Thursday, October 6, 2011
Unavoidable issue facing the Cougs
In a perfect world, head coach Paul Wulff wouldn't be dealing with these problems. Jeff Tuel would be healthy, and taking every snap. As we we know though, life and in football, its anything but perfect. The game is filled with imperfections, injuries, disappointments, and lost expectations. Sometimes the ball just doesn't go your way. That's life in general, but in everything that happens, eventually thing start looking up. The same goes with the Cougars. This season doesn't have that same feel of the past three. Where if it rained, it poured. No, there is confidence, a swagger in these players. It's noticeable on every down. There are no excuse with this program. They have used them all up. So even in the wake of a potential season disaster, which it looked like it could've been, the Cougars refused to let Jeff Tuel's injury to hinder their goal of making a bowl game. Instead, they chose to rally around their redshirt senior QB Marshall Lobbestael, and it's payed off . The Cougars are 3-1, and looking like a team that no one can take lightly anymore. But with new expectations come unavoidable questions that Coach Wulff will have to be dealt with.
Who is the QB once Jeff Tuel is ready to play?
Better yet, how about a hypothetical. Let's say Jeff Tuel isn't 100% ready to play until the Cougs play Oregon State. Then, let's say that not only does Lobbestael beat UCLA, but does the unthinkable. Pulls off the upset of #7 Stanford at home. Then what do you do. Now all of a sudden, the team is 5-1 needing just one victory for that elusive bowl birth. If your Paul Wulff, what do you do?
All right. Let's take a step back and examine this. Paul Wulff has two options. The hot hand or the better player.
Marshall Lobbestael has been everything Paul Wulff has needed in a QB under these circumstances. Most coaches would only ask the backup QB to stick within the system, and keep the mistakes to a minimum. Lobbestael has not only exceeded those expectations, but has risen to a level that now has him ranked as high as #16 in the nation as a passer, and #3 in the conference behind only Andrew Luck and Keith Price. His numbers have been stellar as well, 90-142, 1335 yrds, 13 td's, 3 int's, 63.4% com%, and a 9.4 ypa clip. His play has made his value rise to better then three quarters of the QB's in the conference, and what makes this problem even better, Lobbestael is getting better every game. His passing yards has risen the past three weeks from 361 to 368 to 376. During that span he has thrown 11 td's to five different receivers. Those kind of QB attributes are the ones found in some of the better QB's in the nation, playing at some of the nations better programs. And Lobbestael is our backup.
Make no mistake about it, Jeff Tuel is the best player on the Washington State roster. He does everything you need in QB. Where Marshall Lobbestael comes off looking one dimensional, Jeff Tuel gives the offense better options. He has the pocket presence need to step up and deliver a strike under duress. He has the accuracy and arm strength to make most throws that Lobbestael sometimes has a problem completing. He is mobile. When the pocket collapses he has the uncanny ability to recognize where he is on the field and where the first down marker is at. It is easy to understand why Jeff Tuel is a very gifted QB with a bright future. Paul Wulff simply put, cannot make the mistake of bringing him back too early or the future could potentially be in jeopardy. The type of shoulder injury he does have, it would only take one hit or one bad landing to put him out for the rest of the season. It would be irresponsible for Paul Wullf to neglect the long term health of his best player, but also the long term health of his program.
Either way, this is the best problem a coach could possibly have. Having two QB's that can win games. Obviously from a gamesmanship standpoint, Coach Wulff isn't exactly the greatest at it. I will say though, he has handled this the way you should. No distractions of any kind. Once Tuel was cleared for practice with full pads, he quickly defused any speculation and named Lobbestael his starter for UCLA. Ultimately Tuel is his starting QB. As nice as a story as it has been with Marshall Lobbestael, Jeff Tuel will the one to carry WSU as far as they want to go. It is true that football is a QB sport now, but you simply cannot win long term with your backup. That is what this is about. For Paul Wulff and the uncertainty of his coaching future at Washington State, he cannot afford not to play Tuel. If AD Bill Moos does fire him at seasons end, at least he can say he went out with his best player instead with his backup.