So, it’s February. The Super Bowl is history, and the hype surrounding NCAA football signing day has come and gone. Aside from the regular season of college hoops and the NBA All-Star game where superstars become allergic to that thing called defense, not a whole heckuva lot going on, is there?
Well, we might as well make stuff up then. I mean we have to do something around here, right? But fear not, my friend, for not all is lost. Haven’t you heard the news!?
SPRING FOOTBALL IS COMING! SPRING FOOTBALL IS COMING! SPRING FOOTBALL IS COMING! GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN!
Yes, it’s all caps for a reason. I am, in fact, screaming.
But seriously, can you believe that spring football is already less than one month away? Teddy Miller reported the spring dates for all Pac-12 teams last week, and I was really surprised to see how quickly things are going to be starting up again. March 7th, seriously??
I know, I know….spring football. What’s the big deal, right? It’s just 15 practices, and the vast majority of the recruiting class you just signed isn’t even on campus yet. How much can you really glean from 15 practices in March and April?
With a bowl-quality football program, I would tend to agree with the sentiment. For example, think of a team like Oregon. They just wrapped up their season a month ago in the BCS title game. They got all those bowl practices, which gave tons of extra reps to starters and backups alike while they prepared for Auburn. What will they really gain out of strapping on the gear and hitting each other just a few months after the end of the season?
But for a still-young, rebuilding program like WSU? Spring ball is, in fact, important. Maybe not so much in terms of reinventing the wheel, and that you won’t see massive changes from top to bottom on how the program is run. But it gives more hands-on, organized opportunities for the coaching staff to be with the young roster. In today’s day and age, coaches are limited in their amount of practice time they can spend with players on a weekly basis. So every opportunity they can get to teach the youngsters, the better. And when you consider that this program hasn’t been bowling since 2003, therefore missing out to what equates to an extra spring practice session each time you go to a bowl, then spring ball becomes even more important. Extra organized practices can make a difference.
Take Oregon State as an example. They have been to five bowl games since 2004, all the while WSU has been like you and me, sitting on the couch and watching TV for the holidays. You add in about 15 practices per bowl game bid…..that’s 75 more practices Oregon State has had compared to WSU since 2004! Practices aren’t the end all, be all, and some players with horrible attitudes could care less (queue Allen Iverson’s we-talking-bout-practice rant in 3, 2, 1…..). But you would be hard-pressed to find a coach at a BCS program who doesn’t welcome the idea of having more quality time with his coaches and players on the practice field.
And look at the Cougs right now. Suddenly we have two new, key defensive coaches in d-line coach Todd Howard and linebackers coach Chris Tormey. We have also seen that Chris Ball is now the solo defensive coordinator, as Jody Sears will now be in command of the cornerbacks. So while the offensive staff stays intact, the defense has some new blood on the sidelines to try and get it all turned around. Hopefully spring practices can help the new guys hit the ground running in an area that needs serious help!
Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah, spring ball. For the time up until March 7th, we’ll take a look at how things appear on the depth chart going into spring ball, position by position. Obviously this is all very fluid, and we all know things can change rapidly due to academics, off-the-field issues, injuries, etc. But hey, it’s FEBRUARY! Still, you know….
With that, we’ll start the week off right by looking at probably the easiest position to call right now, and that’s the quarterback…..
2010 Stats: 219-for-366 for 2780 yards, 18 TD’s, 12 INT’s. Also ran for 199 net yards and a TD on the ground, but was sacked a whopping 48 times in 12 starts last season.
2010 Highlight: While Tuel had some excellent games, including a 4-TD game at Stanford, a 311-yard day at UCLA or his strong finish to the Apple Cup where he threw for 298 yards and 3 TD’s, doesn’t 2010 have to be about the Oregon State game for Tuel?
I guess the same thing could be said for all facets of the team that day as THE highlight of 2010. The offense was efficient, and the defense was the best it’s been since, oh, probably any game in the Paul Wulff era? Even the special teams were good, with a surprise onside/squib kick they recovered. Everything just went right that day. But Tuel was really on his game, not in the big-time passing numbers but more so of how he led the offense. Tuel was just 10-for-15 passing on that rainy, cool day in Corvallis, but he used his feet at a level we haven’t seen in his time in Pullman. Tuel ran for a net of 79 yards, and evaded the pass rush numerous times by rolling away from pressure and getting out of trouble in so many different ways. And that spread read-option wrinkle added to the offense in prior weeks really was a difference this game. Not only did it let a rush-poor offense like WSU’s actually move the chains and keep drives alive on the ground, but the option itself set up a TD pass to Marquess Wilson, where the entire defense bit on the option and Tuel was able to pull it back out and hit him in stride five yards behind the coverage. An absolutely perfect play, on a perfect day no less!
Backup: Marshall, Marshall, Marshall
2010 Stats: 7-for-15 for 61 yards, no TD’s or INT’s. Sacked 3 times, totaled negative-40 yards rushing (ouch).
2010 Highlight: Well, there isn’t much to pick from here. He basically saw action in mop-up duty in 2010, long after the games had been decided. He was 6-for-11 for 56 yards vs. ASU, but that was at the end of an epic blowout loss in Tempe. Maybe his biggest highlight is like everyone else on the team, the Oregon State game? If you remember, Jeff Tuel took a vicious hit to the helmet near the Oregon State goal-line. It was so vicious that Tuel’s helmet was split down the back! Anyway, Tuel had to leave the game, and Lobbestael came in to run the goal-line offense. Lobbestael handed off to James Montgomery, who took it in from a yard out as the Cougs expanded their lead to 14-0. Tuel would come back into the game after halftime, and Marshall’s day was done. But at least he got to hand off for a TD….? Seriously, if you have a better highlight than that, I would love to hear it!
Backup-to-the-Backup: Connor Halliday
2010 Stats: Redshirt, DNP
2010 Highlight: Well, he won scout team offensive player of the week, actually a couple of times. And he’s tall (6-4ish), with a big arm, so he’s got that going for him. But 2010, he basically did this, A LOT:
The really good news? A lot of people who have seen big #13 throw the ball have come away very impressed. Offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy has been quoted as saying that Halliday has all the tools to succeed, and with the arm and touch to be a force at the position.
It started for Halliday with a huge GSL career, one of the best all-time in career passing yards. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 43 TD’s in his senior year alone. He led Ferris to the state championship game in 2009, only to have the team come up short in Jake Heaps’ final game at Skyline. But there were some good signs that Halliday had something going for him, which was a strong, accurate arm and a good grasp of how to execute a wide open passing offense. Check out some video of him from high school in 2009, plus a second video from the state title game, and you can see the wide open offense out of the shotgun and serious potential on some of his throws:
Key Spring Practice Question: Tuel showed a lot in his first full season as THE MAN. But is he really ready to take the next step into the “special” category amongst Pac-12 QB’s? And how about the backup situation? Will Halliday be given a shot to move past Marshall?
Who knows on Tuel and the special category thing, but I can tell you this – there is a lot to feel good about. Even though we are a pro-Coug blog, and even though we try to keep things in check? it’s easy to get geeked on Tuel. He really showed improvement in his ability to move the team through the air, and even though he was battered for 48 sacks last year, he showed no fear in stepping up and delivering the ball with confidence as 2010 went along. And there is hope when you look at how he played against four Pac-10 bowl teams from last year, in Oregon, Stanford, Arizona and UW. Tuel threw for 1,098 yards and 9 TD’s against those teams, and even though they were all in losing fashion, he was able to move the team and keep them in contention for most of those games.
Consistency was an issue in some other games though, including a tough opener vs. Oklahoma State and his worst game of the year down the stretch vs. Cal, where he completed just nine passes for 92 yards in the home loss. But he bounced back after the Cal game with a strong performance vs. Oregon State, and had the Cougs right there with UW in the Apple Cup before the Huskies finally put the game away late.
It’s important to keep it all in perspective though. Here we had a true sophomore QB who played a quarter of the 2009 season, and was sacked WAY too many times in 2010. Yet he still managed to approach 3,000 yards and 20 TD’s. To help deal with the physical abuse he will likely take in the next couple of years, Tuel has put on some extra muscle already this offseason, as seen by his appearance in Seattle at last week’s Night with Cougar Football event:
(note – that’s Tuel pictured with our own Lucas Coug.)
He’s probably around 220 lbs on his 6-3 frame, and he’s going to need that extra meat on his bones for what lies ahead!
As to the depth behind Tuel, it is a real question that needs to get sorted out. Now that the redshirt has been used (thank goodness!), Halliday will be eligible to get on the field for the first time next year. Will Halliday get a real chance to pass Marshall on the depth chart, starting with spring ball? How many reps will Halliday get this spring? Or will all the meaningful snaps go to Tuel and Marshall and Halliday gets the leftovers? I am really anxious to see the reports on Halliday this spring, as it will be a situation that could be one of the most interesting of the entire session.
We all know that the backup QB is just one play from being the starter, so we’ll have to see what happens as things come together. And we also know that Wulff and the staff are in win-or-else mode right about now, so while they would love to build for the future, they also have to wonder about which backup QB would give them the better chance to win if the disaster happens and Tuel has to come out. Would they opt for the experience in Marshall, or would they gamble with the talented youngster with that rocket arm?
So there you have it, the QB’s in a pre-spring ball glance. None of this is probably news to a lot of you, but I guess it’s good “blog fodder” to help fill the vast emptiness that is your life without football right now!
Enjoy your Monday, and of course, GO COUGS!