Washington State Football: Should Jeff Tuel Or Marshall Lobbestael Start At QB?
With Jeff Tuel recently cleared to play, could there be a quarterback controversy brewing in Pullman?
Injured in the season-opener against Idaho State, Tuel has been quietly nursing a fractured clavicle back to health. In his absence, backup Marshall Lobbestael stepped in and proceeded to awe Cougar loyalists with three top-class passing performances.
Last week against Colorado, Lobbestael threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-27 comeback win.
It was the third consecutive game in which the redshirt senior crossed the 300-yard passing threshold, making him only the third Cougar quarterback ever to do so.
Lobbestael has looked excellent in his three starts, but remember that Tuel won the job from him outright in 2010 and in the 2011 preseason.
Tuel threw for over 200 yards 10 times last year (nine of which came in consecutive games) and finished fourth in the Pac-10 averaging 231.7 passing yards per game.
Washington State is clearly spoiled for choice at QB, but a decision needs to be made. On the road at UCLA this weekend, if you were head coach Paul Wulff, who would earn the starting nod?
Let's take a closer look.
The Case for Jeff Tuel
Yes, Tuel started every game of the 2010 season, but how much of that is a compliment?
Washington State went an abysmal 2-10 on the year, including a 1-8 conference record.
At this time last year, the Cougars were 1-3 after having been blown out 50-16 by USC at home. Their single win was a 23-22 nail-biter over Montana State.
They would go on to win only one more game (against Oregon State) and would lose the rest by an average of 16.7 points per game.
Among all this losing was Tuel, quietly commanding an offense that ranked 92nd in the nation and dead-last in the Pac-10.
However, those stat lines hide the whole story.
While the Cougars were downright anemic on the ground, averaging 91 yards per game (117th nationally), their passing offense wasn't nearly that bad. Ranked 42nd in the nation, WSU aired it out for 239 yards per game and 19 touchdowns. To put that ranking in perspective, Oregon, who eventually went to the title game, was 39th.
For his part, Tuel completed 59.8 percent of his passes for 2780 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2010, but also threw 12 picks.
The problem was that while Tuel could clearly throw for scores, the Cougar defense couldn't stop anyone, as they gave up 467 yards per game, muting Tuel's success with a terrible record.
A year later, the team is 3-1 and over four games has given up over 100 yards less than it did per game in 2010. Despite allowing an injury to Tuel, the Cougar offensive line has only given up 1.83 sacks per game compared to almost four last season.
If Washington State can win two more games, they will have equalled their win totals from their previous three seasons combined.
If the rest of the team is finally playing up to their QB's level, Tuel seems to be the reasonable choice to start.
The Case for Marshall Lobbestael
On the other hand, the man they call “The Lobster” has shown no reason for why he should be pulled.
In engineering that sterling 3-1 record, Lobbestael has catapulted the Cougars to national highs of 10th in total offense and fourth in passing offense.
In three starts, the red-haired redshirt senior has 11 touchdown tosses and only three interceptions, two of which came in the season's only loss at San Diego State.
Lobbestael has stepped into the complex spread offense like the seasoned veteran he is and showed poise to lead the Cougars back in Boulder.
In his fifth year at Washington State, Lobbestael has battled injuries and learned to take advantage of his limited opportunities.
Recruited only by WSU coming out of high school, he threw for 1,226 yards and seven touchdowns in only six starts before 2011. That's 204.3 yards and a little over a touchdown per start.
If the Lobster had stayed healthy, how good could he have been? If he continues to start, the nation might soon find out.
Perhaps the biggest factor in Lobbestael's favor is the hot hand. The rule of the hot hand is as true in college football as it is in basketball or international soccer (they call it being 'in form' abroad).
If a guy is playing well, you keep giving him chances to succeed.
If proof is needed, consider the QB question at UCLA. Kevin Prince, named the starter in the preseason, was coming back from a concussion and was given penciled in to start against Texas over Richard Brehaut.
Brehaut, whose hand could generously be characterized as 'warm' was nevertheless the QB in form at the time, yet he was pulled in favor of Prince.
Prince went on to throw three picks in the first quarter against Texas and was replaced by Brehaut before halftime. He hasn't seen the field since.
There's a lesson for Washington State going forward. Why fix what isn't broken?
Paul Wulff has named Marshall Lobbestael the starter against UCLA this weekend, and he will get no argument from me.
While Jeff Tuel has the skills to succeed at this level, there is simply no reason to sit Lobbestael when he has played so well. A hot hand should never be intentionally cooled.
Beyond that, it's difficult to compare the two men due to the large gap in starts. Lobbestael seems to throw fewer picks, but he might have thrown more if he had seen more action.
Likewise, Tuel's numbers might have been better if he had the protection Lobbestael enjoys now along with an improved defense.
Regardless of who starts it's clear that both could (when Tuel gets healthier), which will ultimately benefit the Cougars.
The two men should benefit from this decision, as well. Tuel gets more time to recover from his injury and improve his skills, while Lobbestael gets the playing time his deserves after years as a backup.
Everyone loves a feel-good story.
After Wulff's announcement earlier in the the week, both players are taking it well. It remains to be seen if Washington State will, too.