Pac-12: A\'i Ahmu

Washington State spring wrap-up

May, 8, 2009
Posted by's Ted Miller

Washington State Cougars
2008 overall record: 2-11

2008 conference record: 1-8

Returning starters

Offense 8, defense 5, kicker/punter 2

Top returners

C Kenny Alfred, RB Dwight Tardy, FS Xavier Hicks, LB Louis Bland, LB Andy Mattingly, P Reid Forrest, K Nico Grasu

Key losses

OT Vaughn Lesuma, TE Devin Frischknecht, WR Brandon Gibson, LB Greg Trent, CB Romeo Pellum, DT A'i Ahmu

2008 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Dwight Tardy* (481)
Passing: Marshall Lobbestael* (571)
Receiving: Brandon Gibson (673)
Tackles: Greg Trent (88)
Sacks: Toby Turpin* (3)
Interceptions: Romeo Pellum, Xavier Hicks* (2)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Stanford
Sept. 12 Hawaii (in Seattle)
Sept. 19 Southern Methodist
Sept. 26 at USC
Oct. 3 at Oregon
Oct. 10 Arizona State
Oct. 24 at California
Oct. 31 vs. Notre Dame
(in San Antonio, Texas)
Nov. 7 at Arizona
Nov. 14 UCLA
Nov. 21 Oregon State
Nov. 28 at Washington

Spring answers

1. Culture change: Big injury issues within many position groups limited a lot of definitive depth chart moves, so what the Cougars' coaches talked most about at the end of spring was establishing a better team culture, which includes practice tempo, trust among players and staff and off-field responsibilities, both in the classroom and weight room.

2. Tardy and Montgomery running: The Cougars feel good about their depth at running back, with senior Dwight Tardy and California transfer James Montgomery leading the way. If the offensive line can stay healthy -- depth is a big issue -- the running game has a chance to improve dramatically.

3. New faces' chance to shine: The injuries allowed youngsters and newcomers to make statements, and a handful did, including redshirt freshman defensive ends Dan Spitz and Cory Mackay, redshirt freshman tight end Skylar Stormo and junior transfer receivers Johnny Forzani and Jeffrey Solomon.

Fall questions

1. Get healthy: The spring injury list was a who's who of likely starters, and some of the issues will be worrisome. For example, Bernard Wolfgramm was practically penciled in as a starting defensive tackle, but he had back surgery this winter and back problems are tricky. The Cougars suffered epidemic injuries last year; they need to avoid that if 2009 is going to be any better.

2. Is Lobbestael the man? While senior Kevin Lopina showed significant improvement passing this spring, the general feeling is sophomore Marshall Lobbestael will be the quarterback when Stanford comes to town on Sept. 5. But, again, Lobbestael is coming back from a knee injury and didn't get to do any full-go action this spring. He still needs to win the job on the field.

3. Not to be defensive, but ... Washington State lost six starters from a defense that gave up 43.8 points and 443 yards in 2008, and the departed include mainstays such as linebacker Greg Trent, end Matt Mullennix and tackle A'i Ahmu. The Cougars are set at safety with Xavier Hicks and Chima Nwachukwu, and they feel good about linebackers Andy Mattingly and Louis Bland, but there are a lot of questions here that need to be resolved during preseason practices.

Pac-10 Morning: WSU's Ahmu out for half vs. Cal

September, 5, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

These links are trying to establish a running game.

  • Arizona wants to keep the number of people on the sideline manageable, which means some guys don't suit up. QB Willie Tuitama is searching for the perfect game. Toledo has some good receivers who should challenge the Wildcats CBs.
  • Arizona State is leaning on its freshman class, with nine in the playing rotation (out of a class of 20). Injured TB Keegan Herring (hamstring) and WR Michael Jones (Achilles) are improved, with Herring being the more questionable for the Stanford game.
  • California notes from Thursday's practice, with an injury update calling WR Michael Calvin and P Bryan Anger healthy and OT Mike Tepper not. Calvin should help the WRs, who mostly struggled against Michigan State.  Another step forward for building the California training facility.
  • Oregon faces a team with no hope, and it only cost $235,000 to lure the Utah State Aggies to their demise. CB Walter Thurmond III will wear the No. 29 jersey in tribute to former Ducks DB Todd Doxey, who drowned this summer. A look at potential QB combinations for both teams.
  • Rachel Bachman takes a look at Penn State legend -- and presently divisive figure -- Joe Paterno. With two starting Penn State D-linemen suspended, the Beavers O-line has a chance to shine.
  • Stanford's already struggling secondary is down a top reserve for its visit to Arizona State.
  • UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel wasn't thrilled with the effort in practice. And that's not good because there are injury holes to fill, including at running back. The freshmen are helping on defense. WR Nelson Rosario sprained his knee at practice Thursday.
  • USC's WRs have always been talented, but now they seem to be performing. True freshman OL Tyron Smith and redshirt freshman RB Broderick Green are trying to get into the mix. Speaking of Green, I wish I saw this hit on Rey Maualuga. Trojans are thinking about Buckeyes.
  • Washington -- and beleaguered coach Tyrone Willingham -- are looking for a turning point that doesn't turn sour. How much will the Huskies gain from week one to week two? Willingham talks about how the Huskies might attack BYU. Remembering 1984, when BYU won a "national championship" and a clearly superior Washington team didn't.
  • Washington State will play California without its best D-lineman, A'i Ahmu, for a half. Ahmu is suspended after missing a court date over minor in possession charges. Injuries are preventing OL continuity.

Trent leads surprising WSU D, tackle's arrest doesn't help

September, 4, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

Washington State's hope for a miraculous burst of success upon the arrival of new coach Paul Wulff was quashed by a 39-13 defeat to a middling Oklahoma State team in Seattle's Qwest Field last weekend.

The reality is the Cougars are thin, and preseason injuries -- among other issues -- have made them thinner.

"It was rough how it turned out," linebacker Greg Trent said. "It hurts because losing never feels good but we know it's something we can build on and fix. It's not going to keep us under water or nothing."

Trent was one of the bright spots. He led the Cougars with nine tackles and a sack, and the defense as a whole played fairly well despite getting little or no help from special teams or an anemic opening effort from the new non-huddle, spread offense.

"I think our defense played pretty good," Wulff said. "They were put in some terrible situations throughout the ball game and they responded."

News today wasn't great for the D, though. Defensive tackle A'i Ahmu, the Cougars best interior lineman, turned himself in to the WSU Police Department on Wednesday after a warrant for his arrest was issued because he missed a court date on a minor-in-possession of alcohol charge, according to the Seattle Times.

Wulff told the newspaper that he wasn't sure yet whether Ahmu's issue would keep him out of the game Saturday against California in Martin Stadium.

If Ahmu can't go, his replacement is senior walk-on Adam Hainline.

Cal's offense figures to offer an even stiffer test than the Cowboys. It rolled up 467 yards against Michigan State, including 203 yards on the ground. The Bears offensive line is physical, and tailbacks Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen are as speedy a combination as any in the conference.

"They've got powerful, strong, explosive offense," Trent said. "Cal is a pretty good team."

How is WSU going to stop them? "Nothing that I can say -- don't want to give away the game plan," Trent said.

In the preseason, even though eight starters were back on defense, most thought the offense would lead the way for Washington State. The Cougars ranked last in the Pac-10 in scoring defense a year ago (32.4 ppg), while the offense looked fairly skilled, even if it was breaking in a new QB to a new scheme.

That feeling is now mostly reversed. At least until Wulff's plan starts to click with QB Gary Rogers.

"There a lot of optimism," Wulff said. "And it starts with our defense. They are going to keep us in ball games."

How many of those games will the Cougars end up winning, though? They were almost universally picked to finish last in the conference during the preseason, and their performance in game one did little to alter that perception.

"We don't pay much attention to that -- they always pick the Cougs to finish last but we always end up shocking some people," Trent said.