2012 Washington State Preview – Offense
Washington State QB Jeff Tuel
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Washington State Cougar Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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Washington State Offense
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What You Need To Know: Back in the day when Mike Price had Wazzu contending for Pac-10 championships, the program was always led by a high-powered passing attack. New head coach Mike Leach hopes to recapture that persona with his high-flying, time-tested aerial assault. The Cougars are going to spread the field with four receivers, which will also create wider running lanes for backs Rickey Galvin and Carl Winston. Although there were early whispers that the competition at quarterback would be wide open, Jeff Tuel is on the verge of becoming Leach's first gunslinger on the Palouse. He was sharp in his return from an injury-filled junior year, quickly grasping the nuances of the offensive attack. Tuel-to-Marquess Wilson will be a hook-up that produces monster numbers in 2012, though it's also imperative that others, like Kristoff Williams, Bobby Ratliff and converted TE Andrei Lintz, take a little heat off the Cougs' obvious go-to guy in the passing game. LT John Fullington is the signature player of an offensive line coming off a miserable season. Not only is this group trying to absorb new blocking schemes on the fly, but it's also light on depth and long on injuries. It's incumbent upon the eventual starting five that they afford Tuel the time he needs to find his open receiver slicing through the defense.
Star of the offense: Junior WR Marquess Wilson
Passing: Connor Halliday
59-103, 960 yds, 9 TDs, 4 INTs
Rushing: Rickey Galvin
114 carries, 602 yds, 5 TDs
Receiving: Marquess Wilson
82 catches, 1,388 yds, 12 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior RT Rico Forbes
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Rickey Galvin
Best pro prospect: Wilson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Wilson, 2) Senior QB Jeff Tuel, 3) Galvin
Strength of the offense: The passing attack, quarterback, depth at running back, converting in the red zone
Weakness of the offense: The offensive line, pass protection, durability
No one was happier with the hiring of Mike Leach as the Cougars head coach than Jeff Tuel , the oft-injured quarterback steeped with potential. The senior has quickly grasped the new Air Raid offense, an uncomplicated system that has long been passer-friendly. The 6-3, 223-pounder has all of the tools for instant success, including a strong arm, good accuracy and the poise that comes with being on the field since his freshman year. Tuel has started 19 career games, which might have doubled had he not been hurt so frequently. In 2011, a broken collarbone and leg injury limited him to just 29-of-45 for 276 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. However, he's in the right place at the right time to not only pile up huge, but attract the attention of NFL scouts as well.
Leach is going to use August to decide on his backup for Tuel. Sophomore Connor Halliday would seem to make the most sense since he enjoyed the edge in experience. He appeared in four games last fall, starting one, and finishing 59-of-103 for 960 yards, nine touchdowns and four picks. While still raw as a passer, he showed a ton of heart in the upset of Arizona State by throwing for four scores and a school freshman record 494 yards. The 6-4, 179-pounder finished the year with a lacerated liver that isn't expected to slow his progress this summer.
Challenging Halliday will be 6-1, 201-pound junior David Gilbertson who has not shied away from the competition. The former walk-on plays with a lot of heart, but has only attempted one pass so far in his career.
Watch Out For .... Tuel to perform this season as if he's a transfer from Texas Tech. Leach inherited a quarterback who appeared eminently comfortable in this system, which was popularized in Lubbock for a decade. The senior was accurate, quick with his decision-making and generally sharp throughout the spring as he pulled away from Halliday.
Strength: Tuel. If he's on the field for all 12 regular season games, do not be surprised if he piles up numbers reminiscent of former Cougar greats, like Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Leaf and Jack Thompson. And he won't be just a compiler. No, his passing skills rank among the top quarterbacks in the Pac-12, and if defenses blink, he's quick enough to turn a broken play into a first down.
Weakness: Durability. Everything will be fine if Tuel can stay healthy, but that remains a big "if". Two of his three seasons have ended because of injuries. Last year, he succumbed to the broken collarbone and leg problem. And in 2009, he was shut down after hurting his knee. He's Wazzu's best option, but can he go unscathed for three months?
Outlook: Tuel is thrilled to have Leach as his mentor, even if it's just for one year. The coach is pretty doggone pleased as well. He inherits a seasoned veteran who not only is physically gifted, but looks capable of digesting the new system before the team travels to BYU for the opener. If Tuel is able to play for a full season, he's capable of setting a school record or two as the triggerman of this offense, while ranking among the nation's most prolific passers of 2012.
Although the new Wazzu is going to throw the ball as much as any team in America, it does not mean that the backs will be completely ignored. In fact, while at Texas Tech, Mike Leach's backs were underrated weapons, who often exploited wide than usual running lanes, and served as pivotal outlets in the passing game. The program has a pair of backs deadlocked in the race for a single opening. Sophomore Rickey Galvin made his case for the job a year ago by rushing for a team-high 602 yards and five scores on 114 carries. Even better, he caught 28 passes for 242 yards and another touchdown. Just 5-8 and 171 pounds, he has the quickness and slippery qualities to make people miss in space.
Going toe-to-toe with Galvin is 5-8, 200-pound senior Carl Winston, a very different type of runner. While Galvin does his best work outside of the tackles, Winston is most comfortable running between them. The biggest and strongest of the Cougars runners, he'll lower his shoulders and burrow for extra yardage. As a part-time starter, he ran for 442 yards and four touchdowns on 123 carries.
Not far behind the co-starters is sophomore Marcus Mason , At 5-9 and 176 pounds, he runs with a similar style as Galvin, slashing in and out of traffic, and showcasing enough speed to become a long ball threat. As a rookie out of high school, he mostly contributed on special teams, but did carry the ball 19 times for 153 yards and a score.
Watch Out For .... Galvin to fit in nicely in the new offense. The Air Raid calls for playmakers, regardless of position, and the sophomore fits the description. He's small, quick and very comfortable swinging out to catch passes, which will particularly endear him to the new coaching staff.
Strength: Downhill runners. If you're going to play running back for Mike Leach, you better be a north-south runner, and not some east-west dancer. All of the Washington State runners hit the hole with authority, rarely getting caught behind the line. In fact, a year ago, Galvin, Winston and Mason lost a miniscule 54 yards on 256 carries.
Weakness: Pass protection. The backs have been learning their new roles since the beginning of the year. Their toughest lesson so far been learning their blocking assignments in pass protection, a key new element to the job description. The Cougars must protect QB Jeff Tuel, and this collection of backs is not constructed to impede the progress of a blitzing outside linebacker.
Outlook: The Cougars ought to feel pretty good about their situation in the backfield. Not only do last season's top three rushers return, but the trio appears to be a good fit with what the new offense plans to be doing. Galvin is one to watch this fall, a change of pace playmaker who's capable of catching defenses on their heels both as a runner and a receiver.
Two of last season's most productive targets have graduated, but Washington State's best weapon remains on the Palouse. Junior Marquess Wilson has been a prolific gamebreaker in his first two seasons as a Cougar. Just imagine what he might do now that Mike Leach is installing the Air Raid attack in Pullman. He went from Freshman All-American in 2010 to the All-Pac-12 Second Team a year ago, rewriting the single-season school record book by catching 82 balls for 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns. At 6-4 and 183 pounds, he uses his size as a valuable weapon, striding past or elevating high above overmatched defensive backs. Wilson is one of the game's more polished all-around pass-catchers; he has great hands, runs precise routes and has been ultra-consistent despite Wazzu's revolving door at quarterback.
The favorite to join Wilson on the outside is 6-2, 206-pound sophomore Kristoff Williams . While nagging injuries have slowed him somewhat in the early going, the potential is there for him to blossom into a dangerous receiver, with the physicality to outmuscle defenders. A starter in two games, he caught nine balls for 134 yards and two touchdowns.
One of the biggest surprises of the offseason so far has been senior Andrei Lintz the converted tight end who looks like a natural in the slot. Although tight ends are not usually welcome in a Mike Leach production, Lintz isn't the typical player at the position. Sure, he's 6-5 and 252 pounds, but he's also athletic enough to create matchup problems with linebackers. While he has made just eight career catches for 100 yards and two scores, early indications are that he'll be a more frequent target in 2012.
When Washington State wants a little more zip and flash out of the slot, it'll turn to 6-2, 194-pound sophomore Bobby Ratliff who put down a solid foundation in his debut as a reserve in 2011. A sure-handed target, he wound up fourth on the team with 28 receptions for 348 yards and a touchdown.
If Wilson leaves early for the NFL Draft, a distinct possibility, 6-2, 180-pound Dominique Williams could wind up being his successor. The redshirt freshman was one of the stars of the scout team a year ago, repeatedly making things happen on the outside. Like his mentor, he has a long stride, and the ability to go high in the air to steal the ball away from defensive backs.
Watch Out For .... Lintz to pick up where he left off in the spring. With Wilson and Williams garnering so much attention, the former tight end is going to see plenty of man coverages that allow him to win battles for the ball. Like a nimble power forward, he's going to get position on defenders, and wind up with about 40 connections with QB Jeff Tuel.
Strength: Length. It all begins with Wilson, but he certainly isn't the only long and lean Cougars wide receiver capable of elevating high above defensive backs. Washington State is steeped in rangy, athletic pass-catchers who are going to afford the quarterbacks large catch radiuses with which to work.
Weakness: Proven players … after No. 86. Wilson is a star who could go down as one of the program's all-time best receivers. However, with the graduations of Jared Karstetter and Isiah Barton, Wazzu has gotten young and inexperienced on the outside in a hurry. Sure, the expectations are high for Ratliff and the Williams', but all three are underclassmen, with little experience at this level.
Outlook: Wilson is an All-American contender who is going to make some NFL team very happy in 2013 or 2014. However, the corps of Washington State receivers will ultimately be judged by how well the supporting cast buffers its star, and adapts to a new system. The Air Raid is never about one go-to guy surrounded by a bunch of bystanders. The Cougars are seeking a collaborative effort that produces multiple 50-catch guys.
The O-line is a major concern in Pullman. And the sky is blue, and water is wet. The Cougars just can't seem to escape its problems up front, perennially getting abused at the point of attack. The unit will attempt to build gradually around 6-5, 290-pound John Fullington , the starting left guard moving to left tackle where he played as a rookie. More than just versatile, the honorable mention All-Pac-12 pick is also the program's most reliable pocket protector, which is of particular value at this school.
Over at right tackle, the new staff is high on the development of 6-6, 283-pound junior Rico Forbes . The former transfer from Navarro (Tex.) Junior College started slowly in 2011, but has since blocked with more consistency and assertiveness. The hope is that his athleticism and footwork can help offset his lack of experience.
Pushing Forbes on the right side will be 6-6, 295-pound sophomore Jake Rodgers. Still raw in his technique, he did appear in three games last season, starting in the team's overtime loss to Utah.
Exiting spring, junior Elliott Bosch held a surprising lead over the veteran, senior strong> Dan Spitz . At 6-4 and 260 pounds, Bosch is light in both size and experience. However, the former walk-on has impressed the new staff with his quickness and work ethic. The well-traveled Spitz is a former defensive lineman who started seven games at offensive tackle in 2011. At 6-7 and 300 pounds, he has the long arms needed to keep pass rushers at a distance, but has a lot of work to do with his feet.
Spitz is also an option at right guard, though he'll have to make up ground to catch 6-6, 306-pound senior Wade Jacobson , who returns after missing most of last season to a back injury. The former transfer from Gavilan (Calif.) College has started 15 games in a little over a year with the Cougars, displaying good feet, versatility and the attitude that is missing from the balance of the Washington State linemen.
The Cougs are banking on having 6-4, 270-pound sophomore Matt Goetz back at center, where he started the final nine games of 2011. The transfer from Texas Tech and Navarro (Tex.) Junior College got increasingly comfortable on the job last fall as he improved his snaps and run blocking. While quick off the snap, he's benefit from a few extra pounds of muscle.
Watch Out For .... the two-deep to be treated like a chess board once practices resume in the summer. The pecking order has hardly been set in stone especially since JUCO transfers Sam Jones and Niu Sale have yet to enter the mix. The Cougars are a long way from having a firm depth chart at their most critical unit of 2012.
Strength: Reps. Hey, the O-line might be challenged, but at least it doesn't lack experience. This will be a veteran-laden line that expects to have an upperclassman starting at all but the center position. And Goetz is a returning starter who figures to be even steadier now that he has a full season in the lineup behind him.
Weakness: Pass blocking. The very last thing that a Mike Leach-led team can afford is a busy pocket. However, recent history is not on the side of the Cougars. In each of the last four years, Washington State has finished no higher than 116th nationally in sacks allowed, a disturbing trend that's liable ground the aerial attack if it cannot be reversed.
Outlook: New year. Same troubling problems for the Washington State offensive line. It's a hodge-podge that's light on sure-things or productivity. As a group, it needs to evolve, especially in the area of pass protection. August will be a crucial month for both the blockers and the coaching staff, which is feverishly trying to determine the names of its five best performers. Newcomers will get every opportunity to crack the two-deep shortly upon arrival.
2012 Washington State Preview |
Washington State Offense
2012 Washington State Defense |
Washington State Depth Chart