Preview 2009 - Offense
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2009 Wazzu Offense
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need to know:
Head coach Paul Wulff is determined to
unveil the complete version of his no-huddle offense this
season. The pessimist might wonder if it really matters.
Washington State is looking to regroup after sporting one of the
nation’s most feeble offenses. The Cougars were no higher than
106th nationally in rushing, passing, or scoring offense, and
led the country in turnovers lost. You’ll run out of adjectives
to describe their futility. Beyond the installation of the
offense, Wulff needs to decide on a quarterback between senior
Kevin Lopina and sophomore Marshall Lobbestael. Although
Lobbestael is the future at the position, he’s also recovering
from knee surgery. Hints of good news can be found in a
backfield that has surprising depth, bolstered by the arrival of
Cal transfer James Montgomery. Center Kenny Alfred, the
offense’s most consistent player, would be a little less
anonymous if he was playing outside the Palouse.
Passing: Kevin Lopina
87-153, 841 yds, 0 TD, 11 INT
Rushing: Dwight Tardy
133 carries, 481 yds, 3 TD
Receiving; Jeshua Anderson
33 catches, 305 yds, 2 TD
of the offense: Senior C Kenny Alfred
Player who has to step up and become a star:
Sophomore QB Marshall Lobbestael
Unsung star on the rise: Junior
RB James Montgomery
pro prospect: Junior WR Jeshua
Top three all-star candidates:
1) Alfred, 2)
Strength of the offense:
Depth at running back, speed at receiver, the pivot
Weakness of the offense: The
passing game, the ground game, blocking, turnovers, third down
There were 119 programs in the FCS in 2008. Only four had a less
efficient passing attack than the Cougars, which used four
quarterbacks and produced hideous results. Gary Rogers has
graduated, creating a two-man competition between 6-3, 234-pound
senior Kevin Lopina
and 6-3, 206-pound sophomore
Lopina was a disaster after being thrust into the lineup last
fall, going 87-of-153 for 841 yards,
zero touchdowns, and
11 interceptions. His passer rating needed to be measured by a
milliameter. He’s actually a very good athlete, especially for
his size, but needs to come a long way with his passing skills
to win the job.
Lobbestael has been considered the future
from the moment he signed out of Oak Harbor (Wash.) High School.
He actually had the highest passer efficiency rating on the
team, but was lost to a season-ending knee injury after starting
three games and still wasn’t fully operational in the spring. He
ended up 53-of-103 for 571 yards, four touchdowns, and four
picks. He has the quick release and the quick feet to someday be
a playmaker in this offense.
Projected Top Reserves:
The loser in the summer competition between Lopina and
Lobbestael is likely to slip back into the No. 2 hole without a
lot of competition. Sophomore
J.T. Levenseller will
be a fixture at No. 3. Injuries forced him on to the field for
four games late last fall, producing 17-of-34 through the air
for 134 yards, and two interceptions. At 6-1 and 187 pounds, he
has limited arm strength, but will escape the pressure and
throws well on the move.
Watch Out For…Lobbestael
to get the nod, provided he’s 100%. Figuring there’s little
difference between the two quarterbacks, why wouldn’t Wazzu
begin to build its offense around the sophomore? He has more
upside than Lopina and some much-needed experience from last
year’s five appearances and three starts.
Mobility. They can’t throw worth a lick, but the Cougar
quarterbacks sure do move well outside the pocket. Call it a
survival instinct. If you take sacks out of the equation, Lopina
would have finished third on the team with 194 yards and three
Production, especially on third down. The quarterbacks were
miserable throughout 2008, but especially in the red zone and on
third down, where they engineered a nation’s-worst 26%
conversion rate. Without oversimplifying, the Cougars need to
evolve in every aspect of the passing game.
There’s nowhere but up, right? It would be impossible for the
Cougars to be any worse than 2008. In an ideal world, Lobbestael
gets healthy, wins the job, and has Lopina as his veteran
insurance policy. Washington State isn’t going anywhere this
fall, so starting a senior is just delaying the blueprint for
Unlike most of the rest of the squad, the staff feels real
confident about its depth and talent in the backfield. The
returning workhorse is 5-10, 208-pound senior
Dwight Tardy, who has
started at least eight games in each of the last three seasons. Although his production slipped last year to 544 yards and three
touchdowns on 133 carries, some of the blame goes to an
offensive line that struggled to open holes. A powerful
north-south runner, he hits the hole quickly, won’t be
arm-tackled, and always drives for extra yardage.
Projected Top Reserves:
After sitting out a mandatory season, 5-10, 202-pound junior
James Montgomery, a Cal transfer, can’t wait to get his chance to
play. A top recruit from the 2006 class, he grew tired of
Berkeley and the Bears, bolting after rushing for 171 yards and
two scores in 2007. Last year’s Scout Team Player of the Year,
he has the burst and the determination to escape the No. 2 slot
once camp reconvenes in August.
Third on the depth chart
is 6-1, 220-pound junior
Marcus Richmond, a more physical option to Tardy and Montgomery.
While he doesn’t have much wiggle, he’s an interesting option on
short yardage plays. Used sparingly in 2008, he carried 15 times
for 69 yards.
Although 6-1, 224-pound sophomore
Logwone Mitz has
fallen to No. 4 in the pecking order, he showed enough in his
rookie year to challenge Richmond for more playing time. One of
the strongest of the backs, he turned 90 carries into 441 yards
and three touchdowns, while showing unexpected acceleration in
the open field.
Watch Out For… Montgomery to eventually take over as the
feature back. He didn’t leave Cal to be a backup at a lesser
program. He has the most talent among the backs, so it’s just a
matter of time before he supplants Tardy as the go-to guy.
Depth. This is as much depth as the Cougars have had in the
backfield in years. They’ve got four runners, who you wouldn’t
mind giving a dozen touches a game, five if senior
Chris Ivory can make
it back from an injury without any complications.
of a game-breaker. Where is the long ball hitter, who can turn a
sliver of daylight into a 50-yard jaunt? It might be Montgomery,
but with the uncertainty along the offensive line, Washington
State needs a jitterbug or two, who can make things happen
without a ton of help.
in a no-huddle, shotgun offense, the passing attack is far too
sporadic for Washington State to ignore this backfield. In fact,
it should be the focal point. Tardy and Montgomery give the
Cougars a respectable one-two punch that can consistently move
the chains and wear down opposing defenses. An improved running
game is one sure-fire way to throw a life vest to the
While there’s no easy way to replace Brandon Gibson, Wazzu knows
it needs to unearth a new go-to receiver on the outside. The
logical choice is 6-2, 188-pound junior
Jeshua Anderson, last
year’s second-leading receiver and one of the Pac-10’s fastest
players. A member of the track team, who almost qualified for
the 2008 Olympic squad as a hurdler, he’s gradually become more
of a football player. The favorite at “X” receiver, he’s caught
45 passes for 677 yards and four touchdowns in his first two
On the opposite side, the “Z” receiver will be
6-4, 203-pound sophomore
Jared Karstetter. A three-game starter last year, he was
underutilized, catching just six balls for 90 yards, but that’s
about to change. He’ll have a size advantage whenever he runs
patterns and can climb the tree like a former basketball star.
While he certainly doesn’t have Anderson’s jets, he does have
the long stride to get behind a secondary.
At the slot,
or “F” receiver is 5-9, 199-pound sophomore
Kevin Norrell, who started six games and caught 11 balls for 124
yards in his first year on campus. One of the quickest players
on offense, he’s one of the receivers the Cougars hope can get
the ball in space more often. Too often last season, he was
trying to escape traffic, which is not his strength.
new tight end figures to be 6-2, 241-pound senior
Tony Thompson, a former walk-on getting his first good chance for
extensive playing time. Mostly a special teams performer up to
this point, he has limited upside potential, playing in 10 games
in 2008, and catching the first four passes of his career.
Reserves: While Anderson was running track in the
spring, junior Daniel Blackledge was running with the first team at “Z”. A lanky
6-1, 182-pounder, he has the fluid athleticism and speed to be a
prominent factor off the bench. Actually, he was supposed to be
the next best thing to Gibson a year ago, but wound up catching
just nine catches for 70 yards.
Jeff Solomon has
flashed his versatility in the offseason by challenging Norrell
at “F” and backing up Karstetter at “Z”. A 6-0, 196-pound
transfer from Eastern Washington, he sat out last season due to
NCAA rules. Determined to be more than just an afterthought,
he’s worked as hard as any Cougar receiver this offseason.
Watch Out For…
6-1, 195-pound junior
Johnny Forzani, a transfer from Canada’s Douglas College,
where he was a basketball player. He played some football for the Calgary Colts, a
Stampeders farm team, but basically has one year of experience.
The hook? He’s an amazing all-around athlete and has been
clocked in the 4.4 range. He’s raw, but he’s going to get
chances to make things happen this fall.
Speed. The goal will be to get Anderson and Forzani on the field
at the same time on the outside. Assuming Forzani doesn’t wind
up being some urban legend, this duo will have the jets to
stretch even the most athletic secondary. Will the Cougar
quarterbacks underthrow them? That’s a discussion for a
Weakness: Proven talent. Now that Gibson is a
Philadelphia Eagle, does Washington State have a legit go-to
receiver? Anderson has exciting speed, but he’s not the kind of
complete player, who can be counted on to run the crisp routes
and make the tough catches on third down. Everyone else is
young, raw, and unproven.
Cougar quarterbacks need a group of pass-catchers who can lift
them up and help make them better. This collection of wide
receivers and tight ends isn’t going to provide that level of
assistance. They’ll pop a big play every now and again, but
consistency and stability is going to elude them.
The Cougars have lots of returning starters, but very little
confidence in an offensive line that struggled throughout the
2008 season. The lone exception is 6-2, 300-pound senior
Kenny Alfred, one of
the nation’s most underrated centers. Highly cerebral and
fundamentally sound, he’s been the lone constant up front for
the last three years. An honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection
a year ago, he’s going to get a shot to play at the next level.
At the all-important left tackle spot, the staff is
entrusting 6-4, 315-pound sophomore
Steven Ayers, who was
thrown into the deep end of the pool in his first season of
action. He started five games at tackle and guard, but
struggled, especially in pass protection. He’s bulked up
considerably since arriving in the hopes of being more effective
in his second year of work.
At right tackle, 6-4,
284-pound junior Micah
Hannam is in a desperate struggle to hold on to a job he’s
held for the last 25 games. While tough, bright, and now
experienced, he was beaten like a drum throughout last fall,
needing to improve his technique while doing a better job of
sealing off speedy edge rushers. He’ll have the edge heading
into summer, but the margin for error is narrowing.
to Hannam at right guard will be 6-3, 311-pound sophomore
B.J. Guerra, a
converted defensive tackle who earned five starts in his debut
on offense. While still learning, he has the strong base and
upper body to hold his ground as a run blocker. If he can
display better footwork and agility outside the phone booth,
he’ll be a fixture here for the next three seasons.
newcomer of the unit will be 6-4, 293-pound junior
Zack Williams, a former transfer from Glendale (Calif.) College.
After using last year’s redshirt season to get bigger, stronger
and quicker in the weight room. Despite his size, he’s shown the
agility of a much smaller player in the offseason, often
sustaining his blocks well beyond the first line of defense.
Projected Top Reserves:
Trying to end Hannam’s streak of consecutive starts at right
tackle is 6-8, 306-pound junior
Joe Eppele. Mostly a
backup and special teams player over the last two seasons, he
has the frame and the long arms needed to excel in pass
protection. Finally playing without pain in his shoulders, he’ll
continue his pursuit of the top job in the summer.
Brian Danaher is
listed as the backup at both right and left guard, so he figures
to have a prominent role in the rotation. A nimble 6-3,
284-pounder, he played in 10 games last season, starting eight
before getting derailed for a time by a shoulder injury.
While 6-1, 306-pound junior
Andrew Roxas is no
threat to Alfred at center, he is a dependable insurance policy
and one of the most versatile members of the offensive line.
He’s earned starts in each of his first two seasons, including
eight last fall, and is equally adept at guard and center. One
of the team’s top backups, he should be back in the lineup in
For… Williams to provide some much-needed energy to this
group. Throughout the spring, he played with an exceptional
motor, hitting anything that moved. The Cougars need an attitude
up front, and the junior appears capable of providing it.
pivot. Washington State is bad in the trenches. However, it
would be historically
bad without Alfred, the one gem among the linemen. Much more
than just a good blocker from a technical standpoint, he’s a
team leader and the type of student-athlete that the young
Cougars aim to emulate.
protection. While you can go in a lot of different directions
here, pass blocking has been particularly necrotic. After
finishing 116th nationally in sacks allowed, there’s no
overnight solution to solving this problem.
root cause of many of Wazzu’s offensive woes, the line will
continue to have problems keeping the opposition out of the
backfield. Alfred is a stalwart, but the Cougars would need two
or three just like him to be competitive, especially in a league
with so many quality pass rushers.