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2008 Washington State Preview - Offense
Washington State WR Brandon Gibson
Washington State WR Brandon Gibson
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 20, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Washington State Cougar Offense

Washington State Cougars

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Washington State Preview | 2008 Wazzu Offense
- 2008 Wazzu Defense | 2008 Wazzu Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Wazzu Preview | 2006 CFN Wazzu Preview 

What you need to know: With new head coach Paul Wulff comes a no-huddle spread offense that makes extensive use of the shotgun formation. However, don’t be fooled by the fancy name.  Washington State will still be seeking a degree of balance behind the hard running of Dwight Tardy and Chris Ivory, and an improving offensive line that brings back four starters. The great unknown in Pullman is who’ll replace all-time leading passer Alex Brink, who finally ran out of eligibility. While senior Gary Rogers has an early edge, Wulff has dubbed the race an open competition that should last well into August. Whoever gets the ball will spend a lot of time zeroing in on Brandon Gibson, an All-America-caliber receiver who put off the NFL for one final season.    

Returning Leaders
Passing: Gary Rogers
4-16, 18 yds, 0 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Dwight Tardy
143 carries, 676 yds, 6 TD
Receiving; Brandon Gibson

67 catches, 1,180 yds, 9 TD

Star of the offense: Senior WR Brandon Gibson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior QB Gary Rogers
Unsung star on the rise: Senior LT Vaughn Lesuma
Best pro prospect: Gibson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Gibson  2) Junior C Kenny Alfred  3) Junior RB Dwight Tardy
Strength of the offense: The passing game, the receivers
Weakness of the offense: Run blocking, inexperience under center

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Along with the first season of the Paul Wulff era, the biggest storyline in Pullman revolves around the battle to replace all-time leading passer Alex Brink. If not for the adoption of a no-huddle offense that prefers mobile quarterbacks, senior Gary Rogers would be the prohibitive favorite to win the job. The 6-7, 234-pounder is packing a Long Tom for a right arm, allowing him to reach any of the speedy Cougar receivers, and has an edge in experience from being Brink’s long-time backup. However, Rogers is prone to lumbering when forced from the pocket, which will prevent him from turning this into a boring competition. Over the course of three seasons he has attempted 52 passes and thrown three touchdowns.    

Projected Top Reserves: While there are six quarterbacks in camp, only four have a realistic shot at getting the ball when Oklahoma State visits Seattle on Aug. 30. Junior Cole Morgan is a 6-2, 198-pounder who’s yet to attempt a pass at this level. A capable distributor with average arm strength, he was coached in high school by former Wazzu legend Jack Thompson. 

Junior Kevin Lopina is a very interesting option for the Cougars, a 6-3, 230-pound chucker who also has the agility and quickness that the new staff covets in a quarterback. A former transfer from Kansas State, he sat out 2006 and didn’t play in 2007, but he had a terrific spring and brings too much to the offense to not be a factor in his final two years of eligibility. 

The wild card in the mix is redshirt freshman Marshall Lobbestael, the babe of this bunch, but the one with the highest ceiling. At 6-3 and 200 pounds, he has a quick release, quick feet, and many of the intangibles coaches look for in a young quarterback. 

Watch Out For… Rogers to get the nod from the coaching staff. Is he a perfect fit in this offense? No. However, he is an experienced senior and a solid one-year solution until Lopina or Lobbestael is ready to take over on a full-time basis.
Strength: Diversity. From top to bottom, the Cougars have a nice mix of talent that does a number of different things well. Rogers is a senior with an NFL-caliber cannon. Lobbestael is a freshman who can do a little bit of everything in between, Morgan and Lopina are multi-faceted juniors who can’t be type-casted. The options are unique, allowing Wulff flexibility in his game-planning.
Weakness: Game experience. Rogers is a senior and Morgan and Lopina are juniors, but not one of the veterans has started a single game. In fact, aside from the occasional mop-up duty, even Rogers hasn’t logged any meaningful minutes in a Cougar uniform.
Outlook: Although Brink is gone, the quarterback cupboard isn’t bare. Rogers is a veteran hurler in the Ryan Leaf mold who spent the offseason taking on more of a leadership role and preparing like he’ll be the starter. Morgan, Lopina, and Lobbestael are quality athletes with the right skill set to run this offense. Whoever wins the job will benefit from having navigated stiff competition.
Rating: 6.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Although junior Dwight Tardy sat out spring to continue rehabbing last October’s knee injury, he’s expected to be cleared for contact before the season begins. The Cougs’ leading rusher the last two seasons powered his way to 676 yards and six touchdowns on 143 carries before tearing his ACL against UCLA. A 5-11, 212-pound north-south runner, he’s quick to the hole and rarely gets stopped for minus yards. In an offense built on finesse, Tardy brings a certain toughness and physical attitude that has particular value in short yardage and near the goal line. 

Projected Top Reserves: The coaching staff loves the potential of junior Chris Ivory, but he’ll have to hit the books before he can hit the hole on a regular basis. He only practiced on a part-time basis in March to ensure his grades were being maintained. Purely in terms of measurables, Ivory is the best that Wazzu has, an explosive 6-0, 228-pounder with sub-4.5 speed and the strength to run over defenders. After Tardy got hurt, he had two 100-yard days in three starts, finishing with 313 yards and two scores on 60 carries. 

Running behind Tardy and Ivory on the depth chart is 6-1, 215-pound sophomore Marcus Richmond, who played in nine games a year ago, getting 14 carries for 56 yards at the end of four blowouts. 

Arguably the strongest of the backs is Logwone Mitz, who redshirted in his first season on campus. A load at 6-0 and 228 pounds, he runs with the determination and leg drive that’ll make him a strong candidate in short yardage.            

Watch Out For… Ivory to cut into Tardy’s playing time. While Tardy was out last year, Ivory ran well, hitting the hole with authority and breaking free into the secondary. Plus, with a new staff in place, every Cougar will have a chance to make a positive first impression.
Strength: Power runners. From Tardy to Mitz, the top four backs are all well north of 200 pounds, and have the leg drive to wear down defenses late in games.
Weakness: Lack of a game-breaker. Where’s the homerun hitter who can take a screen pass out of the backfield and run for a mile? The bruising running style of the Cougars has value, but it would help to also have a complimentary jitterbug who can burn a defense every so often.
Outlook: Although Washington State plans to employ a no-huddle, shotgun offense, it doesn’t mean it’ll abandon the run. Provided Tardy is healthy and Ivory does his homework, the Cougars have enough talent in the backfield to achieve offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy’s quest for balance.
Rating: 7

Receivers

Projected Starters: After losing three of last year’s starting receivers to graduation, it’s incumbent upon a bunch of unproven Cougars to take some heat off their lone star, senior Brandon Gibson. Gibson had a chance to leave early for the NFL after delivering a breakthrough year, opting instead to return for one final season. A 6-1, 202-pound long ball threat at the Z position, he earned First Team All-Pac-10 honors with 67 grabs for 1,180 yards and nine touchdowns. Not surprisingly, the coaching staff will look for new ways to get the ball in Gibson’s reliable hands. 

The favorite to be at X receiver is 6-3, 186-pound senior Benny Ward, a three-time letterwinner who hasn’t been asked to do much more than make plays on special teams. One of the corps’ biggest targets, he caught his first three passes last year and is underrated downfield blocker. 

The program is cautiously optimistic that sophomore flanker Daniel Blackledge will be the next big thing at receiver once Gibson graduates. A wiry, athletic receiver at 6-2 and 179 pounds, he glides with little wasted movement and only needs more reps to be a major factor in this offense.              

At tight end, senior Devin Frischknecht came on strong late last season, finishing with 18 catches for 191 yards and three touchdowns in a reserve role. More of a thick receiver than a blocking tight end at 6-3 and 256 pounds, he has the athleticism and jumping ability to play the equivalent of an H-back in the Cougars’ new offense.   

Projected Top Reserves: Pushing Ward at X will be sophomore Anthony Houston, a physical 6-3, 200-pounder who lettered on special teams as a freshman. With a strong camp, he possesses the separation speed and ball skills to blow past Ward and begin the season in the starting lineup. 

Providing insurance for Gibson at Z is 6-3, 175-pound sophomore Greg Walker, who has the long strides and straight-line speed to be a long ball threat. A talented all-around athlete, he needs to tighten up his route running and add a little more cushion in the weight room. 

The No. 2 man behind Blackledge at flanker is junior Michael Willis, a 6-1, 204-pound veteran of special teams. A former enforcer at safety, he has no aversions to contact, blocking downfield, or making plays in traffic.       

Junior Ben Woodard is a sure-handed 6-5, 250-pound tight end who has been limited in the off-season by hernia surgery. While not the pass-catcher that Frischknecht is, he did haul in eight passes for 82 yards and two scores, and is a solid run blocker when the Cougars keep it on the ground. 

Watch Out For… sophomore Jeshua Anderson. Anderson is so fast, he may be running right off the 2008 squad. After catching 12 passes for 372 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman, he’ll redshirt this fall if he qualifies for the U.S. Olympic track team as a hurdler.
Strength: Size. From top to bottom, Wazzu boasts a very tall set of receivers that’ll create match up problems. The jump ball will be a popular tool for whichever quarterback is taking snaps.
Weakness: Proven talent after Gibson. If Anderson doesn’t suit up, Wazzu doesn’t have a single wide receiver with more than 10 career receptions. Even if he is on the field, the Cougars are going to be painfully inexperienced at the position.
Outlook: If the Cougars’ new offense is going to click early, it has to have more than one reliable option at receiver. Gibson will make his plays and get his numbers, but it’s up to the underclassmen like Blackledge and Houston to emerge if the passing game is to avoid becoming predictable and one-dimensional.
Rating: 7.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: The Cougars welcome back all but one starter to a line that started to gel late last season, especially in pass protection. The leader of the group is junior C Kenny Alfred, an athletic 6-2, 293-pounder who’s started to receive Rimington Trophy recognition. A third-year starter, he’s very bright, plays to the whistle, and is very tough to move off his block. Alfred is the Cougar lineman most likely to contend for Pac-10 postseason honors. 

Both tackles return, senior Vaughn Lesuma on the left side and sophomore Micah Hannam on the right. Lesuma did a solid job in his first season out of Mt. San Jacinto (Calif.) College, settling into the lineup and rarely missing an assignment. A 6-5, 340-pound former rugby player, he’s mature and surprisingly light on his feet for a lineman who hasn’t been playing the sport for very long. Dropping a few pounds, however, would do wonders for his stamina. 

Although Hannam is young and still learning, he made noticeable strides as a 12-game freshman starter. An intelligent, tough competitor, he’ll be even more effective when he adds more bulk to a 6-4, 280-pound frame that can handle the extra weight.

Slotted in as the only new starter is sophomore Andrew Roxas, who’s hoping to succeed long-time regular Bobby Byrd. While only 6-1 and 295 pounds, he earned a start as a true freshman and offsets his limited size with some of the sharpest fundamentals of the Cougar linemen. 

Filling out the line is 6-5, 290-pound senior Dan Rowlands, who can also play guard and center, if needed. A blue-collar competitor with long arms and plenty of experience, he’s somewhat limited when forced to block on the move and needs to improve his strength in the weight room.  

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Joe Eppele and junior Reed Lesuma are hoping to remain ahead of the freshmen, while providing depth on the second unit. At 6-7 and 277 pounds, Eppele is on his way to having an ideal body for a left tackle, and is finally able to develop without having to contend with nagging shoulder problems. 

Lesuma is the younger brother of the Cougars’ starting left tackle, a 6-3, 302-pounder who is built more like a guard, but moves well laterally and has exceptional upper body strength.

Behind Roxas at left guard is redshirt freshman B.J. Guerra, a converted defensive tackle who has basically swapped positions with former offensive lineman Andy Roof. Very strong up top at 6-3 and 315 pounds, he’ll need to show better footwork and athleticism outside confined areas in order to leapfrog Roxas into the top spot.  

On the right side, redshirt freshman Kevin Freitag gets his first real chance to audition for a starting job in 2009. At 6-4 and 316 pounds, he’s physically ready to play and a prominent part of the future in the trenches.   

Watch Out For… how quickly the line picks up new blocking schemes and adapts to first-year line coach Harold Etheridge. While it may be a veteran group, there will be a lot to absorb, including running most sets out of the shotgun.
Strength: Experience. All five of this year’s probable starters started at least one game last year, and Alfred and Rowlands are veteran line leaders who can help the underclassmen adjust to expanded roles.
Weakness: Run blocking. A problem in Pullman for the last couple of years, the Cougars have struggled to create daylight. Aside from Lesuma, Washington State is not comprised of blockers who can dominate at the point of attack by moving the opposition off the ball.
Outlook: After making progress a year ago, the line needs to keep the momentum going with four starters back. Alfred provides stability at the pivot, and Lesuma has the massive frame and agility to attract curious NFL scouts to the Palouse.
Rating: 6.5