2009 Washington State Preview - Offense
Washington State RB Dwight Tardy
Washington State RB Dwight Tardy
Posted Jun 21, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Washington State Cougar Offense

Washington State Cougars

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Washington State Preview | 2009 Wazzu Offense
- 2009 Wazzu Defense | 2009 Wazzu Depth Chart
- 2008 Wazzu Preview | 2007 Wazzu Preview | 2006 Wazzu Preview

What you 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.

Returning Leaders
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

Star 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
Best pro prospect: Junior WR Jeshua Anderson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Alfred,  2) Anderson,  3) Montgomery
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 conversion


Projected Starter: 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 Marshall Lobbestael. 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.
Strength: 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 touchdowns.
Weakness: 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.
Outlook: 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 the future.
Rating: 5.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: 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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: Lack 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.  
Outlook: Even 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 quarterbacks.
Rating: 7


Projected Starters: 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 seasons.

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.

The 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.

Projected Top 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.

Junior 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.
Strength: 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 different category.
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.
Outlook: The 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.
Rating: 6

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: 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.

Next 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.

The 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.

Junior 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 2010.

Watch Out 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.
Strength: The 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.
Weakness: Pass 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.
Outlook: The 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.
Rating: 5.5