Doug Adams asks Cougfan.com Executive Editor Greg Witter to break down WSU's Upcoming Season.
There is a lot of buzz surrounding new head coach Paul Wulff. Most fans know he has roots to the Washington area being an ex lineman at Washington State and having coached at Eastern Washington. What kind of changes can Cougar fans expect to see? How do his philosophies differ from that of former coach Bill Doba?
The Cougar offense is undergoing its first major overhaul in 19 years. The one-back has been a mainstay on the Palouse since Dennis Erickson introduced it in 1987, when Paul Wulff was a second-year WSU freshman. Wulff and staff are introducing the no-huddle offense they employedso effectively at Eastern Washington. Cougar players responded well to it in spring practices, especially fifth-year senior quarterback Gary Rogers. Like Doba, Wulff is a firm believer in balance between the run and pass and will strive for a 50/50 balance. Unlike Doba, Wulff is expected to be more free wheeling. He has said several times that the Cougs will introduce new schemes each week to best exploit match ups with opponents. On defense, the Cougs ran a load of 3-4 the past two years, largely in response to depth issues on the line. Wulff appears committed to a base 4-3. He’s also moved some guys around. Standout LB Andy Mattingly is now at DE and starting DBs Chima Nwachukwu and Alfonso Jackson have traded places – Nwachukwu moving to safety and Jackson to corner.
Washington State's red zone offense last year struggled relative to other Pac 10 teams. They scored touchdowns on 27 possessions out of 47 with a percentage around 57. Is running back Dwight Tardy and receiver Brandon Gibson going to be able to get this offense finishing
Gibson is a big-time game breaker and Tardy is ahead of schedule in his rehab from knee surgery. They’re not the only weapons in the arsenal, though. Sophomore receivers Daniel Blackledge and Jeshua Anderson are uber-talented and senior tight end Devin Frischknecht, now a starter with Jed Collins off to the NFL, showed in last year’s season-ender at Washington that he’s a big target with nice hands who knows how to get open near the end zone. The Cougars’ red zone struggles go back a couple of seasons. The one-back offense is built around spreading the field and creating mismatches in open space. By definition, the red zone means there’s less room for the playmakers to roam. The move to the no-huddle offense, which could even include some option packages to keep people honest along with plenty of motion, could work wonders for the Cougs in the red zone.
Likely starting Quarterback Gary Rogers was one of the better prospects coming out of Washington in 2004 but has not gotten that much game experience since arriving. What can we expect to see out of him in 2008?
Rogers is big (6-6, 234), strong armed and surprisingly mobile. He had a fabulous spring season and his confidence is soaring. If the offensive line comes together, there’s every reason to believe Rogers will shine. Given his size, arm strength and maturity, he has the potential become one of college football’s great breakout stories of 2008.
Is Brandon Gibson the most explosive player in the Pac 10 and quite possibly one of the more underrated players in the land?
You won’t get an argument on that from anyone in the Cougar Nation. He runs precise routes, has great hands and collects yardage in bunches. He also comes up big in the clutch. Brandon tested the NFL waters over the winter and was told middle-rounds, so he’s back this season with something to prove and, by all accounts, is working as hard as ever.
Defensively, the front seven has to be considered the strength of the Cougar defense returning linebackers Greg Trent, Cory Evans, and Kendrick Dunn. Andy Mattingly has to be accounted for at defensive end as well. Can this front seven be among the Pac 10's best?
The Cougar D has been mostly porous since 2004, so it’s hard to envision the stop corps being among the best in the Pac-10 in any way. While there’s good experience – and talent – in that front seven, the simple fact is that there’s very little depth behind them and the secondary is unproven.
What are realistic expectations for the 2008 squad? Is a bowl game too much to ask for with a first year coach and an inexperienced Quarterback?
The Cougs were a win away from a bowl in 2006 and 2007. A controversial call in the Arizona State game last season and an inexplicable upset loss to Washington the year before were, effectively, what kept Bill Doba from returning this season. The Cougars have some intriguing talent on both sides of the ball, but not enough of it on paper. If they stay healthy, they could very well hit November in position to nail down a bowl berth. Early success – no small feat with Oklahoma State and Cal up first – could light the fire. Wulff is a veteran head coach and Rogers is bursting with potential. They’re not the issue. It’s all about depth – especially in the trenches and the secondary.