WSU taking positive steps

Mike Schmitz

It’s hard to praise a team that is winless in Pacific 10 Conference play and 1-5 overall. But considering their record in 2009 (1-11) and how closely they’ve played teams in 2010, it’s safe to say the Washington State Cougars are no longer the Pac-10’s doormat.

“”I think our kids understand that this is a different Washington State, a much better Washington State team than we’ve played over the past couple years, so we’re excited to go up there and compete,”” said head coach Mike Stoops.

The Cougars’ only win this season has come in a one-point victory over Montana State, and they’ve been outscored 135-67 by Pac-10 schools. But Washington State has proven it has an offensive attack that can help them hang around long enough to maybe, just maybe, pull off an upset.

“”We’re facing a team with an outstanding passing attack in the form of their quarterback who can throw it and run it, and they’ve got a couple of outstanding receivers,”” said co-defensive coordinator Greg Brown.

Sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel, 19, is emerging as one of the Pac-10’s better arms, as he’s one of only three quarterbacks in the conference to throw for over 200 yards in every game this season.

Tuel, who spent his freshman year at Salpointe Catholic High School in Tucson, is fifth in the conference in passing yards per game, with 246.3 passing yards per game to go along with nine touchdowns and only five interceptions.

He threw for 311 yards and two touchdowns against UCLA two weeks back and put together a 245-yard, one-touchdown game as the Cougars gave No. 2 Oregon a scare last weekend.

The biggest thing is that this season Tuel has some good options at which to throw. “”Washington State has some great receivers,”” said starting cornerback Robert Golden.

True freshman Marquess Wilson is leading the Cougars in receiving yards with 515 and ranks third in the conference in receiving yards per game with 85.8. The 6-foot-3, rail thin (173 pounds) wideout has become one of Tuel’s favorite targets and quite the deep threat for the Cougars — he averages 17.8 yards per catch and has a 68-yard touchdown grab to his name.

Junior receiver Jared Karstetter is Tuel’s other main option. The 6-foot-4, 208-pound wideout is a possession receiver who leads the conference in receptions with 33.

Needless to say, Tuel and the Wazzu offense is much improved from the team that was the joke of the Pac-10 for so many seasons.

The defense is still atrocious, allowing 42.8 points per game — over 12 more points than the team that ranks ninth in the Pac-10 in points allowed. The Cougars allow over 250 yards on the ground per game and should struggle to contain Arizona’s high-octane offense.

But although Wazzu certainly isn’t expected to come out victorious Saturday night, they should actually be taken seriously this time around.

“”Washington State, they’re not a pushover,”” said senior running back Nic Grigsby. “”This year, you can see they’ve been playing teams tough game in and game out. They’re not just going to let us go in there and walk over them.””

 

Not so pumped on Pullman

With a population of less than 30,000 and not much but barren land and cold weather, Pullman, Wash., isn’t exactly everyone’s favorite place to play. Here’s what some Arizona players had to say about their Saturday night destination:

Nic Grigsby: “”There’s just nothing out there. You go out there, and it’s going to be cold. And all you can do is go out there and is play football and hurry out there and get back home.””

Derek Earls: “”Middle of nowhere I think, as far as I know. Well, I shouldn’t say in the middle of nowhere because North Dakota (his last college) is in the middle of nowhere, too, so. It gets kind of cold up there, but I’m used to the cold.””