2011 Washington State Preview
Washington State QB Jeff Tuel
Washington State QB Jeff Tuel
Posted Jun 25, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Washington State Cougars

Washington State Cougars

Preview 2011

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Paul Wulff
4th year: 5-32
Returning Lettermen
Off. 21, Def. 25, ST, 1
Lettermen Lost: 21
Ten Best Wazzu Players
1. DE Travis Long, Jr.
2. LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, Sr.
3. WR Jared Karstetter, Sr.
4. WR Marquess Wilson, Soph.
5. QB Jeff Tuel, Jr.
6. SS Deone Bucannon, Soph.
7. FS Tyree Toomer, Jr.
8. LB C.J. Mizell, Soph.
9. OG B.J. Guerra, Sr.
10. DT Brandon Rankin, Sr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 Idaho State
Sep. 10 UNLV
Sep. 17 at San Diego State
Oct. 1 at Colorado
Oct. 8 at UCLA
Oct. 15 Stanford
Oct. 22 Oregon State
Oct. 29 at Oregon
Nov. 5 at California
Nov. 12 Arizona State
Nov. 19 Utah
Nov. 26 at Washington

Do-or-die. Now-or-never. You name the overused sports cliché, and it's going to apply to the fate of head coach Paul Wulff.

To say that Wulff has struggled at his alma mater is putting it kindly. In three years on the Palouse, he's won just five games, rarely putting up much of a fight in Pac-10 games. In fact, the Cougars are a futile 2-25 in conference games with him on the sidelines. It's been difficult to watch the gradual decline of a program that was routinely spitting out 10-win seasons a decade ago under Mike Price and Bill Doba.

Despite the 2-10 record, Washington State did take baby steps a year ago. The losses weren't nearly as bad. The offense was as potent as it had been in three years. And a late-season upset of Oregon State in Corvallis gave the team a much-needed boost in confidence. Even better, the Cougars are bringing back nearly every starter from the 2010 team. After patiently using underclassmen over the past few seasons, Wazzu is finally going to be a veteran team for a change.

The Cougars are going to go as far as the passing game will take it. Junior Jeff Tuel, who enters his third year as a starter, is on the brink of joining the upper echelon of Pac-12 quarterbacks. He'll get ample support from the dynamic receiving tandem of Jared Karstetter and Marquess Wilson, which combined for 117 receptions last fall. Washington State is going to put up points, but can it stop anyone?

The 2010 edition ranked last in the Pac-10 in run defense, pass efficiency defense, and scoring defense. In theory, the only way us up. It'll also help to retain the services of three of last year's best performers, DE Travis Long, LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, and S Deone Bucannon.

Claiming that it's no longer in full-fledged rebuilding mode, Washington State has to go out and prove it on the field. While a complete turnaround is highly unlikely, a few more victories and not as many blowout losses would be nice. A coach's livelihood almost certainly depends on it.

What to watch for on offense: Galvin-izing the running game. The missing link on offense has been a ground game that's been unable to get out of the starting blocks for years. Redshirt freshman Rickey Galvin provides some hope for the future even if he's more of a complement than a feature runner this fall. At a slippery 5-8 and 162 pounds, he's the antithesis of projected starter Logwone Mitz. He was also on the verge of cracking the rotation before breaking his arm in the 2010 opener.

What to watch for on defense: Pole's position. Few defensive players have turned more heads this offseason than DT Toni Pole. The redshirt freshman routinely broke through the line and disrupted the flow of running plays. Although he still needs to hold off veteran teammates in the summer, there's no doubt that he's earned a spot in the D-line rotation. In general, this could be a sneaky-good rotation that has a star in junior DE Travis Long.

The team will be far better if… the offense improves its efficiency in the red zone. If Washington State is going to win more games in 2010, it must do a better job of producing six points when it travels deep into enemy territory. That didn't happen nearly enough last season, with the Cougars reaching the end zone on 60% of their red area trips. Improving that number, even by 5%, will make a major difference in Wazzu's competitiveness this season.

The Schedule: The Cougars need as many layups and as much of a base of wins as possible to try to finally put together a decent record. Starting out against Idaho State and UNLV should help, but the key could be the date at San Diego State with a win making for a nice September. Getting hot and staying there is a must with three of the easiest games on the Pac 12 slate, Colorado, UCLA, and Oregon State, within the first four conference games, but the battles with the Buffs and the Bruins are on the road. Missing USC from the South is a nice break, but that's about the only good fortune in the conference slate for the second half of the season with road games at Oregon and Cal before dealing with good Arizona State and Utah teams. Closing out in the Apple Cup at Washington might not help the bowl cause. Basically, if Wazzu wants a 13th game, it'll need to secure the eligibility early on or else hope for a few big upsets.  

Best offensive player: Senior WR Jared Karstetter. Young wideout Marquess Wilson is gaining ground, but Karstetter remains the most polished performer on this offensive unit. Better than that, the 6-4, 208-pounder has emerged as one of the league's premier receivers. The two-time All-Pac-10 honorable mention selection, with precise route-running skills, caught 62 balls for 658 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago.

Best defensive player: Junior DE Travis Long. The junior has been building up to this point since his rookie year. Big enough at 6-4 and 258 pounds to defend the run, he's also plenty quick and disruptive coming off the edge. A repeat honorable mention All-Pac-10 player, he delivered 51 tackles, 10.5 stops for loss, and four sacks in 2010. High-energy all the time, he plays to the whistle on every down.

Key players to a successful season: the offensive line. If the Cougars have any chance of reversing their recent miserable trend, it's going to be fueled by the offense. And if the offense is about to click on all cylinders, it'll need plenty more support from the front wall. Washington State was 119th nationally in pass protection and 117th in rush offense, direct indictments of the blockers. Somehow, some way, this group has to mesh and perform with more bite.

The season will be a success if ... the Cougars win at least two league games for the first time since 2007. It's a modest goal for a program that can't realistically dream of the postseason at this juncture. That goal becomes a little more realistic in 2012. For now, Washington State needs to continue to fine-tune the overall product while doubling last season's pair of victories.

Key game: Nov. 26 at Washington. When a school isn't playing for titles or bowl positioning, rivalry games take on extra meaning. The Cougars have lost the last two to the Huskies, and would love to gain a measure of revenge in the series. Wazzu is trending north and U-Dub could be taking a step in reverse, so this November is as good a time as any to grab an emotional win at Qwest Field.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yards per attempt: Washington State 2.6 – Opponents 5.6
- First quarter scoring: Washington State 28 – Opponents 111
- Sacks: Washington State 22 - Opponents 51

- 2011 Washington State Preview | 2011 Washington State Offense
- 2011 Washington State Defense | 2011 Washington State Depth Chart
- Washington State Previews 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006