Pac-12: Gino Simone

Lunch links: Oregon vs. the SEC

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
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You just better start sniffin' your own rank subjugation jack 'cause it's just you against your tattered libido, the bank and the mortician, forever man and it wouldn't be luck if you could get out of life alive.
 
Every team has a strength -- that one position group that can make a play on offense or make a big stop on defense when needed.

Based on what happened this spring, we're going to look at the strongest position group for each school. It could be on either side of the ball -- and it could be subject to change after fall camp gets into full swing.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order.

Washington State

Strongest position group: Wide receivers

Headliner: Marquess Wilson (82 catches, 1,388 yards, 12 touchdowns).

Supporting cast: Andrei Lintz (7/96/1), Bobby Ratliff (28/348/1), Kristoff Williams (9/134/2), Gino Simone (4/69/0) and Dominique Williams (RS).

The skinny: Wilson is an elite wide receiver among a conference of elite wide receivers. He showed what he's capable of in a Mike Leach offense during the spring game. And it's scary good. The pecking order was fairly clear last season with Jared Karstetter and Isiah Barton behind Wilson. There is more depth this year, though what impact and in what order is still up in the air.

Lintz exploded onto the scene this spring as a tight-end-turned-big-wide receiver and showed great chemistry with quarterback Jeff Tuel. Ratliff, Williams, Simone and Dominique Williams should all see quality field time -- especially because of Leach's pass-first mentality.

The new coach in Pullman has produced some big-time wide receivers and their year's crop -- Wilson in particular -- should flourish.

Washington State spring wrap

May, 14, 2012
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2011 overall record: 4-8
2011 conference record: 2-7 (6th in North)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
QB Jeff Tuel, WR Marquess Wilson, OL John Fullington, S Deone Bucannon, LB Travis Long, WR Andrei Lintz.

Key losses
LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, LT David Gonzales, OL B.J. Guerra, WR Jared Karstetter.

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Rickey Galvin* (602 yards)
Passing: Marshall Lobbestael (2,584 yards)
Receiving: Marquess Wilson* (1,388 yards)
Tackles: Alex Hoffman-Ellis (88)
Sacks: Travis Long* (4)
Interceptions: Damante Horton* (4)

Spring answers
1. Tuel steps up: Remember that whole quarterback-competition thing? While Mike Leach hasn't officially named Jeff Tuel his starter, given the quickness with which he picked up the offense and the numbers he put up during the spring, it's likely that a proclamation that Tuel is the guy will come early in the fall. He's looked very good to date.

2. Plenty of weapons: Lots of them. Marquess Wilson returns as one of the top wide receivers in the conference -- and he showed in the spring game what he's capable of. Converted tight end Andrei Lintz had an outstanding spring at wide receiver and showed real chemistry with Tuel throughout the 15 practices. Gino Simone, Dominique Williams and Blair Bomber add depth to a very deep group.

3. New role for running backs: Can you catch? That's what Leach is looking for out of his guys. With the ball in the air 70 to 75 percent of the time, guys like Marcus Mason and Rickey Galvin will need to shift their focus from downhill to soft hands. There will be chances to run the football, but most of those will be after the catch.

Fall questions
1. Lineup: What's the offensive line going to look like? With players like Wade Jacobson (missed the final eight games last year with a back injury) and Matt Goetz (started nine games at center last season) missing time this spring, the starting five is likely to change. Which five and at what positions remains a question.

2. New-look D: With the Cougars switching to a 3-4 front, there is more focus on the linebacking corps. Travis Long should flourish in this system (12 tackles for a loss last season), but there are depth and position questions. Eric Oertel was a pleasant surprise this spring, as were Chester Su'a and Darryl Monroe -- though both saw their springs end early with injuries. Expect some growing pains as the group comes together in the odd front.

3. D-line depth: Xavier Cooper had a very good spring, but outside of him, Lenard Williams and Anthony Laurenzi (6.5 tackles for a loss last year), there are a lot of untested players. Matthew Bock saw some reps during the spring, but defensive coordinator Mike Breske will have to develop some more guys for the unit to be sound. A pair of Samoans in the recruiting class -- Robert Barber and Destiny Vaeao -- could be forced into action early.
It didn't exactly take clairvoyance to see a coaching change coming at Washington State in the wake of a 4-8 season. But that's not why Jeff Tuel was expecting a shakeup.

The Washington State quarterback played in four different offenses under four different head coaches in high school, so shaking hands with a new skipper and opening a new playbook have become as clockwork to Tuel as the passing of the seasons.

"I think for some other guys it would be easy to get frustrated, having to learn a whole new system," Tuel said, who begins his senior season in September. "But it's actually something I've gotten used to. I never really had the chance to become accustomed to an offense and really know the ins and outs. Change is something I'm used to so I haven't really struggled picking it up because I'm used to it with my past experiences."

And if you're a quarterback learning a new system, what better scheme to study than Mike Leach's vaunted passing attack, which makes its debut in Pullman this season.

"Playing for coach Leach is a daily surprise," Tuel said with a laugh. "You never know what he's going to say or what his commentary is going to be about this play or that play. He demands perfection, which I love. He doesn't ever tell you how great you are, but he never tells you how much you suck, either. He's pretty level-headed and it's a good medium."

[+] EnlargeJeff Tuel
AP Photo/Dean HareA strong spring game helped Jeff Tuel in his bid to be Washington State's starting QB.
For now, Tuel is just happy to be back on the field. After an injury-plagued 2011 campaign limited him to just three appearances, he's finally healthy and eager to showcase what he can do. He admits it was frustrating last season -- watching his team start the year 3-1, only to close out the year by losing seven of eight.

"I tried to stay positive, 24/7, but that's not always easy," Tuel said. "I was doing whatever I could to get healthy or help teammates and I helped Marshall [Lobbestael] whenever I could. Really, I was just trying to stay positive. It's all you can do. It's easy to hang your head and get down and go into that hole and get out of shape. So I just focused my concentration on doing anything I could to help the team."

When healthy, Tuel is considered an NFL-caliber quarterback. He's 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, has a big arm and can also make plays with his feet. But he also has the attitude to match. There's speculation that Tuel and sophomore Connor Halliday, who missed the majority of spring recovering from a lacerated liver, are headed for a quarterback competition in the fall. If that's the case, Tuel says he's ready.

"The way I look at it, it's my job to lose," Tuel said. "I'm not going to sit back at all. If coach Leach says there is a quarterback competition, there's a competition. In my mind, there is always a competition. I'm still going after it 100 percent. I go into every spring and every practice the same and practice the best I can -- whether I'm a starter or it's a competition. But competition brings out the best in all people. For someone to press me for the job is a blessing and it's going to make me better."

Tuel's roommate, wide receiver Gino Simone, said Tuel has responded to all adversities like a pro.

"If he has any insecurities, he hasn't let anyone see that," Simone said. "I think he's continued to be the confident guy that he is. He's ready to work every day. If there is a quarterback competition, he's going to be ready to fight for his job -- as I know Halliday would be. We've got guys who are ready to work hard right now."

Tuel said he's confident with his progress in learning the new offense. But stressed that it will take "reps and reps and then more reps" during the summer to get to a point where they can call it polished.

"I'm the head of this thing," Tuel said. "If I'm not 100 percent confident or if I don't know exactly what's going on, it's going to spread. It's important for me and the offense to get a grasp on the plays and concepts so we don't have to think and we can just fly around."

Weekend scrimmage recap

April, 9, 2012
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Catching you up on the spring scrimmages from over the weekend.

UTAH

There were highlights on both sides of the ball as the Utes ran 97 plays in front of more than 3,000 fans at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Projected starting quarterback Jordan Wynn completed 11 of 27 passes for 103 and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Dres Anderson caught seven balls for 96 yards, which included a 22-yard touchdown reception. A lot of the veterans on both sides sat out to yield time to the younger players. In the absence of running back John White IV, Harvey Langi rushed nine times for 42 yards -- earning praise from head coach Kyle Whittingham.

"He's starting to play the way that we envisioned he would when we recruited him," Whittingham said. "... He really did some good things."

The defense also had its share of highlights. They managed five sacks -- despite defensive lineman Star Lotulelei and linebacker Trevor Reilly sitting out. Joe Kruger tallied three sacks and Joape Pela notched a sack and a pair of tackles for a loss. Cornerback Keith McGill returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown.

"It wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination," said new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson. "But I thought we did a nice job moving the ball and guys showed up ready to play. Still got some work to do these last two weeks, but I think we've been doing a nice job so far."

Whittingham added that he thought the "flow" and "tempo" of the play calling was much better from the quarterbacks and Johnson.

WASHINGTON STATE

The defense recorded 12 sacks -- though a sack was granted when a defender could "grab" the quarterback. Still, defensive end Logan Mayes was able to get his hand on the quarterback four times and defensive tackle Xavier Cooper got there three times.

Quarterback Jeff Tuel settled in and completed 19 of 33 passes for 253 yards, two touchdowns and an interception -- one of four turnovers created during the 110-play session held in front of a couple of hundred fans at Martin Stadium.

"I feel real comfortable like I'm really starting to get a grasp of the plays," Tuel told reporters after the session. "That's really what it is. Once you get it mentally, you start playing physically and not thinking about things. That's one of the things coach [Mike] Leach harps on is being hesitant. You really have to let it go."

All six scores came through the air with Gino Simone catching seven balls for 101 yards and a score. Bobby Ratliff and Andrei Lintz also caught five balls apiece and touchdowns, followed by scores from Isiah Myers and Rahmel Dockery.

Quarterback Cody Clements also threw a pair of touchdowns on 8-of-12 passing with an interception and David Gilbertson completed 15 of 26 balls for 192 yards and a score.

USC

The banged-up Trojans held a non-tackling scrimmage on Saturday. Garry Paskwietz and Erik McKinney from WeAreSC break down what they saw from USC -- specifically running back Buck Allen getting his reps now that Tre Madden is gone for the year. Allen has been hampered by a hamstring injury.

"Today gave me confidence," Allen told USC's blog. "A teammate went down, so I knew I had to step up. I could have taken the day off, but I didn't."

Head coach Lane Kiffin talked about Madden's injury and said he thinks he'll come back as a "great player." He also said that Madden's switch from linebacker to running back is permanent.

"Extremely disappointing," Kiffin said of losing Madden. "Probably one of the most valuable guys on our team as of last week because we have a lot of great players, but sometimes we have guys that are similar to them. We don't have anybody like him, nor do we have anybody coming in really like him.

"To have a big guy that could run a 4.5 electronic, with his hands, it was really unique and it was a great experiment. Unfortunately he won't be here this year for us."

In other injury news, wide receiver De'Von Flournoy suffered a high ankle sprain.

Weekend scrimmage updates

April, 2, 2012
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Catching you up on some of the spring scrimmages from Saturday.

Arizona State

In the three-way race for a starting quarterback, none of the trio have separated themselves during the first six practices, according to Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic. Mike Bercovici started the scrimmage on Saturday, followed by Michael Eubank and then Taylor Kelly. Per Haller, all three appeared to take the same amount of reps.

Bercovici led a pair of scoring drives -- including a drive that started at the 1-yard line and netted a field goal. Eubank threw a pair of touchdown passes, but was also running quite a bit.

"Whatever it takes to get in the end zone," Eubank told Haller. "If I got to run, if I got to hop, jump, bark like a dog, I'll do it."

James Morrison and Deantre Lewis had the bulk of the carries at running back with Cameron Marshall still recovering from ankle surgery.

USC

Quarterbacks are also the primary point of interest at USC, though not for the 2012 season. A lot of this spring has been about grooming a quarterback to eventually replace Matt Barkley in 2013. And in Saturday's scrimmage it was Max Wittek and Cody Kessler taking center stage.

Each quarterback took a half working with the No. 1 offense, though with so many players out with injury, it was more of a piecemeal unit.

"They seem very mature when you are around the huddle with them," USC coach Lane Kiffin told reporters. "I'd be very comfortable with both of them [running the offense in a game]."

Curtis McNeal and Tre Madden both rushed for touchdowns. With so much of the offense gone, Kiffin let quarterbacks coach Clay Helton, running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu and Barkley do the play calling.

"I had a feeling what the stats would be like so I didn't want those on my resume," Kiffin joked.

You can also see a full scrimmage recap from Garry Paskweitz at WeAreSC here. Insider

Washington State

Jeff Tuel saw the majority of snaps for the Cougars, completing 11-of-17 passes for 95 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. David Gilbertson ran the second-team offense and was 5-of-8 for 52 yards with a score and a pick.

On the receiving end, Kristoff Williams, Bennett Bontemps, Gino Simone and the aptly named Blair Bomber all caught touchdowns.

Per the cougcenter.com, Connor Halliday was not at the practice.

"[Halliday is] doing great," said head coach Mike Leach. "He's got a family deal he's taking care and we couldn't be more excited. We're going to have a very thrilling film meeting and can't wait to see him back there. Cause I think that's going to be [exciting] for all of us. We're looking forward to seeing him again. He's only been gone for a couple hours, but we miss him."

Best case-worst case: Washington State

August, 15, 2011
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First in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up first: Washington State

Best case

Idaho State isn't good; no one would say the Bengals should have been competitive with Washington State. But there was something about the way the Cougars marched over the Bengals like an army of steamrollers in a 62-3 victory that raised a few eyebrows in Pac-12 towns.

A 42-10 manhandling the following weekend over UNLV raised a few more. But it was a 38-17 victory at San Diego State that confirmed it: The Cougs will not be patsies in 2011.

"Making a statement? I don't know about that," said Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel after throwing three touchdown passes and outplaying touted Aztecs quarterback Ryan Lindley. "We're 3-0. That's good. We've got a bye coming up. That's good. Then we start the Pac-12 season at Colorado. That's probably where we try to make a meaningful statement."

For three quarters, the only statement from the Cougs is "almost." Colorado leads 24-10 with eight minutes left in the final frame and is driving. But on a third and 4 from the Cougs 18, Travis Long catches Buffaloes quarterback Tyler Hansen from behind and slaps the ball loose. Washington State recovers. Three completions from Tuel gets the Cougars to the Buffs 25. A draw play for Rickey Galvin gets the rest of it.

The defense stops the Buffs again, but the ensuing punt is downed on the Cougs 8-yard line with 2:15 left.

Tuel to Marquess Wilson converts a third and 8. Tuel to Kristoff Williams for 33 yards gets the Cougs into Colorado territory. A screen to Logwone Mitz reaches the 14. Tuel scrambles to the four, but takes a sack on second and goal. On fourth down, Tuel loops a throw to Wilson in the corner of the endzone with seven seconds left.

"I started thinking about our 2-point play when we got the ball on the eight," Washington State coach Paul Wulff said after his Cougars improved to 4-0 with a 25-24 win. "I thought, 'What kind of name is Gino Simone anyway?' Sounds like some sort of pretentious fashionista doesn't it? Like, 'The spring collection from Gino Simone features silk and ruffles and bright colors that will make you feel fabulous!' Thought the kid needed a football moment. And I thought he would be open. I was right, eh?"

The Cougs get votes in both the AP and Coaches polls.

But then the rebirth hits a wall. An overtime loss at UCLA, is followed by a blowout home defeat to Stanford. Oregon State gets revenge for a 2010 loss to the Cougs, and Oregon rolls at home. A four-game losing streak has fans once again questioning Wulff. Athletic director Bill Moos says he won't comment until after the season, which is read as a refusal to give a vote of confidence.

Washington State picks up win No. 5 at California, but falls back to .500 on a late field goal by No. 19 Arizona State. Utah comes to town with hopes of a South Division championships, but the Utes trudge out 27-24 losers. Tuel scrambles for the winning score with no time left, which rocks Martin Stadium like it's 2002, as though Drew Dunning is again sliding on his knees after USC is vanquished in overtime.

Washington State, after winning just five games the previous three years under Wulff, is bowl eligible.

"Bowl eligible? That's great," Wulff said. "But I hate purple and that's all I can see right now."

The Cougars rolls 35-24 over the faltering Huskies -- last place in the Pac-12 North -- at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Headline in the Sunday Seattle Times, "Sarkisian on the hot seat?"

Washington State whips Army in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl to finish 8-5, winning four of its final five games.

Wulff signs a contract extension exactly one month before signing a recruiting class ESPN.com's Tom Luginbill calls, "Shockingly good."

Worst case

It was a 2-0 start, but the 24-21 victory against Mountain West bottom-feeder UNLV didn't inspire many folks in Pullman.

The 35-30 loss at San Diego State felt revealing. Sure, quarterback Jeff Tuel can throw the football -- see three TD passes -- but giving up four sacks and rushing for just 96 yards isn't going to get it done. Nor is the defense yielding 487 yards.

The Cougars lose at Colorado but come back to surprise UCLA. That inspires hope: They are just three wins from bowl eligibility.

But no more wins come. Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State deliver beatdowns. Competitive games with Oregon State, California and Utah still include unhappy endings.

Wulff announces his resignation before the Apple Cup.

"While the program is better off today than when I took it over in 2008, my chief regret is that we just didn't get it done," he says. "I am and will forever be a Cougar. I only wish great things for this program in the future."

No. 15 Washington trounces Washington State 41-17. The Huskies head to the Alamo Bowl, where they bludgeon Texas A&M 35-10. ESPN.com shortly dubs them "darkhorse national title contenders in 2012."

The Cougars hire Tyrone Willingham to replace Wulff.

Hope & concern: Washington State

May, 23, 2011
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Every team has hope heading into the offseason. And every team has concerns.

Ergo, we're going to run through the conference and look at the chief matters -- on the up and downside -- for each Pac-12 team.

Next up:

Washington State

Biggest reason for hope: Quarterback Jeff Tuel and a talented, experienced group of receivers.

Tuel will be a third-year starter in 2011 after ranking sixth in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency and fourth in passing yards per game in 2010. Tuel isn't just the guy behind center on a struggling team, either. He's probably going to be an NFL draft pick. He tossed 18 touchdown passes last fall, which was more than Washington's Jake Locker and just two fewer than Arizona's Nick Foles. His 12 interceptions were the equal of USC's Matt Barkley. And, suffice it to say, Tuel put up his numbers with an inferior supporting cast compared to those three. But not that inferior, which is the key element for hope looking forward. Receivers Marquess Wilson, a freshman All-American, and Jared Karstetter both ranked in the conference's top 10 in receiving yards, while senior Isiah Barton and junior Gino Simone have plenty of experience. Further, promising youngsters Kristoff Williams and Bobby Ratliff are expected to break through this fall. With four starters back on an improving line, the Cougars should be able to give Tuel time. And if he gets time, the Cougs should be able to pass on just about anyone.

Biggest reason for concern: The past three seasons.

If you look over Washington State's post-spring depth chart, review their late-season performances and then consider a fairly forgiving schedule, it seems clear the Cougars should win more in 2011 than they did in 2010, when they posted their only quality Pac-10 victory under coach Paul Wulff (beating a winless Washington team in 2009 felt good but was not of high quality). Most folks see the Cougs being a competitive team that might, in fact, push out of the conference cellar. But it's hard to predict big things for a squad that has won just five total games -- just three over FBS teams -- over the previous three seasons. The biggest reason for hope is the maturation of the young players Wulff recruited who represented a talent upgrade over the players he inherited. But the critical issue in terms of becoming a team that is a threat for a bowl berth versus one that might win, say, three games is acting, practicing and believing like a winning team. This team needs more than a chip on its shoulder. It needs confidence. After three years of being the conference patsy -- the one game every team automatically put in the win column in August -- it won't be easy for this team to swagger into a stadium and believe it's the best team on the field.

Tuel, Cougs want wins, payback

May, 3, 2011
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Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel was chilling last week with his roommates -- receiver Gino Simone and cornerback Nolan Washington -- when three other Cougars came over to hang out. At first they just sat on the sofa and watched TV, tossing a football between them in order to ensure proper modern multi-tasking.

It was raining, but the six soon decided to go outside to toss the rock around. Shortly thereafter, what had once been lazy chilling transformed into what it typically does around Tuel: earnest football.

"Nolan is telling me about playing corner and what he does with his feet," Tuel said. "Gino is showing me releases. I'm showing him quarterback stuff. It's goofing around but it gets serious. It's non-stop with us, whether we're talking serious game planning or chucking it around in the street, it's non-stop with us."

Because football matters to Tuel.

The problem for Tuel -- as well as Washington State and its fans -- is Cougars football has been irrelevant for a while now. Washington State hasn't enjoyed a winning record since posting three consecutive 10-win seasons from 2001-2003. In three seasons under coach Paul Wulff, the Cougars are 5-32 with just two Pac-10 victories.

[+] EnlargeJeff Tuel
Craig Mitchelldyer/US Presswire Jeff Tuel hopes to get Washington State on the winning track this season.
What that means for a guy who cares about football is a lot of frustration, not to mention a fairly sizable amount of resentment for opponents who don't appear to respect you.

"Without a doubt," Tuel said. "Any true competitor does not like to lose. It pisses you off. And when you don't get the respect you feel like you deserve, it will start a fire underneath you as well. It's definitely a humbling feeling a times, but you put somethings in the back of your mind, for sure."

That was in the back of Tuel's mind last season as the Cougars lined up in victory formation in November against a quality foe -- Oregon State -- for the first time since 2007. Tuel took a knee and was thrilled. But he was also, well, still upset.

"It was kind of like, 'Holy crap,'" Tuel said. "But for me personally, I was kind of like ... I don't know how to describe it. Almost angry in a sense because it's like, 'Dang, we could have been doing this the whole year.'"

Angry is good. That tells you there's fire and belief inside Tuel, a junior who heads into his third season as the Cougars' starter and the biggest reason some expect the program to line up in at least a few more victory formations in 2011.

That would be good for Wulff, who's on the hot seat this fall after receiving only a luke-warm endorsement from athletic director Bill Moos. One school of thinking asserts that Wulff needs a bowl game to survive into 2012, though that might be a bit ambitious for the Cougars, who are still young.

Tuel, the best quarterback most of the nation has never heard of, is the Point A for hope. He completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,780 yards and 18 touchdowns last year and welcomes back his top two receivers in freshman All-American Marquess Wilson and Jared Karstetter, who combined for 117 receptions. The Cougars could pass on anybody last year, and the conventional thinking is they'll be even more potent in 2011, particularly with the rise of talented youngsters Kristoff Williams and Bobby Ratliff.

"We're a lot sharper [during spring practices]," Tuel said. "It was sloppy my previous years, but this was for sure our best spring. We looked really sharp. We had a lot of fun this year. It's hard for us not to be confident and excited when spring ball went the way it did."

The Cougars were far more competitive in 2010 than the previous two years under Wulff, but it was a humiliating 42-zip loss at Arizona State that seemed to transform the season. At that point, more than a few folks thought the Cougs might pack it in and bail on Wulff. They clearly weren't ready to play in Tempe and they didn't put up much of a fight.

Yet the loss seemed to trigger an immediate, positive response.

"We all were just fed up. We heard what people were saying. It's embarrassing to throw up a donut against a team like that. It was kind of a thing of, 'That's enough,'" Tuel said. "There was not really one moment or a speech by an individual. The team came out hungry and ready to practice Monday and it carried throughout the whole week. That was something we hadn't had, but it seemed to come together. It sort of jumped-started a lot of guys."

The Cougars nearly beat California before yielding 20-13. Then they won at Oregon State and lost a barnburner to rival Washington, 35-28, after overcoming a 21-7 second-quarter deficit. In that game, Tuel outplayed Huskies quarterback Jake Locker, the No. 8 pick in last week's NFL draft, passing for 298 yards and three touchdowns, while Locker had 226 yards and two touchdowns (both tossed an interception).

"Once we got rolling, we were going. They didn't have an answer for us. We just kind of ran out of time," Tuel said. "Guys went into the offseason with a lot of confidence and belief in each other and where this is going."

If that confidence helps create wins, then Wulff's job will be safe. But Tuel said the focus isn't on saving Wulff or just preventing a negative result. It's about football -- winning football.

"We want to win for everybody, for the fans, for the coaching staff, for ourselves, for the Cougar Nation," he said. "I don't think as a team we are dedicating our wins to an individual. We just want to win, man. We know that winning cures everything. When you win, everyone is happy."

Pac-10 Q&A: Washington State coach Paul Wulff

August, 27, 2010
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Washington State has won just one Pac-10 game over the past two seasons -- three overall -- and the Cougars are a consensus pick by media pundits to finish last in the conference in 2010.

That has many believing third-year coach Paul Wulff is on the hot seat, even though it's been widely acknowledged that he was handed a monumental rebuilding job in 2008 when he returned to his alma mater from Eastern Washington.

The expectations outside the program aren't just low: Many tweak the Cougars as among the worst BCS programs in the nation.

[+] EnlargePaul Wulff
Chris Williams/Icon SMICoach Paul Wulff identified running back as a prime area of competition on his football team.
It shouldn't be surprising that, in Pullman, the view is quite different. Wulff sees a strong offseason, improved recruiting and a more experienced depth chart. He sees potential.

What does he keep saying? "We're going to surprise some people."

The Cougars face a tough opener at Oklahoma State on Sept. 4, so it seemed like a good time to check in and see how the rebuilding is going on the Palouse.

The pundits have you guys pegged at 10th in the conference: How do you deal with that negative outlook when you address your team?

Paul Wulff: A lot of that is based on what happened in past years. It's a new year. We're a new team and we've changed a lot. The players know we've worked hard and we know we are getting better. The people predicting don't know what's happening in the offseason. But it is what it is. We probably deserve to be picked there. I don't know if that's a surprise. It doesn't mean that's where we're going to end up. We sure don't think so. We'll keep working hard. And we believe we will be able to put ourselves in position to surprise a lot of people and win a lot of ballgames and take that step to a bowl game.

I know we've talked about this before and I know you are tired of the topic but there's a general perception that you are on the proverbial coaching hot seat: What's your feeling on that perception?

PW: My feeling again is that's a natural thing for people on the outside that don't understand the situation to think when you have a major rebuilding job. It's never pretty. You go back to Mack Brown, who was 1-10 his first two years at North Carolina. There are a lot of examples: Randy Edsall and Connecticut. We [Eastern Washington] actually beat them as a I-AA school in 2001. We went back there and beat them. We've had to build something here, and like John Wooden says 'good things take time.' We're trying to build something special for the long haul. We're not trying to bring in a bunch of transfers and JC kids to try to win a few games one year. I'm not here to do that. I'm here to build a program that can compete for the Pac-10 title and be in the Rose Bowl and win one and put ourselves in position for a national title. Those programs in those situations didn't get there in one night. It's a five- to six-year building process. You've got to climb a ladder. I care about this university because it is my school. I came here to do that. If I have to take the bullets, as [former WSU basketball coach] Dick Bennett told me I would, I'm just going to have to do that. He was a guy who knew the situation. So I'm doing it and I'll continue to do it. But it's going to turn and when we turn we're going to be an awfully good football team.

On the football side of things: What is better about QB Jeff Tuel in Year 2 after he was forced into action as a true freshman?

PW: His comfort level with the offense and comfort level with some of the players who he's had the offseason to work with. There's a little better continuity there. He's making better decisions, he stronger. Things are happening at a quicker pace for him in his own brain. Obviously that helps our offense. We think highly of Jeff, but he's still got to prove lot of things in ballgames on a consistent basis. But there's no question in practice we see flashes of some really great things.

Where are some prime areas of competition on your team that have yet to be resolved?

PW: Running back is definitely one. We feel like a lot of guys are battling in there. We're hoping two or three really emerge come game day. Because we've got a lot of guys, no one has gotten a tremendous amount of reps. We're hoping that kind of sorts itself out in the first few games. At wide receiver, we're still battling through there, getting a lot of guys time, trying to see who's going to make the plays when the games are live. But we like the young nucleus we have. We think we have a couple special ones that are going to great players here the next four years.

The comeback of James Montgomery is pretty cool: How is he doing?

PW: He's doing great. I think it's got be one of the best stories in the country to do what he's done. He didn't just battle compartment syndrome. He battled a knee surgery that was a pretty extensive one. To do both and to come back and to perform where he is right now is impressive. He's not 100 percent, not in shape and as crisp, as sharp, as he's going to be. We're hoping by the time he gets to Game 3 or Game 4, he'll have caught back up with all that. But where he is today, he's a very good player. He's going to play and be our starter in the opening game and were hoping he progresses from there.

Who are your playmakers in the passing game?

PW: I think Jared Karstetter will be back -- there's no question we can rely on him. We're taking a hard look at Marquess Wilson, a true freshman. He's as dynamic a true freshman receiver as I've been around. Even coach [Mike] Levenseller, who's been here for 19 years, thinks Marquess is a special talent. I think Isaiah Barton and Gino Simone, our slot receivers, will make a difference, along with Jeffrey Solomon and Daniel Blackledge. Those guys will be good players for us. I'm excited to see how they will perform for us.

What have you seen out of your offensive line this spring? How close are they to breaking through as a quality unit?

PW: They're close. Coach [Steve Morton] has done a great job melding those guys together. We're getting better, no question. I'm excited. I think we have some raw talent. It's a relatively young unit -- we really have two seniors who will be contributors on a consistent basis. We have 15 others who are younger. If we can stay healthy there, we're going to surprise a lot of people with our production on the offensive front.

Let's look at defense: How are things stacking up at linebacker?

PW: The thing that's hurting us is two players who aren't playing this fall, who we have high hopes for, and that's Louis Bland, who we're going to redshirt, and Andre Barrington, a redshirt freshman for us, who is academically ineligible this fall. But I do like Alex Hoffman and Myron Beck, those guys have done well. Mike Ledgerwood, Hallston Higgins, Arthur Burns and CJ Mizell -- he's come along. We feel like we've got some makings there. It's a young unit from an experience standpoint, but I like our speed there. If we can stay healthy, it will be a big improvement from where we've been.

And the defensive line: Has tackle Brandon Rankin continued to impress?

PW: He has. He's a good player. He has a chance to show a lot of people what he's all about this fall. He's already doing things in practice that make it pretty obvious. We need him to have a big year. I think he's going to do extremely well. Bernard Wolfgramm is back and it's the first time he's healthy for us. Those two at defensive tackle are probably as athletic at pass rushing as we've had here in years. They will be quality pass-rushing D-tackles that you don't get a lot. They are not just pluggers, they're fairly active guys. I'm very encouraged about those two guys.

You guys are pretty salty on the defensive line. There's four pretty good players.

PW: I think our front four is right up there right now with most people in the Pac-10. We got two fifth-year seniors and a fourth-year junior in Brandon Rankin and a second-year kid, an excellent player, in end Travis Long. It's our most experienced group on our football team. It's probably the best unit we have right now. It goes back to having fifth- and fourth-year players in your program. When you have that consistently throughout, you have a chance to be pretty salty. Right now, if those guys can stay healthy, they give us the most experienced group on our football team.

Finally, the secondary: It sounds like there's some depth back there.

PW: It's been good -- good, healthy competition. It's a young, young group, but there's some really good football players. We've kind of been hit a little bit over the last couple of days with the injury bug. LeAndre Daniels is going to battle a neck issue that we're still working through. We don't know that he'll be healthy at safety. Nolan Washington has been a little nicked up with his hip at cornerback. If those guys can come back, I'm not sure, but I like our talent there. It's a young and green group but we have some kids who can run for the first time in a while. We need to stay relatively healthy because we're youthful back there. I like the group. Our team speed on defense is far and away faster than we've been. I think people are going to notice that pretty quickly.

What is your expectation for this team: What would be a successful season?

PW: I don't want to put any limitations on them. These guys have trained so hard since the end of last season. They've done everything right to get better. We finally got the culture changed to what we expect. So when you work that hard, I refuse to put a limitation on what they are capable of doing. Right now we truly are trying to take it just one game at a time. But we're going to break this thing up into four segments. We've got 12 games, with three games in each quarter. We're going to take it one quarter at a time. We're going to block it like that, and move our way up the chain. I think this team is capable of surprising a lot of football teams, a lot of people out there. I really believe people are going to see a much improved team from what you saw last year. How many wins that's going to equate to, I'm really not sure. It just depends on a few breaks here and there and staying healthy at the right spots.

Preseason position reviews: receiver

July, 27, 2010
7/27/10
1:30
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Receiver is a difficult position to evaluate this year. Just about every team has a solid (or better) lead receiver back and some intriguing, but inexperienced, talent around him. But, other than Washington, no team should feel completely secure.

There is, however, a lot of potential at the position. Many of the names below who appear as secondary options could end up competing for All-Pac-10 spots.

Note: Tight ends and running backs don't count here.

Great shape

  • Washington: The Huskies entire two-deep is back, topped by second-team All-Pac-10 pick Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar, who ranked seventh in the conference in receiving yards per game in 2009. James Johnson was probably the best freshman receiver in the conference last year.
Good shape

    [+] EnlargeJames Rodgers
    AP Photo/Ben MargotOregon State's James Rodgers caught 91 passes for 1,034 yards and nine TDs last year.
  • Oregon State: James Rodgers is clearly the No. 1 returning receiver in the conference. Markus Wheaton, Jordan Bishop and Darrell Catchings offer promising depth, but they combined for 25 receptions last year (Catchings was injured).
  • Oregon: The Ducks aren't flashy, but they welcome back their top three receivers from last year. By season's end, Jeff Maehl was one of the best in the conference. Things would have been better if Tyrece Gaines and Diante Jackson weren't ruled academically ineligible.
  • Arizona: After Delashaun Dean got himself kicked off the team, the Wildcats must replace their Nos. 1 and 4 WRs, which is why they aren't in "great shape." Still, Juron Criner tops a solid returning crew.
  • UCLA: The Bruins welcome back their top-two WRs -- Taylor Embree and Nelson Rosario -- and Colorado transfer Josh Smith figures to make an immediate impact. Sophomores Damien Thigpen and Morrell Presley also seem poised for breakthroughs.
  • USC: While he was hurt much of last year, Ronald Johnson is a top home run threat. Brice Butler and David Ausberry will have to fight to stay ahead of a talented crew of incoming freshmen.
  • Stanford: The Cardinal welcome back their top-two receivers in Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu. That's the good news. The question is who will become options No. 3 and 4?
We'll see

  • California: The Bears only lose No. 2 WR Verran Tucker and the underwhelming Nyan Boateng, but, other than Marvin Jones, they didn't get much production here in 2009.
  • Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost their top-two WRs, but the cupboard isn't empty, with Oregon transfer Aaron Pflugrad, who would have started for the Ducks in 2009, and JC transfer George Bell, Gerell Robinson, Jamal Miles and Kerry Taylor. Still, it's not a proven group.
  • Washington State: The Cougars went through spring with just four scholarship receivers, a crew topped by Jared Karstetter and Gino Simone. The incoming recruiting class features five receivers, and at least a couple will get on the field. The Cougars are OK here but they did rank last in the conference in passing in 2009.

Washington State spring wrap

May, 7, 2010
5/07/10
6:00
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Washington State

2009 overall record: 1-11

2009 conference record: 0-9 (10th)

Returning starters

Offense: 8, Defense: 6, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners: QB Jeff Tuel, WR Jared Karstetter, DE Travis Long, LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, P Reid Forrest

Key losses: C Kenny Alfred, RB Dwight Tardy, FS Xavier Hicks, LB Andy Mattingly

2009 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: Tardy (417)

Passing: Tuel* (789)

Receiving: Karstetter* (540)

Tackles: Alex Hoffman-Ellis* (84)

Sacks: Travis Long*, Toby Turpin, Casey Hamlett*, Anthony Laurenzi* (2)

Interceptions: Xavier Hicks (3)

Spring Answers

1. Solid at QB: Both sophomore Tuel and junior Marshall Lobbestael played well this spring. Both are more skilled, more mature and better versed in the offense than when they were prematurely forced into action the previous two seasons. Tuel is the heavy frontrunner to start, but it's always nice to have two quarterbacks with starting experience.

2. Offensive line improvement: A big area of concern the past two seasons, the Cougars added a pair of JC recruits midyear and the additions greatly enhanced the competition and depth up front. Also, the addition of offensive line coach Steve Morton and his 35 years of experience, which includes five Morris Trophy winners, already has made a big impact. The line lost one starter from last season (center Kenny Alfred) but the return of four starters, along with the JC additions and return of Andrew Roxas, who missed 2009 due to illness, could make this one of the most improved units in the conference.

3. There's some depth: Everyone around the program insists this is by far the best spring for coach Paul Wulff since he took over a beleaguered program two years ago. Part of that success is legitimate competition for starting spots and playing time. Players who redshirted the past two seasons, in particular, made an impact during the 15 practices

Fall questions

1. Confidence? The Cougars have won just three games over the past two seasons -- just one Pac-10 game. Many of their defeats have been blowouts. While the talent looks better heading into 2010, the Cougars have to believe they can compete -- and win -- in the Pac-10. That belief will drive players to work out hard during the summer. That belief will keep games close into the fourth quarter. That belief might even help them steal a few games. But that belief has to be real, which means it will have to block out all the talk about another dreary 10th-place finish.

2. Will the D-line step up? Sophomore end Travis Long should take the next step. JC transfer Brandon Rankin lived up to his considerable hype at tackle. Senior end Kevin Kooyman is back from injury and had a good spring. That's the good news. The bad news is three of the top four or five tackles are either gone -- or close to going -- before their time. Toby Turpin was kicked out of school over an undisclosed academic incident, while tackles Bernard Wolfgramm and Josh Luapo are struggling to remain academically eligible (coaches are more hopeful about Wolfgramm getting back on track). That means youngsters such as Justin Clayton, Dan Spitz, Jordan Pu’u Robinson and Anthony Laurenzi will need to be ready -- and be better than they were in 2009.

3. Receiver depth? The Cougars went through spring with just four scholarship receivers (Jeffrey Solomon, Jared Karstetter, Gino Simone and Daniel Blackledge). The incoming recruiting class features five receivers. JC recruit Isiah Barton is probably the most ready, but at least a couple of freshmen will need to earn spots in the rotation.

Washington State notes: Who's in, out, up and down

March, 22, 2010
3/22/10
7:28
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Will have lots more from my visit to Washington State, which starts spring practices Thursday, but here are some notes from a conversation with coach Paul Wulff.
  • The Cougars are much healthier this spring than last: 24 players missed offseason workouts last year. This year, just four will sit out spring practices: running back James Montgomery (knee, calf), defensive tackle Josh Luapo (knee), linebacker Louis Bland (knee) and cornerback Anthony Houston (knee).
  • As for Montgomery, he had knee surgery in addition to his scary episode with "acute compartment syndrome" with his calf. Wulff said he won't be cleared to start full-speed running until June. As for the depth at running back Wulff listed Marcus Richmond, Chantz Staden, Logwone Mitz, Carl Winston and Leon Brooks, a walk-on who's made a positive impression.
  • Wulff said there's no hope for receiver Johnny Forzani returning to the program: "He's going to try to play in the CFL." The Cougars have four receivers back who caught at least 20 passes: Jared Karstetter, Gino Simone, Jeffrey Solomon and Daniel Blackledge. Wulff said he expects JC transfer Isiah Barton and perhaps a couple of the four incoming freshmen receivers to contribute, most particularly Marquess Wilson. "Most everybody in the Pac-10 was trying to go on him," Wulff said. "He's a big-time, big-time player."
  • Offensive lineman Brian Danaher, a 12-game starter over the past three seasons, won't be back because of recurrent concussions.
  • Starting defensive tackle Toby Turpin's status is questionable due to an academic dispute, which Wulff said should be resolved -- positively or negatively -- within the next week or two. Turpin will be allowed to practice until his case is resolved.
  • Wulff, perhaps surprisingly, said he believes the offensive line will be the strength off the offense. Andrew Roxas, who missed all of last season due to illness, will step in to fill the void at center due to the departure of stalwart Kenny Alfred. B.J. Guerra, Zack Williams and Steven Ayers will compete at guard. At tackle, two JC transfers will be in the mix this spring -- David Gonzales and Wade Jacobson -- along with Micah Hannam, Tyson Pencer and Alex Reitnouer. Wulff also said the he thinks incoming true freshman John Fullington might be ready to immediately contribute. "I think he was one of the best [high school] offensive linemen in the country," he said.
  • Tight end Zach Tatman was granted a sixth year of eligibility, which means the Cougs will have three experienced tight ends with Skylar Stormo and Andrei Lintz.
  • Redshirt freshman Sekope Kaufusi will see time as a hybrid outside linebacker-defensive end. Wulff said he's been impressed by redshirt freshman end Jordan Pu'u Robinson during the off-season.
  • Touted JC transfer Brandon Rankin -- he was offered a scholarship by Alabama -- will play both end and tackle.
  • Defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm continues to struggle with back problems, but Wulff said he was "moving around and participating in drills better since his back surgery. So that's promising." Still, it's likely his action will be limited this spring.
  • Depth at defensive tackle is a question, but sophomore Dan Spitz, who started five games at tackle and end last year, redshirt freshman Justin Clayton and sophomore Anthony Laurenzi are promising prospects.
  • Wulff said the defense will be much faster at linebacker. When he's healthy in the fall, Bland will move to middle linebacker. Mike Ledgerwood also is a top candidate in the middle, along with redshirt freshman Darren Markle. Alex Hoffman-Ellis will move from middle to weakside linebacker. Arthur Burns will move from running back to "Will" linebacker. Myron Beck and Andre Barrington will man the strongside. Incoming recruit C.J. Mizell also could be in the mix.
  • The secondary, hit hard by injuries a year ago, should be much improved with LeAndre Daniels, Tyree Toomer, Chima Nwachukwu, Jay Matthews and redshirt freshman Anthony Carpenter, Casey Locker -- Jake's cousin -- and Jamal Atofau competing at safety and Daniel Simmons, Aire Justin, Terrance Hayward and promising redshirt freshman Nolan Washington at corner.

Pac-10 All-Freshman team

December, 14, 2009
12/14/09
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Which freshmen or redshirt freshmen stood out in 2009?

A lot of them. And a lot of them already have familiar names.

The quality is very high here, which speaks well of the future.

Went with three receivers and no tight end, by the way.

Offense

QB Andrew Luck, Stanford

RB LaMichael James, Oregon

RB Chris Polk, Washington

WR James Johnson, Washington

WR Gino Simone, Washington State

WR Brice Butler, USC

OL David DeCastro, Stanford

OL Michael Philipp, Oregon State

OL Carson York, Oregon

OL Jonathan Martin, Stanford

OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA

K Vince D'Amato, California

Defense

DL Nick Perry, USC

DL Travis Long, Washington State

DL Aaron Tipoti, California

DL Chase Thomas, Stanford

LB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State

LB Shayne Skov, Stanford

*LB Devon Kennard, USC

DB Desmond Trufant, Washington

DB John Boyett, Oregon

DB Sheldon Price, UCLA

DB Josh Hill, California

P Jeff Locke, UCLA

*Kennard started the final three games of the season at linebacker after playing end most of the season.

Washington State fighting back vs. Cal

October, 24, 2009
10/24/09
6:25
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

It's not likely that Washington State is going to come back and win at California, but the Cougars are continuing to fight.

True freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel has thrown a pair of second-quarter touchdown passes to cut the Bears halftime lead to 35-17.

The first went for 68 yards to Johnny Forzani. The second, 19 yards to Gino Simone.

While Cal probably feels good about scoring 35 points in a half, its sagging defense might be a concern. It's surrendered 299 yards at the break.

In last year's game, Cal rolled 66-3 in Pullman, so thus far the Cougars are being far more competitive.

Of course, there's still the second half.

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