Washington State-Stanford: Can the Cougars Compete?

Lew WrightSenior Writer IOctober 31, 2008

Tomorrow afternoon Coach Paul Wulff will lead his Washington State Cougars back onto the playing field after a weekend off.  The Cougs return with a Pac-10 matchup against the Cardinal of Stanford.

Very few predicted that things would have gone the way they have thus far on the season. 

Washington State wasn't supposed to contend for a conference title.  They were projected to finish dead last.

After completing eight games on a 13-game schedule, WSU is 1-7.

What has folks shaking their heads in wonder is the way this Cougar team has lost seven games.  Opponents have simply blown the Cougs away in such a dramatic way, the stats would suggest this is a collection of kids that have never played the game before.

Complete domination by the opposition is what's raising a series of questions about Cougar football.  Let's explore some of the wonderment that has become the Washington State football program.

"Why can't a team with arguably the best wide receiver in the conference score points?"

Coach Wulff's offense has encountered the "Perfect Storm" in 2008.  Two out of the three top quarterbacks have been lost for the season.  The one remaining is recovering from a broken back.  All three were trying to learn a new offensive scheme brought in by Coach Wulff while trying to live the life of a college student at the same time.

Add to that mix an offensive line that has suffered injuries that weakened an inexperienced group.  Oh, don't forget that the top two running backs have been in and out of the lineup because of injuries.  The top tight end, an integral part of the WSU offensive scheme, is going to be out again this week.

The only way this topic might responsibly be explored further would be to post a suicide hotline number for fans of Cougar football.  Not going to go there.

Let's move on, shall we?

Here's another question making the rounds through Cougar Nation.

"How on earth can the Cougs give up so many points to their opponents?"

Last season WSU was so thin on the defensive line, they tried running a 3-4 defense.  That sure didn't work.  Not only are there no new players contributing to the D-line this season, what strength was there last season is gone through graduation.  The top defensive back was suspended for the first three games because of off-field misconduct.

Players tried to learn new positions during spring and fall practice, an experiment that failed.  There has been a new lineup at the linebacker position almost every week because of injuries or poor play.

Let's talk about the elephant in the room.  Not only has the defense spent way too much time on the field, they can't seriously believe their counterparts on offense are going to put many points on the scoreboard.

In a conference filled with high-powered scoring machines, that adds a dynamic certain to undermine any and all coaching.  The guys on defense might talk a good game about how they are ready to play, but how can anyone truly believe that line?

Let's get to the big question, shall we?

"Why should anyone watch Cougar football?"

Cougar Nation may not be pleased with the results of the 2008 season up to this point, but don't write anything off to a lack of effort by either the players or the coaches.  Facts are facts.

The fact is the Washington State football program might be compared to a submarine that has sprung a leak.  Quick as one leak is addressed, two more areas suffering from neglect pour out.

Staying with that metaphor, Coach Wulff is dead serious about righting the ship.  To do that, he's going to need time in dry dock.  In other words, there will be significant improvements made to plug some holes in the offseason.  For now, he's going to have to continue looking for ways to patch up problem areas to stay seaworthy.

The Cougs might not win another game this season, but it won't be for lack of effort.

In preparation for the Stanford game, the defense will be challenged by the outstanding Cardinal running back Toby Gerhardt.  This kid is one heckuva football player.

At 6'1" and 235, Gerhardt is nearly the size of most linebackers while possessing the speed and quickness of a running back.  He's a punishing runner who won't be brought down by a solo tackle.  That's just not going to happen. 

During practice this week, the scout team player put in to simulate Gerhardt was none other than offensive lineman Zack Williams.  Williams is a 6'4", 290-pound transfer who is redshirting this year.  He doesn't have the speed of Gerhardt, but he more than fits the bill when it comes to crashing through the line.

The decision this week has been made to burn J.T. Levenseller's redshirt and get him game experience for the balance of this season and the next three years.  Coach Wulff wouldn't have taken that direction if there wasn't going to be a concerned effort to improve this team, this year.

There's a fine line between making and not making a good play at this level of football.  With an extra week of preparation and time to heal some injuries, the Cougs are going to run onto the field tomorrow committed to win.  They will make more plays this week than at any time this season.

So for those asking the question, "Why bother watching the Cougs the rest of the season?", here's an answer.

OK, rather than a direct response, here's a question back.

"Why not?"



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