were some struggles early in the year. Even though the running game was strong, the QB situation was spotty at best in losses early to Boise State and a 44-10 crusher at USC. But that all changed when JC transfer Jeremiah Masoli took control of the position. The Oregon offense hasn't slowed down since.

FANS ARE: Quacking about their successful '08, so much so that visions of a PAC-10 title are dancing in their heads for '09. And maybe they are a little nervous about losing Bellotti, the all-time winningest coach at Oregon at 116-55. While Phil Knight has been a huge help - let's not kid ourselves, the locker room bells-n-whistles and fantastic facilities are a huge boost to recruiting - Bellotti really built an impressive program in his 13 seasons at the helm. But they are also somewhat calm over the idea of Kelly's leadership. While not exactly a blowhard, Kelly does have some cocky confidence about him. He even ridiculed the UW chest-thumping over their spring game results, criticizing the idea of the first-stringers taking on the backups. Even though he's never been a D-1 head coach, there isn't much doubt among the Oregon faithful that the time is right, and Kelly is ready for this.

LAST YEAR vs. WSU: A huge 63-14 whipping behind the woodshed. The Cougs turned it over four times, but Oregon simply overmatched them in talent and speed. It was over early as Oregon sprinted to a 14-0 just 3+ minutes into the game as the Cougs coughed it up on consecutive possessions to open the game.

It was 35-7 at the half, and that was all she wrote. The Ducks would rush for 346 yards in a game where pretty much everything went wrong for WSU.

OFFENSIVE SYSTEM: Oregon is clearly the kings of the spread read-option offense, at least on the west coast. Not as pass-happy as the spread offenses like Oklahoma or Texas, Oregon is a machine on the ground. It's not the easiest system in the world to pick up and play, as we saw with some early-season QB struggles from all the bodies they shuffled in and out of the position last year in the quest to replace Dennis Dixon. But when things settle down, and they are clicking as they were late in '08, the offense is simply a sight to behold.

'08 OFFENSIVE RATINGS: Led the PAC-10 in scoring offense (41.9 ppg), total offense (484.8 ypg), and rushing yards per game (an amazing 280.1 yards per game, more than 80 yards better than second-best Stanford). A middle-of-the-road passing attack, at least statistically, finishing fifth it the conference in passing yards (2662 yards) and TD's (20).

'09 RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: Five, including starting QB Jeremiah Masoli.

TOP RETURNING OFFENSIVE PLAYER: It is tempting to go with LeGarrette Blount, the running back who exploded for 1,000 yards and 17 rushing TD's in his first year in Eugene. But Blount was just part of the running attack, and Jeremiah Johnson actually led the team in rushing last year (1201 rushing yards, compared to 1002 for Blount). Blount is big, strong and has a nose for the end zone, but without a decent QB, it's hard to imagine he would put up the same kind of numbers. That's why I'll go with Jeremiah Masoli.

After some severe up-and-down learning moments throughout 2008, and dealing with a QB rotation where several QB's were splitting playing time each week, Masoli finally pulled away from the pack late in the year. But after a 7-for-21, two-int game in a loss at Cal on 11/1, Masoli rebounded to play his best football to close out the season. Masoli would throw seven TD's with only one INT in his last four games, all wins by the Ducks. He also ran for seven TD's over those last four games, as he truly became a dual-threat headache for opposing defenses. He capped it all with a fantastic Holiday Bowl, where he threw for 258 yards and a score, but ran for 106 yards and three more TD's.

On the season, Masoli led the team in passing yards with 1744 yards and 13 TD's. He also took care of the ball, throwing just five INT's in 239 passing attempts. Pretty impressive for his first year in the Oregon offense. But also added 718 rushing yards, as well as 10 rushing TD's for the year. And Masoli not only has the wheels, but he is tightly packed with muscle at 5-11, 215. And check out the TD run vs. Okie State that still has Oregon fans buzzing:



Fast and strong, he's like another dual-threat success for the Ducks. While he might share the load a bit in '09 with some of the other QB's, there is little doubt that Masoli will carry the offense next season.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: A 4-3 attack, and they will get after it with blitzing from their linebackers. They also love to put the strong safety in the box, close to the line of scrimmage in the "rover" position. Having an extra safety almost like a linebacker puts more pressure on their corners, but they like to roll with a lot of one-on-one coverage on the outside anyway.

DEFENSIVE RATINGS: Strong against the run last year (119.4 ypg, second only to USC), they surprisingly had the worst pass defense in the conference last season (270.2 ypg). And it wasn't even close, as Stanford was ninth, giving up 226.7 yards per game. But in a strange twist, Oregon actually led the conference in sacks, with 40, and finished third with 16 interceptions. So they were a play-making type defense, but with the big plays or big risks came some big rewards for the opposition.

RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: Five

TOP RETURNING DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Linebacker Spencer Paysinger

This wasn't an easy choice. While Oregon might not have a huge quantity of starters back in '09, they make up for it in quality. TJ Ward wasn't the big name guy in Oregon's secondary last year, not with returning starters like Jairus Byrd, Walter Thurmond Jr, or Patrick Chung. But Ward surpassed them all, totaling a team-high in tackles at 101, including 5.5 for loss. And D-end Will Tukuafu was second only to all-timer Nick Reed on the team with 7.5 sacks and an excellent 17.5 tackles for loss. However, I'm going with the rising linebacker, Spencer Paysinger, as the top returning defensive player for '09.


After recording just four tackles as a frosh in '07, Paysinger had a big breakthrough performance in '08, winning the weakside linebacker job as a sophomore and starting every game last year. He opened a lot of eyes with 12 tackles in his first-ever start vs. UW to open the year. For the season, Paysinger was second on the team in tackles (95), with an impressive 12.5 for loss. And he finished the year with a kick, including a 68-yd INT return for a TD vs Oregon State.



Paysinger had a strong Holiday Bowl as well, with three tackles for loss. He has excellent size at 6-3, 220, and runs extremely well. Already one of the strongest linebackers on the team, he should have a huge junior year. You can be sure he'll appear on many all-conference lists heading into '09.

TOP THREE POST-SPRING PRACTICE QUESTIONS:

1) Masoli looked great at the end of the year, but the WR's look a little thin. The running game should be fine, but who will Masoli throw to? This is definitely an issue. Masoli loses two of his top three WR targets from last year in Terence Scott and Jaison Williams. And after spring ball, it was announced that WR Aaron Pfulgrad would get his release from the program and would leave Eugene. But there is talent here, including TE Ed Dickson, who should have a strong senior year. And there was some good buzz this spring surrounding USC transfer Jamere Holland, an ultra fast and talented player who could be a big boost to the passing game. But with a running game so superior, it might not even matter that much. This is hardly a pass-happy offense.

2) What about the losses on the O-line? Now this IS a bigger issue. Gone are three experienced senior starters, led by all-everything center Max Unger, now a Seattle Seahawk. They will have to get things sorted out in fall camp, but offensive line has to be the biggest concern of the offense, if not the entire team. It's hard to replace good, experienced horses up front and not expect some real bumps in the road?

3) And of course, the schedule. And what a schedule it is. Out of conference, they open with a doozy, on the smurf turf at Boise State on a Thursday night special. They also get Sugar Bowl champ Utah at home later in September. But they play just four conference road games this year, and they should be against mid-to-lower tier PAC-10 teams (@UCLA, @UW, @Stanford and @Arizona). In other words, the top-tier teams in the conference? They get them ALL in Autzen Stadium. That means USC, Cal, Oregon State, they all have to go through Eugene.

WSU Football Blog SEZ: Love 'em or hate 'em, Oregon is good. Really good. And awfully entertaining, especially on offense. But now, it's a new world at Oregon. Mike Bellotti has started the proccss of moving upstairs, handing the headset to the top offensive coordinator around, Chip Kelly. For the first time since the '94 Rose Bowl season, a new head coach will lead the program. Kelly gets his shot at the full-time head coaching gig that brought him across the country in the first place. Kelly, if you remember, landed in Eugene all the way from New Hampshire when he signed on to lead the Oregon O in '07. It was an interesting hire at the time, and to come all the way across the country after 13 years at New Hampshire, well, it seemed like there would be more to this story. And what do you know, here we are.

I think overall, things will be relatively the same as they were under Bellotti. They will play the same style of football, with the tough-to-handle offense and aggressive defense. But for this year, there are some real losses that are hard to overlook on both sides of the ball. All-timer defensive end Nick Reed has moved on and taken all those sacks and tackles for loss with him. Patrick Chung and Jairus Byrd have gone to the next level. So the defense has some holes to fill.

But the biggest issue I can't help but think will derail them a little bit is the offensive line. They have some talented kids in the pipeline ready to take over up front, but man, young or inexperienced offensive lines just always seem to struggle a bit, especially early on. But if they can take care of business early and some of those linemen get some solid game time under their belts, they should be fine. The best news though is that the trigger man is back on offense, and that is just huge for a scheme like this. And with that favorable home schedule, where Oregon is 56-13 in their last 69 games? You have to like their chances to be at least an upper-division finisher, if not a legit challenger for a New Year's day bowl.

That's it for today. Enjoy it, and as always, GO COUGS!
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Friday, May 15, 2009

The Waiting..

Greetings Cougar Nation. Hope you all had a good week.

Well, as promised--albeit one week late--here is the update I have on our progress to help the athletic department generate a grassroots campaign to help fund Martin Stadium:



Yep, just like Tom Petty, BH has been all dressed up with no where to go.

So, while we wait for a response from the Athletic Department (the waiting is truly the hardest part), I have a question for you all..


In my conversation two weeks ago with persons high up in the AD chain of command, I was told of their interest in directing our donations to the fund that provides scholarships to our student-athletes. The reason: the state budget cuts are dipping heavily into the coffers that fund the scholarships that we need to provide the breadth of athletic competition that is commensurate with a major conference like the Pac.

At first, I thought "no way." But, after thinking about it, I find myself warming up to the idea--at least a bit.

So, while we wait for an update, we would like to hear your "last word" on how you would like your money used to support Cougar Athletics. If we do the Martin Stadium thing, we would theoretically get quarterly information back from the WSU Athletic Foundation as follows:

1) Total gifts received
2) Total gifts pledged
3) Number of First Time Donors
4) Number of New Members to the Cougar Club (or whatever the hell its called)
5) Amount of money left to be raised.


If, however, we do the scholarship thing, we will track all of the above plus:

1) Number of scholarships provided to WSU student athletes.

Again, let us know what direction you would like to take. Its a big hill to climb anyway that we cut it. But, your wishes are our command.

Have a great weekend.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Spring Fish Wrap - Men of Troy Edition


Ah yes, the USC Trojans. Dominance in virtually every aspect, on and off the field. From song girls/cheerleaders, Pete Carroll, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Carson Palmer, Keyshawn Johnson, Junior Seau, Marcus Allen, Charles White and OJ, the list just goes on, and on, and on.

But now, things are looking just a little different. UW robbed the coaching cupboard in their attempt at becoming USC North, setting up camp in Seattle. And once again, USC was raided in the NFL draft, losing 11 more players to the league, another year where they were tops in the conference. Is this the year that Cal or Oregon or some other darkhorse rides out of the mist and takes their throne? Or is it yet another USC PAC-10 title, for the eighth straight time? It's early to fully predict what's going to happen, but we can at least take a look at their post-spring practice condition. Read on for more...



LAST YEAR: 12-1, 8-1 in the PAC-10, conference champions and Rose Bowl champions (yawn). USC stubbed their toes just once last year, at Oregon State in that memorable Thursday night game in week three, where the world was introduced to Jacquizz Rodgers on ESPN. But as usual, USC got their house in order and rolled through the rest of the schedule, hot knife through butter style. The season culminated in a 38-24 Rose Bowl title. 38-24 doesn't sound like that much of a whoopin', but the final score is misleading. SC was up 31-7 at the half, 38-14 in the 4th quarter before Penn State would add a couple of TD's late.

Interesting sidenote on USC and the Big 10. With their latest Rose Bowl victory, SC has now won their last nine in a row vs. the Big 10. And it hasn't even been close. USC has won by an average of 36.8 to 13.1. And all nine games were won by double-digits! Last year not only included the win over #8 Penn State, but don't forget SC blew out #5 Ohio State 35-3 earlier in the season. Very, very impressive.

LAST YEAR vs. WSU: Uh, yeah. 69-0. 'Nuff said.



FANS ARE: You mean aside from starting to sweat the Ruggie Bush/OJ Mayo sandwich investigation? They are pretty cool with everything. Disappointed they didn't get a shot at the BCS title, but hey, understanding as to why they missed out last year. You lose one game, and you are in that mix of teams who more or less have to "politic" their way into the conversation with the rest of the one-loss teams. USC would finish a strong #5 in the BCS standings, #5 in the AP poll, and #4 in the coaches poll.

I guess they could be a little bored as well. Bored, if you consider going to the Rose Bowl four years in a row and five of their last six seasons have ended in Pasadena? Of course, this year, the Rose Bowl will be just fine, thanks....it's the site of the BCS title game. So Pasadena will just have to do this year!



OFFENSIVE SYSTEM: Even with the departure of Steve Sarkisian to UW, the offense should be largely what you are used to with SC. Jeremy Bates was hired from the Denver Broncos to be the new play-caller on offense, while John Morton will help coordinate the offense. And so far, so good, according to reports of the new coaches. Not exactly missing Sarkisian? But don't look for any drastic changes. A pro-style offense with a fullback and tight end, but not afraid to go three-wide and use motion when necessary.

'08 OFFENSIVE RATINGS:
#14 in the nation in scoring offense at 37.5 points per game.
#22 in the nation in rushing offense at 194.8 yards per game.
#22 in the nation in passing offense at 259.8 yards per game.

A nice and balanced attack, averaging 454.7 yards per game in total offense.

'09 RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: NINE (wow!).

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: While Joe McKnight gets the accolades, and Youtube fame as well. But McKnight is really just one of a cast of thousands in the USC backfield (OK, not thousands, but more like five other guys will carry the ball along with McKnight). It's hard to ignore McKnight's 7.4 yards per carry last year, but he only had 89 carries on the season. While he should have a big '09 season, I'm going to go in another direction and pick rising WR Damian Williams as the top offensive player for USC.


Williams was a transfer from Arkansas, who fled to LA along with QB Mitch Mustain in a much-publicized move across the country. Mustain was the headline guy in all that, but it turns out that Williams has already made a far greater impact on the football program. In his first season at SC, Williams led the team in catches (58), yards (869) and was second in TD's (9), all as a sophomore. Williams isn't huge in the Dwayne Jarrett/Mike Williams mold, standing 6-1 and weighing 190, but he has the look of a special WR. Williams had a huge Rose Bowl, with 10 catches for 162 yards and a TD.



Watching the video, you see how explosive he is. There are several plays where he doesn't quite look like he has the angle, then boom, he's by the guy (check the TD vs. UCLA as an example). Williams is arguably the top WR returning in the PAC-10 for '09, and should be on several first-team all-conference lists. And his return should help the new young QB, whether it's Aaron Corp, Matt Barkley or someone else.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: Your NFL-style 4-3 attack, with big meaty NFL-type tackles and great speed on the edges. They don't go crazy with blitzing either, instead relying on their front four a lot of times to create the pressure they need. They will blitz, but you don't see huge sack totals from their linebackers. But they are physical as hell and always tackle as well as any defense you will see in the conference.

DEFENSIVE RATINGS:
Top in the PAC-10 in scoring (9.0 ppg), total defense (221.8 yards per game), rushing defense (87.4 yards per game), pass defense (134.4 yards per game), and pretty much everything else. If you want to nit-pick, they were only number two in the conference in interceptions, and were fifth in sacks. But overall, a fantastic PAC-10 defense.

RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: 3(uh-oh?).

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER: This one is easy. Taylor Mays couldn't be any bigger, a 6-4, 225-lb free safety NIGHTMARE in the secondary.



Mays surprised a lot of people when he opted to return for his senior year, when many NFL mock drafts had him pegged as a sure-fire first round pick. And what is amazing about Mays is the way he can play at his size at free safety. 6-4, 225? That's at least an outside linebacker on a lot of teams, and maybe even a defensive end. Instead he's back there hitting the crap out of opposing WR's.



He's in the conversation as top defensive player in the conference, and one of the best in the country. One interesting aspect is the debate between Mays and Eric Berry, the all-everything safety from Tennessee. Of course the SEC angle is that Berry is better, and it's hard to argue the numbers (Berry had more tackles, sacks, interceptions, etc compared to Mays last year). Not that it matters, but still, interesting to see the debate. Mays may not be a big-time stat hound, but there's an awful lot he does that doesn't show up on the stat sheet. And besides, who wants their free safety to be a top tackler on your team? Mays had NFL talent everywhere on a defense that saw five first-day draft picks this spring, so it was unrealistic to expect him to be this stat-stuffing monster. But with just three returning starters on D, there is no doubt who the best defensive player is coming back in '09.

TOP THREE SPRING QUESTIONS:

1) Start at the top. How's the QB battle look? From all accounts, Aaron Corp is the man. Corp played very little last year, attempting just four passes in '08 as Marc Sanchez had a great year at QB. But can Corp really replace the top NFL draft choice/superhunk QB? Corp had a nice spring, showing everything the coaches are looking for in the spotlight position. He did everything asked of him, and then some, holding off challenges from Matt Barkley and Mitch Mustain to take control of the helm.....at least RIGHT NOW. Per the LA Times, "right now" is a key phrase.

"At the end of the day, he's been able to take the team down the field and not turn the ball over," quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates said. "That's the biggest separation right now."

Bates' word choice -- "right now" -- was intentional. And Coach Pete Carroll could not seem to repeat often enough that the competition to replace Mark Sanchez would continue.

"By no means is this thing over," Carroll said.


It should be one interesting fall camp to settle the position, but right now, Corp is the man who shall lead them.

2) Just THREE starters back on D? No Maualuga, Cushing, etc? Whatever are they to do!? Eh, don't sweat it. SC's defense will be just fine, just as it always is under Pete Carroll's watchful eye. Yes, some big names at linebacker are gone to the next level in Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and defensive end/hybrid Clay Matthews. But the word on the street is that the young talent set to replace them could actually be faster than the likes of Maualuga and Cushing. SC does lose their top four tacklers, as well as their top sack guys in Kyle Moore, Clay Matthews and DT Fili Moala. But Everson Griffen is back at defensive end, and it is his time to live up to the hype. Pete Carroll once called him the best defensive recruit he ever had, so no time like the present to take the next step!

3) How about that schedule?
Not too shabby. Per Phil Steele, they weigh in with the 87th rated schedule in the country based on 2008 winning percentage. The first month is interesting, opening up with softball San Jose State before traveling to Columbus in week two to take on the Buckeyes in a major REVENGE game from last year's 35-3 wipeout in LA. SC then goes to Seattle to play the "former assistants bowl" vs. Sarkisian and Holt, and then, they host the Cougs in LA to close out the month. However things do get a little dicey in October, with road games at Cal, Notre Dame and Oregon. They close out the season with three of their last four at home, and they are all games they should be heavily favored to win. So get through October, and they could be home free to another PAC-10 title.

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: It has been an unbelievable run for USC. You are talking about a program that has, for SEVEN straight years, had at least 11 wins, been in a BCS bowl, had at least an AP top 4 finish, and of course, won the PAC-10. No team in the history of the conference has enjoyed such a dominant run. But is THIS the year they take a step back? There is so much lost from their defense of last year, one of the most talented USC defenses in school history, likely one of the most talented in PAC-10 history. Talent is one thing, game experience is another, and so you have to wonder if there might be some youthful mistakes early on?

Then again, it's USC we're talking about. Always at the top in the recruiting wars, they've been in these kinds of positions before. Heck, there was talk last year that USC might take a step back with a brand new QB in Sanchez taking over for John David Booty. And in fact, last year USC had just 11 starters coming back on the entire team, including just four on offense. But we know how that worked out, yet another PAC-10 title, Rose Bowl win, blah blah blah. So in reality, people might pick against USC this year based on what they lost, but they actually have MORE starters back in '09 compared to a wonderful '08!

We'll have our official picks later this summer, but based on recent history, don't just automatically assume they will come back to the pack.

That's it for a Trojan Thursday. Enjoy it, and as always, GO COUGS!



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Trekkies Bash Star Trek as "Fun, Watchable"

Hooray Onion News Network!


Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As 'Fun, Watchable'

Despite the geeks hating on this one, we ventured out and saw this summer blockbuster for a Mother's Day matinee treat. And let me say, it was as good as advertised. Pretty good story, lots of excitement, funny dialog, and a really strong cast. The guy playing Captain Kirk was great, and the Spock character was pretty good too. And the special effects?? WOW. Just wow. The line between special effects and reality continue to blur, and this one was about as perfect as it gets on the big screen. It was pretty much everything you want in a summer popcorn movie. And oh yeah, I HATED Star Trek as a kid....although my Mom says I used to wear a gold Starfleet uniform and pretend to be James Tiberius....but whatever. I seem to have successfully suppressed that memory?

Moving on, the new uni's are coming. June 12th is what we had been hearing, and sure enough, it's now confirmed:


While nothing is officially out there, some unconfirmed rumors say that they look pretty nice. Clean and sharp are two things we've heard. Oh, and Cougfan? They LOVE the idea of having the uni's unveiled in Pasco. Absolutely, positively LOVE it....

Meanwhile, Baba Booey's first pitch. You've all seen it by now, right?




We have a new contender for "worst first pitches ever". Just awful. What's funny about it is that Gary was talking on the Howard Stern show for the last few weeks about how hard he was working to get ready for the big moment. Throwing a lot of pitches every day, even talking to a sports psychologist. And BaBa-Booey? He Ba-Ba-BLEW IT. I mean when the umpire standing five+ feet from home plate catches the pitch, you know it's bad.



Now it also must be said that the whole thing was done for charity. He was serving as a host for autism awareness day at Citi Field, and that led to the whole first pitch thing. The link to the MLB.com story has details, as well as a much higher quality video with an interview with him. So sure, we laugh, but all in good fun.

Finally, Cougfan broke the story last night on something Vince had been saying all spring, and that is Romeo Pellum made it official with his transfer. From Cougfan:


Romeo Pellum was WSU’s top cornerback as a sophomore last season, but the Cougars’ defense ranked among the worst in school history. Pellum led WSU with six pass breakups, tied for first with two interceptions, ranked second with 51 unassisted tackles and came in third in total tackles with 65.


The article speculates that Brandon Jones, the Cal transfer, will get first crack at Pellum's spot.


We'll see how it goes in the spring, but losing Pellum is disappointing. But rules are rules, and Pellum had a few issues. Good luck to him, wherever he ends up.

That's it for a light Wednesday. Stay tuned for more fish wraps, coming soon. As always, GO COUGS!



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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Spring Fish Wrap - SMU Edition


Welcome to another fish wrap, from a WSU Football Blog point of view. Last week we hit the first two teams of '09 on the WSU schedule - Stanford and Hawai'i - and now we move on. Today it's opponent number three in the cross-hairs, as the SMU Ponies roll into Martin Stadium for an early season showdown of ESPN "Bottom Ten" occupants for most of the 2008 season (psst - check team number two on the list to finish up 2008):


We call SMU the Ponies for a couple of reasons. First, of course, the old "Pony Express" backfield of Eric Dickerson and Craig James of the early 80's. Big-time players who put SMU on the map, pre-major probation era.

For those that don't quite remember, Dickerson and James ran wild for SMU, as they built up a powerhouse in the old SWC. And in the very early 80's, SMU was a pretty big deal. So big in that they won at least some share of a national title in both 1981 AND 1982. However, SMU fans just couldn't help themselves, and things spiraled out of control so badly that they actually killed the program, death penalty style! Per the SMU Mustangs Wiki entry:

1987, SMU became the first and, currently, only school to have its football program given the the NCAA's "death penalty". The program was terminated for the 1987 season because the university was allegedly making approximately $61,000 in booster payments from 1985 to 1986. It later emerged that a "slush fund" had been used to pay players as early as the mid-1970s, and athletic officials had known about it as early as 1981.

The death penalty, while harsh, also worked. SMU hasn't been to a bowl game since 1984, and have had just one winning season since the penalty crippled the program. But while the old gray mare ain't what she used to be, there is some strong history at SMU. Don Meredith, Doak Walker, Craig James, Eric Dickerson, etc. Big names, sure. Just that whole cheating thing more or less sunk the ship.

Anyway, not to belittle the upcoming opponent, but, when looking at 2008, "ponies" seems appropriate. In June Jones' first year at the helm after getting off the Hawai'ian islands, his SMU Mustangs took a 1-11, zero-conference-win BATH in C-USA. We thought WSU '08 was bad? One look at what SMU went through and you see it was just as bad....if not worse.

But hang on. Yes, the calendar has flipped, and it's a whole new season of hope. What do the Mustangs look like, post-spring ball? Well, let's see...



LAST YEAR: 1-11, 0-8 in-conference. Sounds a little familiar? They did beat Texas State in a 47-36 shootout, but otherwise they goose-egged it for '08.

Now let's get real here. SMU pretty much stunk in '08, rolling out a brutal season in their first year under Jones. But there might be at least some promise in that 1-11 mark. They did hang in there against bowl teams like Houston (44-38), Memphis (31-26) and Tulsa (37-31). But hey, 1-11 is 1-11. Not quite as bad as 0-12, but, uh, still awfully bumpy. The bad news is that 1-11 was all too familiar to the SMU faithful. Why? Because they went 1-11, including 0-8 in conference, in 2007! A lone win over North Texas saved them from a defeated '07. It's been some tough times down SMU's way the last couple of years.

FANS ARE: Wondering exactly what the fuss was over June Jones? THIS is the guy who led Hawai'i to all those wins and bowl games? This is the guy they paid $10 million for, over the next five years, to get things moving?

But really, it's not THAT bad. It appears many SMU faithful understood Jones was stepping into a very difficult situation. After all, he was essentially starting over with a very young squad in '08. Very much a "flip that program" deal that WSU fans are all too familiar with, year one was a major overhaul in several different areas for SMU. Jones and company were simply trying to implement their entire system, on and off the field. And besides, SMU was only returning 10 starters last year - five on offense, five on defense - so over half the team on both sides of the ball had new faces to break in. When you have an offense that is a radical switch to the run-and-shoot, it's not exactly the simplest of systems for pretty much everyone on offense. Major speed bumps in year one were expected, and that's exactly what they got.

OFFENSIVE SYSTEM: Run-n-shoot, big-time. And definitely more shoot than run? Jones brought the system with him to Dallas last year, and it showed in their stats, where they attempted 476 passes vs. only 217 rushing attempts.

OFFENSIVE RATINGS: 98th in total offense, averaging 314.3 yards per game. The passing game was alright, averaging 272.9 yards per game. But the running game? Ouch. Not only did they only attempt 217 runs on the year, but they only averaged 41.4 yards per game, on just 2.3 yards per carry. June Jones has never been a big run guy in the run-n-shoot, but wow, just 41 yards per game is just about as tough as it gets.

RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: 8

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: QB Bo Levi Mitchell.


The true frosh started from day one of the '08 season, and didn't disappoint. Even though the overall record wasn't there, the upside is apparent. Mitchell racked up 2865 yards passing, with 24 TD passes to boot, good for third-most in single season history at SMU. He had five games of at least three TD passes, and four games in which he threw for at least 300 yards, which is 2nd all-time in SMU history for 300+ yard games in a season. But he certainly wasn't perfect. He did make an awful lot of rookie mistakes, including 23 INT's and a completion percentage of 57.6 percent.

A big key is going to be Mitchell's health. Mitchell is strong, but isn't the biggest QB in the world, listed at 6-1, 201. He injured his shoulder late in the season vs. Memphis, and after the injury, would throw four int's with one TD pass in his last two games. But the potential is there in a system that appears to fit him well. He's also regarded as a real student of the game, watching countless hours of tape on Colt Brennan, looking for ways to get better and master a tough to "pick up and play" offense.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: While listed as "multiple", they were mainly a 4-3 defense. But now they are purely a 3-4 scheme, based on their latest spring practice session and depth chart.

DEFENSIVE RATINGS: Pretty much a nightmare last year. SMU was 119th in the country in total defense, giving up 479.5 yards per game. That number was slightly better than what happened in '07, where they gave up 498.7 yards per game. Still, it was pretty much the bottom of the barrel in defensive ratings for SMU. Teams averaged almost five yards per carry (4.9) against the defense.

RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: 8

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER: LB Youri Yenga.


While fellow linebacker Pete Fleps had more total tackles last year (106), I will go with Yenga as the best defensive player on SMU's roster. Yenga had a breakout '08 campaign, when he had 73 tackles, as well as leading the team in tackles for loss (10.5) and sacks (6.5). This year he will be a weakside linebacker in the 3-4 after playing some defensive end last year, and he should be able to attack the line of scrimmage as an outside rusher. Undersized as a defensive end but just right as a weakside 'backer at 6-1, 223, he could be a perfect fit in their linebacker corps.

And on a defense that recorded just 18 sacks for the entire '08 season, Yenga was roughly better than 1/3rd of the entire team sack totals. Yenga also led the team in QB hurries (4), plus a team-high in forced fumbles (3). He even blocked a couple of kicks. Simply put, Yenga is the top player on the defense and must be accounted for on every snap for next season.


TOP THREE POST-SPRING QUESTIONS:

1) How does the O-line look? Can they protect Mitchell and keep him healthy? With eight starters back on offense, you would think things will be fine. But the SMU offensive line is awfully young. Four of the five projected starters for next year are sophomores. However three of them got some significant game experience last season, so it might not be as bad as it sounds. Still, that's a lot of youth up front, and there could still be some significant growing pains ahead.

2) Sure, Mitchell had a big '08 season. But will he suffer from the dreaded Sophomore Slump? It doesn't really look like it. As stated above, yes, the line is young, but they do have some game experience under their belts. But the best thing for Mitchell is that his top two WR's are coming back for '09. Aldrick Robinson is a big-play guy at WR, with a team leading 1,047 yards receiving and 11 TD catches, all as a sophomore last year. But he's not alone. Emmanuel Sanders is back as well, and all he did was reel in another 958 yards receiving of his own, with nine TD catches. Add Robinson and Sanders together, and you are talking about 2000+ yards and 20 TD catches between them. When a QB has experienced weapons like that coming back, he should be just fine in '09.

3) But will the defense stop anybody? ANYONE? Not an easy question to answer. Eight starters are back, and as they always say, experience is the best teacher. There are some good individuals coming back, with Yenga and Fleps at linebacker. And they are making a permanent switch to the 3-4 defense next season, so it might be a better fit given their relative strength at linebacker. But of those eight starters, only three are seniors. So they will still be somewhat young. And you are also talking about a unit that was pushed around for most of the last two seasons. This is one of the worst overall defenses in the country over their last 24 games, coaching changes be damned. To suddenly turn it all around might be far-fetched, but with some major lessons learned by some key individuals last year, 2009 could see some solid steps forward.

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: SMU is going to be an interesting challenge. A lot of experience back, and they will be eager to taste some success after such a miserable last couple of seasons. The offense should be pretty familiar to WSU, after seeing Hawai'i's version of the run-n-shoot the prior week. SMU opens with winnable games vs. Stephen F Austin at home, and then at UAB on 9/12 before making the trip north to Pullman.

This is a game between two programs that have clearly seen better days. And, quite frankly, both teams are probably looking at the schedule right now and thinking "that's one we can get." Even though coaches NEVER look ahead, right?? But it's also fair to say that, looking at the schedules ahead for both teams? They sure better get this one. Not to get all gloomy, but, whoever loses here may not have many wins left in their respective schedules.

That's it for SMU on a Tuesday. Enjoy your day, and GO COUGS!
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Friday, May 08, 2009

Rising Star Mackay Injured in Car Accident

In an incredibly sad story, rising redshirt frosh defensive end Cory Mackay was injured in a car accident last night near Washtucna, heading home to Redmond after wrapping up finals. Cougfan has more details here:

http://washingtonstate.scout.com/2/863667.html

While some information is still trickling out, the good news is Mackay is listed in stable condition at Harborview. However there is some talk out there that Mackay may have suffered a serious back injury.

Pray for young Cory.


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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Spring Fish Wrap - Hawai'i Reloaded Edition

Aloha! Time to take a closer look at how opponent number two on the '09 WSU schedule, the Hawai'i Warriors, are coming out of spring ball. Fish-wrap style, part II in a series. If you care, you can find the previous fish wraps on the link to the right, mixed in with the other usual links on our site. Just Stanford and now Hawai'i so far, but it will start to add up over the coming weeks.

Oh, and for what it's worth? To honor our friends on the islands, and in part for their gifts of WSU greats Jason Gesser AND Derrick Low? We'll spell Hawai'i with the "okina", or ', in the spelling. Sound good? If you want to learn more about the okina and it's uses in language, visit your local library. Or click here. No big whoop.

So, Hawai'i. They will be visiting lovely Qwest Field, taking on our Cougs in the second week of the season in the annual Seattle game. This will be Hawai'i's second game of the year, hosting Central Arkansas on Friday night of the first weekend of the season. How do the Warriors look as spring winds down? Read on for the WSU Football Blog read on Hawai'i....




LAST YEAR: 7-7, 5-3 in the WAC, which was good for a 2nd place tie with Nevada and LA-Tech in the conference. They rallied to even get bowl eligible after starting the year 1-3 and also sitting later at 4-5. But in a disappointing close to their season, they lost big to Notre Dame, 49-21, in the Hawai'i Bowl.

LAST YEAR vs. WSU: A somewhat sloppy 24-10 victory over the Cougs in Hawai'i. WSU cut the lead to 17-10 midway through the third quarter on a Dwight Tardy TD run, but Hawai'i bounced right back behind a 44-yd TD pass from QB Greg Alexander. Alexander would throw for 315 yards on the night, his most yards passing for all of the 2008 season (previous high of 288 vs. New Mexico State).


Why was it sloppy? Oh, the usual - some turnovers, missed field goals, blown coverages and assignments, fumbled snaps, etc. But this part of the game recap says it all:

Washington State's entire season was summed in one play in the fourth quarter. After blocking a 47-yard field-goal attempt, Devin Giles picked up the ball, danced around, broke the grasp of a tackler, backpeddled, danced around some more before pitching it to Chima Nwachukwu, who fumbled in front of the Cougars coach Paul Wulff.

Do you want a laugh? Or maybe a good CRY? Then watch the tape:



Awful.....but even I laughed out loud looking at that and reading the quotes! WOW was it bad last year. Good riddance 2008. But we can laugh now at stuff like that......right??

HAWAI'I FANS ARE: Well, they are OK. Not 100% thrilled, but not ready to fire the coach either? Granted '08 was a big fall from the lofty perch of 2007, when June Jones led them to the Sugar Bowl and then bailed for SMU. And it did look bleak there for a while. After starting off the Greg McMackin era at 1-3, and then later at 4-5, hope for another bowl bid seemed like a long shot. But they circled the wagons, rallied the troops, and pulled together to get back to the postseason. It was the third year in a row that Hawai'i was bowl-eligible, and the fifth time since '02 that they played in the Hawai'i bowl. And it wasn't like they backed into a bowl either. They earned this one, with one heck of a difficult schedule last year. Road games at Florida, at Fresno State, at Boise State, at Oregon State, and at home against Cincinnati. Overall, they played eight bowl teams, five of which were BCS teams (WSU was the other BCS squad, and no, not a bowl team). To lose all that experience, and a brand new head coach? Yet still make it to a bowl? All told, '08 should be considered a success.

OFFENSIVE SCHEMES: Run-n-shoot/spread is the best way to put it. They will still throw the ball a lot, but not nearly as much as you might think. In 2007, with Colt Brennan and the boys still around, they passed 662 times. IN 2008, just 490 times. So they will run the ball more than they used to.

The potential issue there was their struggles to run the ball consistently, regardless of the level of the competition. In eight of their 14 games last year, they failed to get at least 71 yards rushing in a ballgame. Even the WSU D slowed them down on the ground, allowing just 63 rushing yards on 34 carries. And of their 412 rushing attempts on the season, they averaged just 3.2 yards per carry. Not terrible, but certainly not what you want to average on over 45% of your offensive plays.

Obviously, one must always consider sacks from the rushing yardage totals in college football. And, Hawai'i did allow quite a few of them - 57 - losing 348 yards in the process. OUCH. But in a scheme without a true fullback or tight-end on many plays, the QB is going to be alone quite a bit. If the QB is new to the system and has new faces to throw to, there were bound to be some growing pains.

OFFENSIVE RATINGS: Another big change from 2008 compared to the year before. In 2007, Hawai'i was #2 in the country in passing yards, averaging 446 yards per game. Last year? Down to 251 yards per game, good for 28th in the county. And in total offense, they came in 72nd in the NCAA at 345 yards per game, which was good for 5th in the WAC. But in 2007, they averaged 531 yards per game, which put them 3rd in the country. But 345 yards per game? That's almost 100 yards LESS per game in passing yards from the year before. Quite the change in '08.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: They will come at you with a 4-3 look, and aren't exactly a blitz-heavy team. They recorded 36 sacks last year, nine coming from senior defensive end David Veikune. Hawai'i is quick and they play a physical brand of football, always a staple of their defense.

DEFENSIVE RATINGS: Fair to midland, I guess? Hawai'i finished 83rd in scoring defense, 87th in pass efficiency defense, and 78th in passing yards allowed. But they did finish 65th in rushing D, and finally, came in 62nd in total defense. Right in the big fat middle of the NCAA rankings, if not a little on the downward slope?

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: QB Greg Alexander.


OK, the kid isn't Colt Brennan. And he's not exactly Timmy Chang either. But that said, Alexander did a decent job last year, and really helped save Hawai'i's season. Alexander came off the bench to help Hawai'i go 4-2 in their last six regular season games, clinching the bowl bid when things looked lost. He threw for almost 1900 yards and 14 TD's against just five INT's for the season. And after throwing an INT in the season opener at Florida, he didn't throw another one until the WSU game in late November. He completed over 63% of his passes and really showed that he was the answer all along. After a full season in the program, he could have a huge senior year.

Here's some video of him with a nice soft touch off the back foot, on an endzone fade to beat Nevada.



Nice. But where the hell is the safety help?? All that kid did was jog over into the area of the play, then bitch at the ref for saying he caught it. Whatever!

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER: LB Brashton Satele

The senior-to-be is the leader of the linebackers, and the top returning linebacker on the team coming back in '09. He's got NFL size at 6-1, 255, and is regarded as a heck of a hitter. Overshadowed by bigger names like Solomon Elimimian and Adam Leonard, both all-conference linebackers who combined for over 200 tackles last year, Satele held his own.

In his first real shot at major playing time, he was all over the field in '08, with 53 tackles (six for loss), plus a sack, an interception, a fumble recovery, a forced fumble, and five pass breakups. And he's got a pretty good legacy story going. Here's some video on the guy, in the first couple of minutes of the clip, talking about his background and impact on the team:



TOP THREE SPRING QUESTIONS:

1) Will the offense be improved? In a word, ABSOLUTELY. Hawai'i struggled to find their way for half of the '08 campaign, but things settled in nicely under Greg Alexander. If you project his passing stats out over a full season, he could have thrown for over 3600 yards and 28 TD's, numbers any NCAA QB could be proud of. Plus, Greg Salas returns, the leading receiver in receiving yards (831, on 57 catches) as well as Malcolm Lane, the top big-play WR on the team, averaging 17.5 yards per catch and six TD catches. Add in the return of Kealoha Pilares, who moves from running back to wide receiver but led the team with seven total TD's last year, as well as 3/5ths of the starting offensive line, and things are certain to be much improved next season.

2) How's the D look? Well, it's YOUNG. Awfully young indeed. Just two starters return from last year's D, a unit which really wasn't that strong to begin with. The hardest hits will be at linebacker, where outstanding players like Solomon Elimimian and Adam Leonard have moved on. Just between those two guys alone, you are talking about losing a combined 209 tackles, 19.5 for loss, and 6.5 sacks off of last year's roster. Brashton Satele is a nice looking player and should have a great season at middle linebacker, but there isn't a lot of experience around him. Up front, defensive end John Fonoti is back, and he had a strong season in '08 with 62 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 3 1/2 sacks. But along with Satele, they are the only two starters to return for '09. That also means the entire starting secondary will be brand new, with the loss of first-team WAC DB Ryan Mouton. That's zero starts among the projected starters in the defensive backfield.

3) And the schedule? It certainly won't be as tough as last year, that much is certain. Believe it or not, their toughest road game may well be the WSU game at Qwest. The only other non-WAC road game they play is at UNLV, the week after the WSU game. They do play Navy and also Wisconsin at the end of the year, but both games are in Hawai'i. And traditionally Hawai'i is a completely different animal at home vs. the road. Starting in 1999, the Warriors are now an impressive 60-23 at home! September could be a little dicey however, where after they open at home to start the year, they are on the road for the rest of the month. But six of their last nine games are at home to finish the season.

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: From 12-1 in '07 to 7-7 in '08, and the big-time coaching change in-between, it's been quite a ride for Hawai'i the last couple of years. But we will see how things settle down in year two under McMackin. McMackin did become the 2nd-ever Hawai'i coach to lead his team to a bowl game in his inaugural year (June Jones was the other Hawai'i coach to do it). But he may have received a bit of a pass in 2008, just based on how much Hawai'i lost from the prior year's Sugar Bowl team. The fans in Hawai'i love their Warriors, and for good reason. So they weren't about to leap off the bandwagon just because they weren't in a BCS bowl again. And besides, not only did June Jones leave the island, but QB Colt Brennan and all his skill guys like Davone Bess, Ryan Grice-Mullen and Jason Rivers moved on as well. So not only was McMackin trying to fill some rather large shoes, on the field Hawai'i only returned EIGHT STARTERS last year, the fewest in the WAC. So while it was starting over in a lot of ways, to turn it all around after a slow start and still pull out a postseason bid was a very good sign for Hawai'i.

That said, Hawai'i is going to look a lot different than they did when WSU saw them in late November last year. Again, just nine total starters are back on both sides of the ball. And while the offense is going to be a lot better, you have to wonder about the defense. Early in the season, when there will be nine brand new starters on D, it could be the absolute perfect time to play them. Especially in the first road game of the young season. There could be some big offense from both teams in this one. We'll see what happens!

That's it for a Thursday. Enjoy your day, AND GO COUGS!

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

April 2009... What a Month!



Good morning Coug Nation. Longball here, and it's time for me to check in.

Whew, was that one of the craziest months in the history of Cougar sports, or what? From being unceremoniously dumped by our super sexy basketball coach, to charging into 2nd place in the PAC-10 baseball standings, then almost losing home Apple Cups for the next 6 years, then getting the apple Cup back, then the talk of getting kicked out of the PAC- 10 (WTF?), then securing a humdinger of a basketball recruiting class that has visions of rafter banners dancing in our heads... it has been the Montezuma's Revenge of emotional roller coasters. So as the 2009 school year draws to a close, where do we stand? From where I'm sitting the dust has yet to settle on what may be one of the most interesting eras in Cougar sports history. Lets take it sport by sport...



BASKETBALL

The month began with the news that Tony Bennett was leaving us... for Virginia. Huh? Really? I was absolutely floored. It HAD to be an April Fool's joke and I read the now infamous 5 pillars over and over to reassure myself that it was just not possible.

As it turned out the 5 pillars were a total load of bull and our handsome prince rode off to a much richer kingdom. My family and friends witnessed what can only be described as a full on emotional breakdown by yours truly.

Why the breakdown? A little background; One of the most scarring moments of my youth was the departure of Kelvin Sampson, who took the high flying sophomore-to-be Nate Erdmann and super recruit Ernie Abercrombie to Oklahoma with him. It was devastating, and the beginning of our descent into the bottomless pit the Bennett family eventually dug us out of. It would be difficult to exaggerate how close my friends and I were to those Sampson era teams. We were in the first few rows for EVERY game. We played pickup games with the Coug players up at the gyms (this was before the new Rec Center). In our high school AV class we made "I Want to be Like Ike" t-shirts for Ike Fontaine and wore them to every game. We were practically married to cougar hoops. I can't say for sure if any of us cried when Sampson left, but I also can't say that we didn't.

Fast forward to April, 2009... As the Bennett news broke I waited for the cascade of bad news that would surely follow. Players would transfer, recruits would de-commit, we would hire some nobody from nowhere... I knew the drill. But something entirely different happened. It turned out our AD had a strong connection to the wiz who had been surprising everybody at Portland State the last 2 years. Ken Bone came on board and from that point on it has been all good news.

Not only did we keep all our critical recruits, we added a stand out point guard who was being recruited by, wait for it... Oregon, UCLA and MEMPHIS!! We also retained an assistant, Ben Johnson, whose leadership has been one of the cornerstones of our recent success. By all measures our hoops program is actually in better shape today than it was on April 1. Amazing.

While it remains to be seen what a team composed almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores can do in the PAC-10 next year, all indications point to an upward trajectory for Coug hoops in the coming years.


FOOTBALL




On the gridiron we are still deep in the midst of a major rebuilding effort. Literally every level of our program is being rebuilt, from the culture in the locker room, to the bodies on the field, and of course the field itself as we scratch and claw our way towards the remaining two phases of the stadium upgrade in the middle of a global economic meltdown.

As our boys were grinding their way through Spring camp we were blind sided by news that the Apple Cup, or as some know it "the only game that really matters", was going to be moved to Seattle full time. Like most of you I received this news with a combination of dizziness, nausea and that strange discomforting sensation that shoots up your spine and is distributed to all your organs like a million white hot pokers when you get kicked in the balls. Then, I read about why we were doing this. We were poor. Poor like the stories our grandparents tell us about walking 15 miles to school in a blizzard with burlap sacks for shoes and a baked potato in their pocket to keep their hands warm and then eat for lunch. If the PAC-10 was an elementary school classroom we would be THAT kid. You know the one... sitting in the back, with hand-me-down everything, dirt on his face, trying to cheat off Stanford's test. Just like "That Kid", we seemed destined for expulsion.

In light of this realization, my shock and dismay over the decision to move the Apple Cup to Quest suddenly turned to relief. I was thrilled that we found such an easy revenue stream to help pay the bills so we could come through these trying times unscathed. Moreover, while the Cougar nation whaled in righteous indignation at the perceived slight of playing the game in Seattle, I marveled at our good fortune that the Huskies had agreed to a deal which clearly benefited us WAY more than them. Of course, the Dawgs soon realized this themselves, and in a last ditch attempt to get a deal that didn't totally screw their season ticket holders blind, they effectively torpedoed the whole thing by asking for a 60/40 ticket split (and rumored to be even more, such as 80/20). Sterk chose to not be lynched by the crimson mob and wisely backed away from the table.

So where does that leave us? Off the field, we are still dirt poor and any future phases of our stadium upgrade are a pipe dream until we get some serious support from the very loud, but equally miserly Cougar faithful. As we have had clearly explained to us now by Mr. Sterk, continuing to play in a high school stadium does not bode well for our long term hopes of remaining in the PAC-10. So there you have it Cougs. The Apple Cup is back in Pullman, it just may be an out-of-conference game some day.

Meanwhile, on the field we have at least one more PAC-10 season ahead of us. So far I am very encouraged by the culture change taking place on and off the field. However this is a team that still fails the eye test. While we are making great strides in the weight room we still do not look like a PAC-10 team, especially on the lines. For the most part our big guys are fat guys with too few exceptions. If you want to see a PAC-10 body type, check out Joe Eppele.

Now THAT is more of what our linemen should look like. I am very excited to see CPW's first true recruiting class show up for Fall camp. From all indications we will immediately look a lot more like a BCS conference team. One unit we have that most certainly passes the eye test... our running back corps. How on earth did we assemble this posse? While my expectations for the coming season couldn't quite be described as "modest", I still look forward to seeing some Cougar football this year that is actually watchable. If Bud Light has drinkability, I predict this year's Cougars will have watchability. Mark my words.


BASEBALL



A lot of folks round here seem to have joined the Cougar nation upon their recent matriculation to WSU, so I must inform you that there once was a time when the ONLY sport we Cougs could hang our hat on was baseball. For decades we were a baseball school, in fact. There used to be this strange thing called the PAC-10 North that had Gonzaga and Portland State and I think Cheney High School in it and the Cougs won it every year. We were a pipeline to MLB including Ken Phelps, Aaron Seeley, Scott Hatterburg, John Olerud, Mike Kincaid and even Jim Rome's childhood hero, Ron Cey. I know, Ron f-ing Cey was a Coug! That's pretty damn cool.

Well it seems the glory has returned to Bailey-Brayton field. Coach Marbut has the Cougs playing great ball and they stand alone in 2nd place in the PAC-10. We are well positioned to make our first post season appearance on the diamond in a very long time and I'm sure Bobo Brayton couldn't be more proud. But like all news this April, our success on the diamond is a silver lining that comes with its own gray cloud. There is a lot of speculation (and thankfully so far it is only speculation) that Baseball is one of the programs on the potential chopping block as WSU athletics looks to make some deep cuts. That would be an unbearable shame. Baseball is one of our few sports that actually has a winning tradition and right now we have a team we can really be proud of. As the season winds down I urge each of you to grab a Ferdinand's ice cream, head over to Bailey-Brayton and take in a ball game. Bring the kids, its the easiest sporting event to get some quality face time with Butch.

Overall, my outlook on the future of Cougar Athletics is optimistic. There is major cause for worry on the $$$$ front, but it cannot be denied that despite everything each program is moving in the right direction. Heck, we own the Apple Cup. Lets not forget to savor that at least once a day. With that, I leave you all with some photos that surely would have won the contest had us blogsters been allowed to enter...

This is Amieable and Longball before the Apple Cup.



...and after.


You gotta hand it to her, she ain't no bandwagon fan. In a year like the Dawgs just had she put on her purple and braved the hostiles in Martin Stadium, only to get her heart broken. Don't worry, babe, in the coming years I'm sure you'll get yours.

But, in the meantime, and as always... Go Cougs!
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