CAN HALLIDAY CATCH TUEL?
SPOKANE – After the performance Jeff Tuel turned in Saturday, brilliantly capping an overall stellar spring season, it's hard not to think he has a lock on the starting quarterback job. Still, head coach Mike Leach said after the Crimson & Gray Game that injured backup Connor Halliday will be given a shot to start when fall practice begins in August.
“We’re going to do that for about two weeks,” Leach said. “After that, we’re going to prioritize the snaps.”
Tuel's work Saturday would suggest that Halliday, who looked sharp late this past season, is going to have a steep challenge.
Tuel completed 19 of 21 passes (including his first 15) for 285 yards and two touchdowns to cement the already stellar work he'd done this spring. In the four scrimmages held since practices began March 22, he collectively completed 71 of 118 passes (60 percent) for 833 yards, 10 TDs and 5 INTs.
“I’m going to be myself and lead this team and get this team ready to go no matter what,” Tuel said.
With Halliday sidelined, David Gilbertson served as Tuel’s understudy this spring, and his numbers also were impressive. In the four scrimmages he completed 40 of 60 passes (67 percent) for 470 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs.
GIVE THE D CREDIT: Logan Mayes inherited more than just good athletic genes from his famous father. He also inherited Rueben’s classy demeanor and intelligence – with, of course, a helping hand from Marie, Logan’s mother and Rueben’s wife. Mayes, the defensive star of the Crimson and Gray Game, handled interviews as adroitly as he did blockers when he met with the press following Saturday’s scrimmage.
“People are thinking of us as an offensive team, but we’ve got some good defensive players out there,” said Mayes, who posted 4½ sacks Saturday. “It’s going to be an exciting year.”
Mayes said the head-turning spring crowd of nearly 11,000 (“It was really great”) that came out for the Crimson and Gray Game adds to his belief that things are headed in the right direction for Cougars football.
“People are really excited,” said Mayes, who father was one of WSU’s all-time gridiron greats. “I think that comes with bringing in (new coach) Mike Leach and bringing in all these new facilities.
“Something (athletic director) Bill Moos is really good at is getting people excited and pushing the program forward. The new (Pac-12 Conference) TV contract has gotten us a lot of money, and we’re able to leverage that into a lot of really good things for our team.
“The future is bright for WSU.”
Mayes sounds more like a WSU booster executive than WSU sophomore “Buck” linebacker. But he looked like a ballplayer after the scrimmage, thanks to his neck being badly gashed and scraped after a collision with running back Carl Winston.
“I was coming off the edge, he was pass blocking,” Mayes explained. “I went over the top and he kind of got his helmet right in there. He’s a hard hitter. Man, he comes hard.”
MORE WORK TUESDAY: Leach, continuing the policy he established at his previous head coaching job at Texas Tech, will hold one more spring practice (Tuesday afternoon in Pullman) after the final scrimmage.
“I like having the practice afterwards so you can watch the film and then you can do corrections and adjustments,” the coach said. Paul Wulff did the same thing a year ago.
The Cougars’ off-season work doesn’t end with Tuesday’s practice, of course. Most NCAA Division I football players now spend the majority of their summers on campus working out voluntarily – albeit with STRONG urging by coaches – and often picking up a few credits in the classroom. The Cougars are no exceptions.
“We need to give them as many tools as we possibly can to go into the off-season to work on and polish their skills,” Leach said. “If they do that and work really hard, we’re going to come back when we’re at (fall) camp significantly better than we are now.
“That improvement is going to be critical to this team.”
O-LINE STRUGGLES: Offensive left tackle John Fullington agrees with Leach that “the summer is going to be huge” for the Cougars’ development. In fact, Fullington hopes the offensive line starts showing improvement Tuesday.
“We didn’t have a very good scrimmage,” Fullington said. “We can do better, definitely. We’ve just got to be consistent.”
Injuries cut into the offensive line’s depth and talent this spring. The remaining players have been adjusting to the unusually wide gaps between linemen that Leach’s offense often features.
PASSING LANES: Injuries left WSU shorthanded on defense for the scrimmage, but it was readily apparent how Leach’s offense excels at finding receivers in space. “There’s always someone open in this system,” Tuel said. “It’s just a matter of finding the guy.”
Star wide receiver Marquess Wilson said Leach’s system makes it “a lot easier” for receivers to get open than in the previous offense. The new system provides freedom for the quarterback to choose from a variety of potential receivers on most plays, so the quarterback and his receivers must be on the same page.
“This is a complicated offense that takes time to put in,” Mayes said. “I think some people are expecting 40 points right away. Well, that’s not going to happen. We have to be patient and let them install the whole offense and slowly but surely it’ll come along until we’ll have this offensive juggernaut.”
WILSON SHINES: Tuel said he agrees with Leach and Wilson himself that Wilson – an All-America candidate – “sometimes” needs an extra push to get going. Leach and Tuel praised Wilson at length for his outstanding performance Saturday (4 catches for 149 yards and a TD).
“I’ve been waiting for him to do it the whole spring,” Tuel said. “The guy tries to act like he’s not that fast or something in practice. You come out here in the ‘game field,’ and I’ll throw it as far as I want and he’ll run under it. It’s good to see. It’s fun.”
VOTING GameDay TO PULLMAN: The Cougars have tried, unsuccessfully, to attract ESPN television’s College GameDay program to Pullman for years. Now, WSU fans can make certain GameDay comes to town … sorta. From Monday through May 2, ESPN is taking votes at GameDayVote.com to determine what college campus they will go to this summer to shoot a GameDay commericial. Whichever school gets the most votes wins.
THE MAYES FAMILY GATHERS AT ALBI EARLY BEFORE KICKOFF SATURDAY.|