When I previewed Washington State back in July, I said that even though the past three years had been difficult, this season promised to be different. I felt like they would turn at least some of last year's close losses into wins, and that quarterback Jeff Tuel would mature into one of the conference's top quarterbacks.
Two games into conference play the Cougs are 1-1. They squeaked by Colorado and lost a heartbreaker at UCLA, so it's probably too early to say whether I'm right or wrong. When Tuel went down with a broken collarbone in Week 1, even the most loyal Cougar fans assumed the season was about to burn to the ground, but Marshall Lobbestael has done more than anyone could've expected. He's third in the conference in passer rating, and he's thrown more touchdowns than Andrew Luck. Though Tuel has been cleared to play this week, as of Friday morning Coach Paul Wulff hadn't decided if he'd see the field. I bet he sticks with Lobbestael.
Anyway, I don't really know what I'm talking about here, so I've turned to Lucas Nurmi from the WSU Football Blog to get an expert opinion. (Lucas is making his third appearance here at GoMightyCard, putting him just a few guest spots behind John Goodman and Tom Hanks.) Also, you check out my answers to his questions over at his place. I'll get out of the way now.
How has the season been going so far for the Cougs? They've struggled for the past few years, but it seems like they're turning things around. Are fans happy with where things are right now? What is the mood following this past weekend's loss to UCLA?
There was a lot of enthusiasm after our Week One and Week Two dismantling of Idaho State and UNLV, and I think it's become more of a tempered enthusiasm the last four weeks. In both of our losses, we have seen our opponents claw their way back into the game in the 4th quarter, so that's a definite improvement over the 30-50 point blow outs we've been accustomed to the last couple of seasons. Losing our unquestioned leader to a fluke injury in Week One has definitely cost us in one, if not both, of our losses.
The Jeff Tuel injury in Week 1 was potentially devastating, but Marshall Lobbestael has stepped in at quarterback and the offense doesn't seem to have missed a beat. What are Lobbestael's strengths and weaknesses as a quarterback?
Speaking of the Lobster, as I mentioned above, he has exceeded my wildest expectations thus far. He's a fifth year senior who lost the starting reins to Jeff Tuel midway through 2009. I remember sitting in the stands at Martin Stadium when Tuel went down in Week One, thinking the season was done, along with our coaching staff. A seasoned, experienced starter is something most teams would kill to have. I would imagine Utah's Kyle Whittingham would have loved to have a Lobbestael step in when Wynn went down. Heaven forbid Keith Price's ankles don't hold up, how much does Washington's season hinge on his legs? It would be a scary thing if Nick Montana had to step in for them. Lobster has an above average arm, and makes pretty solid decisions the majority of the time. He lacks the fleet-footedness (Stanford grads, is that a word?) that Tuel has, which gives opposing defenses one less thing to game plan for. Our former coach, Jim Walden, recently said that we are only running 55% of our play book while Tuel is out. It looks as though Lobster will be starting in Week Seven against the Card.
When Stanford faced Arizona's spread offense a few weeks ago, things didn't go so well for the Wildcats. The Cougs run the ball a lot better than Arizona, but Stanford's rushing defense is ranked second in the nation. How do you expect the offense to do against the Cardinal? Who should we be watching for on that side of the ball.
I am extremely curious to see how we will fare against your defense. The teams we have played haven't had the best defensive units, so this is our first true test in my opinion. Our rushing attack consists of Carl Winston #3 (Thunder) and Rickey Galvin #5 (Lightning), and I am curious how our vastly improved OL does against Stanford. Last season we gave up something like 55 sacks on the season, and through five games this year, I believe we have yielded ten. You definitely have to look out for big play WR Marquess Wilson, who I believe has five TDs on the season, and went for 150 against you last season. On the other side of him, we have the ever-steady Jared Karstetter who is 7th on our all-time receptions list and has incredibly sure hands.
Before the season you expressed concern about the defensive line, but it seems like that unit has done fairly well. Which individuals have stood out there? What will the defense do to stop the powerful Stanford offense?
We have had much improved OL play, but when it's been as bad as it's been the last three seasons, the only place you have to go is up. The play of DT Anthony Laurenzi and DE Travis Long has been the most impressive. Also keep an eye out for true freshman Logan Mayes, who is in the rotation at DE. I would expect us to put seven or eight men in the box, and mix up the blitzing quite a bit from our linebacker corps. Pressure from the entire defensive line has been non-existent this year, so we will need help from the linebackers. However, last year we gave up 400+ yards on the ground to UCLA, and last week we held them to 170. I'd think the game plan is to stop the run and make you beat us through the air, but who knows if we can accomplish that.
I'm curious about your perceptions of Andrew Luck. When you look at him, what do you see?
I love Andrew Luck, and think he represents everything that is right with college sports. He clearly is the #1 Pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, and will not be returning for 2012. However, Ryan Leaf, Cade McNown, Akili Smith, JaMarcus Russell, etc., were all solid looking NFL Prospects that clearly bombed, so that is something I won't touch here.
Finally, how do you expect the game to play out? Who's gonna win, and what will the final score be?
I see the game playing out a lot like it did down on The Farm in 2010, with the Trees jumping out to a nice lead early, and WSU to hang some points on the board (enough to cover the spread) while airing it out in a come-from behind effort. Stanford has looked steady, but truly, I believe this is their first test of 2011 as well. Martin Stadium will be hopping and loud as it's Homecoming Week on The Palouse and our football team is coming back to life. Stanford 38-WSU 27.