Preview 2008 - Offense
2008 CFN Washington
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2008 Wazzu Offense
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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.
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
of the offense:
Senior WR Brandon Gibson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior QB
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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