By Outsider Steve
Why does this always seem to happen to the Washington State Cougar football team? For the last two seasons Paul Wulff has had to deal with season ending injuries to major pieces of his offense. In 2009 RB James Montgomery was lost for the season to a freak injury, diagnosed as an anterior lateral compartment syndrome, it required doctors to remove muscle from Montgomery's leg, nearly costing Montgomery his leg. In the 2010 opener against Oklahoma State, RB Ricky Galvin broke his forearm on his first play from scrimmage. Both injuries severely crippled the Cougars offense, and ultimately setting the program back another year. As bad as those injuries were, those hits cannot compare to the hit that was taken to QB Jeff Tuel last Saturady against Idaho St. And to the potential catastrophe that looms for head coach Paul Wulff and his coaching future in Pullman.
After sitting out for the first couple of series with stomach issue, QB Jeff Tuel entered the game with the Cougars upon Idaho St 14-0. Five plays later as Tuel rolled to his right on a scramble and headed toward the sideline, he was hit by Idaho State linebacker J. T. Albers. Tuel crumpled to the turf, and the end result was a broken left collar bone. The WSU medical staff has determined that Tuel's injury is not a season ending type, but it will require 4-6 weeks recovery. The key phase here is "recovery time". Meaning the time needed for the bone to actually heal. Then, if your accounting for the time to get Tuel's arm back into game shape, this injury could stretch into the 7-9 week time frame. Which would put Tuel back on the field for the November 19th game at home vs Utah or November 26th game vs Washington in the Apple Cup. No matter how the Cougars spin this, They will not be able to have their best player available for the bulk of the Pac-12 schedule. Potentially ending any hopes the Cougars may had before the season started.
Where does this leave the Cougars at the QB position going forward? For Head Coach Paul Wulff and Offensive Coordinator Todd Sturdy, the decision seemed to be a relatively easy one, tabbing redshirt senior Marshall Lobbestael as his starter this week vs UNLV. But the questions surrounding the senior from Oak Harbor still remain. Can Marshall Lobbestael win at the Pac-12 level? Up to this point in his college career, most would look at Lobbestael's body of work, 120/247, 1226 yards, 7 TD's/12 INT's, and answer with a resounding no. But in all fairness, Lobbestael didn't look like the timid sophomore we had previously seen against Idaho St. Anything but. Lobbestael finished with 14/19, 250 yards, 2 TD's, 73.7 com%. At one, completing nine straight passes. He had look and feel of a seasoned QB ready to step in and take control of the offense. Which is exaclty what Paul Wulff must have of his QB's moving forward if the Cougars have any chance at achieving any aspirations moving forward.
It's not like Cougars don't have any other options at the QB position. This happens to be the deepest position on the Cougar depth chart. Sitting very closely behind Lobbestael on the depth chart is Conner Halliday. The redshirt freshman from Ferris H.S. in Spokane, had very nice audition on Saturday vs Idaho St. In limited action, Halliday finished with a 6/13, 67 yards, and 2 TD's. He didn't light the world on fire with his arm, but he did managed the offense in such an efficient manner, that his performance has created a little bit of a QB controversy. And rightfully so. Conner Halliday is projected as the future of the position for the Cougars. And with the injury to Jeff Tuel, most consider this as the perfect time for Halliday to step in and get his feet wet. But this is not the right time for a QB controversy. This is the last thing Paul Wulff wanted because it's not that simple of a question for Wulff to answer. It's a decision that could easily determine his future on campus. So why have a controversy at all?
This is what the 2011 season come down to Paul Wulff. Do you take the experience in Lobbestael or go with the the kid with the bright future in Conner Halliday? If Wulff wants to keep his job beyond this season, then the only option at this point is going with experience and sticking with Lobbestael for the long haul. Through the good times and bad the Cougars will have with Lobbestael at QB, you cannot do anything to disrupt the positive momentum that has been created. That's exactly what could happen if Wulff chooses to hedge his bets on the freshman Halliday. The safe play for Wulff right now is to ignore all the calls for Halliday, and stick to his guns. In any event, this has to the worst possible scenario that coach Wulff had ever envisioned. There is no one right answer to this question. Only time will tell if either QB is the right guy. And for Paul Wulff and his coaching future, that is the one thing he doesn't have anymore..