Washington St. looks like a team on the rise. Despite the fact that WSU went 5-32 between 2008-10, the Cougars appeared to improve in the latter half of last season, and have taken that momentum and turned it into a 3-1 start this season. The team may mainly consist of lightly recruited athletes, but they are performing this year and putting up good numbers.
The Cougars may have lost their starting quarterback in the first week of the season, but the statistics did not take a hit. WSU is 4th in the nation in passing (379 ypg), 9th in total offense (518.5 ypg) and 10th in scoring (44.5 ppg). Defensively, WSU is in the middle of the pack; they are 53rd in total defense (361.8 ypg), 48th in rushing defense (127.25 ypg), and 76th in passing defense (234.5 ypg).
Paul Wulff entered this season with a 5-32 mark through his first 3 seasons. Most publications had him on the hot seat along with Rick Neuheisel. Like Neuheisel, Wulff is coaching at his alma mater which he calls his "dream job". Unlike Neuheisel, Wulff is off to a decent start this season and looks to be on the way towards saving his job.
Washington St.'s spread offense attack is coordinated by Todd Sturdy. Sturdy was a longtime NAIA coach at St. Ambrose University in Iowa before coordinating the offense at Eastern Washington with Wulff for one season. The Cougar offense has improved annually under Sturdy, beginning with a paltry 241.1 ypg in 2008 and peaking this season at 518.5 ypg.
Defensively, the Cougars are coordinated by Chris Ball, who was the defensive backs coach under Mike Price from 2000-02. Ball came back to WSU after spending a year under Dave Wannstedt at Pittsburgh as secondary coach, but things have not worked out well for Ball. The Cougar defense has been horrendous under Ball (109th in 2008, 120th in 2009, 118th in 2008). Interestingly, this year's improvement has been partially credited to the new Cougar defensive line coach, Todd Howard, who was let go by Neuheisel after last season.
Coach Wulff has announced that Sr. Marshall Lobbestael will start on Saturday despite the availability of Jr. Jeff Tuel, who has been cleared to return from a broken collarbone. In Tuel's absence, Lobbestael has performed very well. The 6'3 215 lbs. quarterback is throwing for 333.8 ypg with 13 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions.
While he will not start, Tuel may see action on Saturday. Tuel is also 6'3 215 lbs. and not much of a running threat, so UCLA should not have to prepare for two quarterbacks. The word from practice is that Tuel has been "chicken winging" his left arm, so while he may be physically ready, it's unclear if he's mentally ready to play.
Fr. Connor Halliday, 6'4 179 lbs., looks to be the emergency quarterback this week.
Washington St. utilizes a running back by committee approach, splitting the 32.5 rushing attempts per game between four backs. Fr. Rickey Galvin starts at halfback for the Cougars, but does not lead the team in carries. At 5'8 172 lbs., Galvin will not run over anybody, but he's been running around plenty of people this season. He's averaging 7.59 ypc, although most of his damage was done against UNLV and Idaho St. On the season, Galvin has 29 carries for 220 yards and three touchdowns.
Jr. Carl Winston brings a little more size, (5'8 200 lbs.), and is averaging about a carry more per game than Galvin. He has 35 carries for 155 yards and a touchdown on the season.
Sr. Logwone Mitz is the real bruiser of the group (6'1 223 lbs.). He has 19 carries for 80 yards and a touchdown this season.
We may also see Fr. Marcus Mason (5'9 176 lbs.). Mason has 14 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown this season, but has only carried the ball once in the last two games.
Receivers and Tight Ends
Washington St. spreads the ball out well among the leading four receivers. So. Marquess Wilson (6'4 183 lbs.) has emerged as the big play threat with 21 catches for 550 yards and 5 touchdowns this season, which follows last season's successful freshman campaign where he caught 55 balls for 1006 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Sr.'s Isiah Barton (6'1 187 lbs.) and Jared Karstetter (6'4 210 lbs.) return as well, and have 19 and 22 catches, respectively. Karstetter will play in the slot as the possession receiver, and he has been particularly good at finding soft spots in UCLA's soft zones in the past.
Freshmen Bobby Ratliff (6'2 194) and Kristoff Williams (6'2 206 lbs.) round out the receiving corps. Williams has displayed big play ability (18.17 ypc), and Ratliff has caught 12 balls through the first four games.
Washington St. starts three seniors and two sophomores on the offensive line that has given up 10 sacks and 22 tackles for loss this season. Sr. RG B.J. Guerra (6'3 321 lbs.) is the best lineman of the group. The former defensive lineman is a third-year starter and honorable mention All-Pac 10 selection.
Sr. tackles LT David Gonzales (6'6 286 lbs.) and RT Wade Jacobsen (6'6 306) provide some experience on the outside, as they were both part-time starters last season and are both JC transfers.
So. John Fullington (6'5 298 lbs.) moves from RT to LG after starting 5 games last season, and Texas Tech transfer So. C Matt Goetz (6'4 270 lbs.) rounds out the starting unit.
The back-up lineman, LT Jr. Dan Spitz (6'7 300 lbs.), LG Jr. Chas Sampson (6'4 303 lbs.), C Jr. Taylor Meighen (6'3 284 lbs.), RG So. Elliott Bosch (6'4 260 lbs.), and RT Fr. Jake Rodgers (6'6 295 lbs.) provide decent size, but all appear to be lightly recruited/walk-on types.
That concludes Part I of the Washington St. Cougar preview. Fire away with any additional comments, and be sure to check back in for Part II of Washington St. preview where we will take a closer look at the Cougar defense and special teams.