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Any Given Saturday: A Plea To Our Players

I will continue piling up my notes on Washington State (any of you guys are more than welcome to add on to this in the comments or via Fanposts or Fanshots) before I get to the title of this post. 

So Tuesday night with help from Grady at CougCenter one of the key reasons Cougar fans have been keeping faith in this football season: Marshall Lobbestael. The Wazzu redshirt freshman QB who started the season number at 3 on their depth chart has emerged has emerged as the Cougar’s starter (and possibly the future) after their top 2 QBs went down with injuries in early part of the season. The way Cougar fans are buzzing about this kind of reminds me of the excitement we all experienced around a certain true freshman QB in Westwood more than a decade ago (who also happened to be a red head). Speaking of red, here is a little explanation courtesy of Luke Hallowell from re. why Cougs are calling this kid ‘Ocho Rojo’:

Washington State tight end Tony Thompson, whose dad Jack “The Throwin’ Samoan” Thompson was blessed with the greatest nickname in WSU history, came up Saturday with a catchy new moniker for quarterback Marshall Lobbestael. And by all accounts, the name has swept through the Cougar locker room like wild fire.

Ocho Rojo. That's Spanish for "Eight Red."

And that’s Lobbestael’s new handle, courtesy of Thompson. It’s a takeoff on Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson’s recent announcement that he was changing his name to his jersey number, Ocho Cinco (or 8-5).

Lobbestael, the second-year freshman from Oak Harbor, wears number 8 (ocho). We’re not sure if the rojo (red) refers to his carrot-top hair or jersey color.

I like that story. It’s kind of stuff makes college football so much more fun. Well, Lobbestael struggled a little bit against Oregon following his flashy debut against Portland State. Regardless, Coach Wulff saw lot of positive signs from his young QB’s performance in Cougar’s blowout loss against Oregon:

Wulff talked about Marshall Ocho Rojo. He thought he did a very good job, considering 1) the quality of the opponent in Oregon, one of the quickest, most physical teams he'll see all season; 2) the youth of our offensive line and skill positions; 3) the fact that it was his first start, at home, for homecoming. Add it all up and he did just fine. Had three drives that went well, two for TD passes and one other one that he had Brandon Gibson wide open for a TD but missed him. Wulff also said that he has no doubt that Marshall's game is going to come fast, faster than they expected initially. He's classy, competitive, hates to make mistakes. He's an absolute film guy, all the way, and Wulff said right now he's watching more film than anyone on the roster, coaches included! He is calm, cool, collected, and handles him self extremely well. Wulff has no doubt he will develop into a fine player over the next four years (this is the closest I've heard Wulff "gush" about a player on the roster, so, I think you can read between the lines to understand that Lobbestael is going to be THE GUY for the foreseeable future).

According to reports, in order to gradually integrate this kid up to speed Wulff has taken out no huddle offense. However, they are still going to run the spread offense which has been a total nightmare for Walker over the years (and especially against Washington State) with this promising QB.

For their part while bloggers from Wazzu are not optimistic about a victory on Saturday, they are thinking that Cougs will have a chance against Bruins. Brinkhater at WSU Football Blog thinks the Cougs “could win” or make it “interesting” if certain factors break their way:

While Ocho Rojo showed last Saturday that he really IS the man of the future, I think its a bit much to expect him to light it up in both his second start and first road game. Simply put, guys making their second starts as 18 point dogs rarely fare well. I think such is the case on Saturday--especially since we are still making changes at the tackle position. Look for #8 to make similar mistakes but more BIG PLAYS.

Therefore, while I see a game where we can stay "sort of in it," this is not a game that we will win.

That said, IF the O-Line steps up, and IF we can avoid the TO's that have buried us the last 5 weeks, we could WIN this one (last week, with a similar "stellar scenario" we could only make it interesting).

From the same post Sedihawk offers up the following astute observations re the so called mismatch some are making this game out to be:

But let's look at the full picture here. You think OUR offense is bad? We're at least averaging 19 points per game (yuck). But who is averaging 17 points per game, good for last in the PAC?? UCLA. And while we have sputtered mightily on offense, averaging 322 yards per game, or eighth in the conference.....guess who is LAST in the conference, with a measly 276.8 yards per game?? UCLA.

And UCLA's defense has been touted as being big, fast, physical, the whole deal. But the Bruins are allowing an amazing 37.5 points per game, eighth in the Pac-10. And they are eighth in the Pac-10 in total defense, giving up 415.8 yards per game. That's only 21 yards less per game that our awful WSU defense, if you can believe it. Think about that for a second - all those yards and points we have seen the WSU defense give up so far, and UCLA is only 21 yards less per game? That's a huge shock to me. So they are dealing with a new culture change as well with Slick Rick.

But that's just the stats, and you know they don't always tell the story. Judging a team just four or five games into a brand new regime is, as they say, SMALL SAMPLE SIZE. There is way too much of the season left to go before you can fully peg a team, one way or another, and a hell of a lot can change.

So that's the Bruins. But what about our Cougs? What can we expect?

I think like Brinkhater says, Ocho Rojo will play better. He will make plays and will likely grind out a few drives of note. Brandon Gibson will get his yards and catches, Devin Frischknecht will have a decent day, Jeshua Anderson will turn in a big play or two, and we'll have some things to cling to as the season rolls on. And believe it or not, I do think our defense will play better this week. There will be some adjustments made, again, and a renewed effort to stop the run. Some new faces will be out there, and that will help, but I think we'll see some wrinkles to do everything in our power to stop a running game.

ALL that said, it still won't be enough. If there is one thing we've seen as a general tone this season, it's this - on both sides of the ball, up front, we simply aren't good enough. We've started five different combinations at offensive line, and none of them have proven to be the solution. Even while we had a huge stat game vs. Portland State, we still allowed far too many free shots at the QB's. But the huge concern is how they've been physically overwhelmed vs. BCS opponents on both the offensive and defensive lines. While UCLA's own offensive line has been overwhelmed as well this season, they will still be able.

I wouldn’t get all that upset about the “Slick Rick” name calling from Wazzu fans. Neuheisel after all owns a 5-0 record vs. Cougars, 1-0 at Colorado and 4-0 at Washington. So not a surprise that there is still lingering natural resentment.

Going back to the main point, I will have to admit I am actually worried about this game. This is exactly the kind of game, no matter how hard the coaches drill into their players about not taking the other team lightly, kids come out flat. And given the culture of this program from last 4-5 years, I wouldn’t be surprised if our players come out flat. And that could present dangerous situation for the UCLA team on Saturday night. 

I will end this post with the following note dherman at the Daily Evergreen Sports blog (in his wrap of Wazzus’ blowout loss against Oregon Ducks):

The allure of sports comes down in large part to the “any given day” phenomenon. The best example is golf, where on any given day, you can play as well as Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus. You probably won’t shoot 10 birdies in a round, but the chance is still there. For fans, the thought in the back of your head is that on any given day, your team might rise up. On a balmy Autumn night in Autzen, your team might be the ones to knock off the No. 1 team in the country. So you don’t give up on your team, no matter how badly you’re losing. It’s why you find those students willing to brave the cold, hard concrete out in front of the stadium gate from the wee hours of the morning. It’s why, despite the fact the Cougars are down by almost 50 points at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the student section is almost half full.

Well if the Bruins do not focus this week and go into this game with same attitude we have seen from them time and again during this past decade littered with losses against games we had no business losing, you can bet it will be the Cougars going back to Pullman on an emotional high and possibly a full student section for their next home game.

Here is a plea to our players for giving the same kind of effort, hustle and focus this week they gave during the game week leading up to Tennessee and 13-9. One of the big reasons UCLA brought back Rick Neuheisel (and he and his staff knows this) is to create a culture in which the team is not satisfied with pulling of victories on any given Saturday. One of the main reasons Neuheisel is here is to establish a winning mentality in which the teams comes in totally prepared and locked in with focus every Saturday no matter what opponent they are taking on.

Well I know this year we are expecting a very tough season. A long one. However, this weekend presents an opportunity for our team to lay down its marker, if they truly want to prove that they are working to shed the mentality of being content with a mediocre program they have been for almost a decade.  If they can bring it this Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, it will be a huge boost to CRN’s ongoing effort to reestablish a winning culture in Westwood, which he got use to as Rose Bowl winning QB.