The work continues for Coach Paul Wulff and Cougar football players. Back in Pullman preparations for the game with Oregon this coming Saturday were well underway.
Coach Wulff and his staff spent time reviewing video from the USC game to evaluate and assess just where this team is at after four games. After practice Sunday, Wulff took time to talk about the USC game and moving forward.
One challenge the Cougs will have to address coming out of the game Saturday night is how to patch the offensive line back together.
Starting left guard Steven Ayers is the latest player on the OL to go down to injury bringing the total to three starting offensive linemen lost in the last three weeks.
When the depth chart comes out Monday afternoon, there will be shuffling up front on the OL once again.
Coach Wulff has three players on the roster expected to step up and fill the latest void. He anticipates more playing time for fifth-year senior Reed Lesuma. True freshman Alex Reitnouer has been working at both guard and tackle. He's in the mix. Also, walk-on Michael Pfeiff who red shirted last year showed some good things in fall camp and might get an opportunity to play some guard.
The issue of starting quarterback is still up in the air as well.
Offensively, the Cougs sputtered with Marshall Lobbestael taking snaps against the Trojans. Wulff was clear in his assessment of Lobbestael's play:
“I thought that early on our protection was not good. Marshall took some unnecessary hits that shouldn’t have happened. That was kind of a disadvantage for him early. ...and he misfired on a few throws.”
The offense began to move against an outstanding Trojan defense when freshman Jeff Tuel came on in relief:
“Jeff did some good things obviously running the ball. He threw the ball pretty well and he didn’t force too many things. He obviously had the interception that he did force. I think we had a little spark when Jeff was in there.”
Coach Wulff isn't ready to name the starter for this coming Saturday. That may come as a surprise to many who watched the game on television Saturday night. But before putting a spin on the deliberate steps Wulff is taking, consider the process:
"We need to make sure we’re doing it right. Make sure we feel comfortable with (naming the starting quarterback). Sometimes you need to sit on things to make sure you feel good about it before we make any decision one way or the other.(Lobbestael and Tuel) are two different type of players. Both have their strengths. They’re both young quarterbacks. That’s what everyone needs to realize. We’ve got a freshman and a sophomore. They’ve got a lot of football in front of them. Neither one of them are nearly the player they are going to be. We need to have both of those guys grow as players…"
Fortunately choices like starting quarterback are easier to make this season. With an improved level of talent on the roster, young players are making quite an impact on the field. Given a chance to play, the potential of first and second year student/athletes have the future of Cougar football looking bright.
There are good things happening right now as well.
For the second week in a row, true freshman Travis Long was named defensive player of the game. Long is a young man with a big-time motor who plays aggressively until officials blow their whistles.
Another true freshman, Gino Simone, was offensive player of the game based on his eight catches against the best defense in the Pac-10. His play was even more remarkable considering he couldn't play last week because of a concussion from a helmet-to-helmet hit in the Hawaii game.
Holding a team on fourth and goal once in a game is great. Doing it twice is something special. When both those stops are made against USC on their home field, well, that's significant improvement. Of course Coach Wulff offered praise:
"They both (fourth and goal stops) were a good job. We kind of out maneuvered them and found a way to get it done. I think that’s our fifth goal line stand that we either got a turnover or stopped people on fourth down this year in four games. I think that’s very impressive. I think that says a lot."
"We do know that to play in the Pac-10 we’ve got to be physical, it’s a huge priority for us. When we first got here we developed some size and strength in our defensive front line and linebackers. I think we’ve come a remarkable long way in one year to improve in that area. It’s not where we want to be but we’ve made some huge strides."
Yes, a review of video confirmed many lessons have been learned.
There's still work to be done for the Cougs to learn more.
Such is the lot of a student/athlete at Washington State.
Originally published in Lew's column on Examiner.com
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