JEFF TUEL RUNS FOR DAYLIGHT SATURDAY
PULLMAN – Paul Wulff was non-committal the other day when asked about the competition at quarterback. Following the Cougars’ final scrimmage of the spring season on Saturday – a scrimmage in which Jeff Tuel shined brightly – the head coach was more forthcoming. “I mean, yeah, he’s running with the ones, there’s no question,” Wulff said about Tuel.
“He’s doing well and we want to bring both those guys (Tuel and Marshall Lobbestael) along. We’re going to need them both. They’re both going to need to play for us no question,” Wulff added.
The Cougar offense, seemingly overmatched much of the spring, came to life with Tuel connecting on 11 of 16 passes for 129, one TD and no interceptions. Of course, the first-string offense was playing against the second-string defense throughout this Crimson & Gray Game, so that helped matters. But there is no denying that the first-unit offense executed superbly.
“They were focused, they came out ready to play,” Wulff said. “Their energy was good. There were a few mistakes obviously made but I thought the 1 offense did a nice job of moving the football.”
The No. 1 offense scored three TDs on the evening – two by senior running back Chantz Staden on runs of one and nine yards, and one by running back Logwone Mitz on a 16-yard aerial from Tuel. Staden had a huge day. He rushed for a team-high 86 rush yards, and had the biggest play from scrimmage with a 51-yard gainer that brought the crowd of 1,100 faithful to their feet.
“As running backs there’s no one, two, or three yet so we’re all fighting for that spot,” Staden said. “Regardless, if I was the 1, I’d still be fighting to keep that spot. I need no more motivation. I’m as motivated as they come.
STADEN EN ROUTE TO GAME-HIGH 86 RUSHING YARDS
“I wanted to come out here and get my confidence level back as a RB and I believe I did that,” said Staden, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. “Along the way we got our confidence as an offense so it’s going to carry us through summer and into the fall.”
Wulff liked what he saw in his backs, too.
“They ran hard, and once again when you have competition at any position they all play their best football,” Wulff said. “Because we have depth at the position they’re playing good football and that goes with every position as we continue to build depth in this program you’re going to see excellent play from those positions. “
He lauded Staden. “He’s healthy but he’s not 100 percent,” Wulff said. “He’s playing really well. He’s a great sparkplug for us. He and Logwone have played well and Marcus (Richmond) and Carl (Winston) have been a little nicked up through camp so it’s kind of affected their ability a bit but when those two are healthy they’ve played well as well.”
The success of the RBs on Saturday was made possible by solid work from the hosses up front. The starters went like this: LT Micah Hannam, LG Zack Williams, C Chris Prummer, RG B.J. Guerra, and RT David Gonzales. Prummer was starting in place of injured Andrew Roxas (ankle sprain). Wade Jacobson (leg inflammation), the touted JC transfer who has had solid spring, sat out the scrimmage with injury.
But back to the quarterbacks.
Wulff praised Tuel’s decision making and accuracy, and also complemented Lobbestael, who had to face the first-string defense for all but one quarter of action. “When Marshall was in with the 1 offense he did some good things. He moved the football but the QBs I thought did a nice job.”
Lobbestael completed 4 of 11 passes for 27 yards and one interception. Facing off against the No. 1 D exacerbated his biggest weakness – mobility – compared with Tuel. When heavily pressured, Lobbestael either threw the ball away or was “sacked,” while Tuel typically would run out of the pocket, evade defenders and make a play.
“I think every quarterback should feel they’re the guy but if I’m in there I feel it’s my team and my offense to run, I’m ready for it,” Tuel said.
THE NO. 1 DEFENSE, squaring off against the No. 2 offense, also drew Wulff’s praise. “The 1 defense did very well. There were a few missed tackles but overall it was pretty good.”
Both the first- and second-unit defenses were livin’ large early in the contest. The second unit held the first-string offense to a 3-and-out on the first series of the game, and then the first-team D – with cornerback Aire Justin doing the honors -- picked off Lobbestael on the next series.
On the INT, Lobbestael fired one 30 yards downfield to Esa Johnwell, but Justin tipped the ball and then did a full extension dive to pluck it out of the air. Definitely one for the highlight reel, but it had a price. Justin landed on his stomach, knocking the wind out of him and possibly bruising ribs. He did not return to the game. Freshman Nolan Washington took his spot with the 1’s and the unit didn’t lose a step. Washington is fast and has excellent cover skills.
The dominance of the first-team defense was complete. They surrendered no TDs and allowed just three first downs. The defensive line -- Kevin Kooyman and Travis Long at the ends and Brandon Rankin and Justin Clayton at the tackles – looked sharp. They combined for four sacks, with Rankin getting two.
RANKIN: A BREAK BETWEEN SACKS
“I thought the defensive line played very well,” Wulff said. “They are flying around, playing well. Coach (Malik) Roberson has done a great job with the group and they get better and better all the time. They are playing real good football right now.
“Brandon is going to give us a unique pass rush from the defensive tackle position that we haven’t had here since Rien Long was here,” Wulff said. “His quickness off the ball can disrupt some things in the run game and pass game. No question Brandon is going to be a great addition to our defense.”
The first-unit defensive backfield, which has shined throughout spring ball, also had a nice day. On top of Justin’s interception, there were several pass deflections, and tight coverage that made life tough for Lobbestael. At the safety spot, Tyree Toomer was splitting time with both Chima Nwachukwu and LeAndre Daniels.
“They’ve improved a tremendous amount,” Wulff said of his D-backs. “I think our speed has improved, we’re definitely a much faster football team than we’ve been and we’re not done. We’ve got a lot of youth and those guys are going to get quicker and stronger the older they get.”
At the CB position, the starters are Daniel Simmons and Justin, but Washington and Anthony Carpenter, who had a couple pass deflections while battling the No. 1 offense, are close behind. Carpenter turned in a picture perfect play where he knocked the ball away from Daniel Blackledge, erasing what would have been a big gain.
“There’s definitely competition,” Simmons said of the corners. “We got a great group of corners. Guys that can contribute at any point, if one of us goes down god forbid they can come in and make plays. It’s good to have such good depth at corner because we definitely need it.”
Simmons, has been the leader of the CB unit throughout spring and showed no ill effects of the broken leg he suffered in the middle of last season.
The Cougars will close out the spring season Monday with a 6 a.m. practice at Rogers Field.
Asked to generalize how the spring season progressed, Wulff was succinct: “A lot of players, if not all, have gotten a lot better. We’ve learned a lot of things and without question this has been our best spring football. I feel really good about the progress we have made and we still have a ways to go and are making excellent progress. We’re growing.”
An estimated 50 high school prospects were on hand for the scrimmage, including touted Spokane running back Bishop Sankey, and Reuben Mayes’s son Logan, a linebacker from Eugene.
Walk on QBs Dan Wagner and David Gilbertson each threw one pass for the 2s.
THE STAT LINE …
Chantz Staden – 10/86 (2 TDs); Logwone Mitz – 10/59; Carl Winston – 10/25; Marshall Lobbestael – 4/-25; Marcus Richmond – 2/8; Team – 2/-12; Jeff Tuel – 1/-3.
Jeff Tuel – 11/16/129/1/0; Marshall Lobbestael – 4/11/27/0/1; Dan Wagner – 1/1/13/0/0; David Gilbertson – 0/1/0/0/0.
Jared Karstetter – 4/48; Jeffrey Solomon – 3/28; Logwone Mitz – 2/22 (TD); Daniel Blackledge – 1/21; Andrei Lintz – 1/13; Esa Johnwell – 1/10; Jared Byers – 1/9; Aaron Gehring – 1/8; Shane Thomas – 1/7; Chantz Staden – 1/3.
TUEL AIMS TO AIR IT OUT.|