This is going to be one long post. So strap yourself in, or whatever you do in front of your computer, grab something to drink and click the link. We're covering some highlights from the Pac-10 conference call, we've got practice notes and we'll talk about the quarterback situation. Read on.
• We're going to start with some comments by Arizona coach Mike Stoops on the Pac-10 coaches' conference call. The reason we're starting there is because they seem germane to the WSU situation. Ian Furness from Seattle radio station KJR asked Stoops how long someone could expect before a new coach could turn around a program. Stoops' answer comes from someone who took three-to-five years, depending on your definition of a turn-around, to turn around the Arizona program. Stoops answer – and I would like to give it to you verbatim, but I only got my recorder on for the last half and the Pac-10 doesn't have the response available to listen to – was pretty interesting and seemed to be almost aimed at WSU's Paul Wulff and Cougar fans. First, Stoops said, each program is different. The major programs are going to have some talent even if they haven't been winning. Others might not have hardly any. No matter what, though, he said – and now we pick up the answer verbatim – "You've got to stick to your philosophy and do what you know. I was fortunate to be around some good programs. Our first couple years I think we were three and three, won three and three, than we won six, five, eight. So those first couple years, you lose a little confidence. but it's something you can't really let bother you. I think all of us think we're miracle workers when we first get to these jobs, we can do all this and we're supremely confident in our abilities. And then it becomes very humbling at some point, (you say) 'man, we've got some work to do here,' to make up ground, personnel-wise on the rest of your conference. It took us some time to catch up in our personnel. In college you can only do so much so fast. And then you're not recruiting the top players even when you come in. So you have to develop them. So you've got to really preserve through some vary difficult times and its very humbling. You've just got to stay the course. Eventually things work out if you do things right. That's just what we believe. And our administration gave us that time to, you know, because we were close in our third and our fourth year. Both years we were very, very close. We were 6-6 our third year and lost out on an opportunity to play in a bowl game, but again thought we were making improvements. You've got to see little victories and see the big picture. But it takes time and try not to get discouraged." ... As background, Stoops came to Arizona from Oklahoma, where he worked for brother Bob. And he came in, as he said, thinking he was a miracle worker. He found out differently. And now he can reflect back on it with wisdom only someone who has been through the fire from the permanent "hot seat" can.
• Elsewhere from around the conference, the main subject today seemed to have been the success of young quarterbacks. Pete Carroll talked about how special Matt Barkley is – after addressing the game with Washington in some detail – but also mentioned how much more sophisticated freshmen quarterbacks have become. He mentioned California kids in particular because Barkley – and backup Aaron Corp – come from there but also because there are so many opportunities for exceptional California high school quarterbacks to attend camps, clinics and the like. ... UCLA's Rick Neuheisel expanded on that, using his own experiences as a baseline. He said there was no way he was ready to play as a freshman – "I was barely ready to play as a senior," he joked – after playing three sports in high school. Nowadays, the elite high school quarterbacks concentrate on that, fine-tuning their talent under the watchful eye of quarterback coaches. Neuheisel mentioned a bunch of those guys – the only name I recognized was Bob Johnson, who was coaching high school football at El Toro when I lived in Southern California a generation ago – who make a living by tutoring prep quarterbacks. Plus, Neuheisel added, high school defenses have improved so much and offenses have become so sophisticated, kids are just ready quicker. ... Dennis Erickson thinks the trend is only going to accelerate and you will see more high school guys stepping in – as they do at other positions – more often. He also mentioned the kids who graduate early and enter college in the spring. He believes that really helps them prepare for their first year.
• OK, now on to WSU's practice. We'll start up front. Zack Williams' right foot was in a boot, so the junior, who suffered a high ankle sprain Saturday, won't be playing for a few weeks. Brian Danaher took quite a few snaps at left guard, but so did Steven Ayers, moved over from left tackle. Tyson Pencer, who Wulff said needs to play if he's going to improve, took snaps at left tackle. Over at right tackle, Joe Eppele took some snaps in relief of Micah Hannam. But don't be surprised to see grayshirt freshman Alex Reitnouer take some snaps this week. Reitnouer is a freshman who came in during spring and impressed the coaches immediately. ... James Montgomery did not practice today after his knee swelled enough this weekend it had to be drained. Wulff expects him to be ready for Saturday. If he is, he'll start. ... Gino Simone did not practice recovering from his concussion. ... Andrew Roxas had full pads on. ... On the defensive side, Dan Spitz was back and playing end. ... Andy Mattingly was in a yellow jersey, trying to overcome a deep thigh bruise – his concussion was cleared – so he can play. Louis Bland took his spot as Alex Hoffman-Ellis earned a middle linebacker start with his play last week. ... Aire Justin is not back, but Jay Matthews was cleared to play and was not in a yellow jersey for the first time this fall. Eric Block was wearing yellow, but he can play and did a lot scrimmaging with the ones. … The defense was flying around and forced at least a couple turnovers against the scout but, more importantly, dominated the short ones-vs.-ones scrimmaging.
• That's it. Oh, you want more on the quarterback situation? OK, we can do that. I'm not sure how many of you watch the game from up above, as we do, but there is an advantage from seeing the game from up above. The main one is how easy it is to see pass patterns and the defensive secondary play. From up above, it was easy to understand what Wulff was talking about when he mentioned stuff left on the field. By that, he meant there were possible big plays that were missed by the quarterbacks. We'll tell you of one we saw while Kevin Lopina was playing, though I'm sure there were others. After Lopina found Jeshua Anderson on a go-route for 44 yards, the Cougars called a pass play on the other side of the field. Daniel Blackledge was running down a seam in the middle, Tony Thompson just to the outside of him and Jeshua Anderson down the sideline. The reads are, in order, Blackledge, Thompson, and then Anderson. Because a safety bit on the play fake, Blackledge was open, wide open. Thompson was open, though there was a safety between him and Anderson. For some reason, Lopina ignored Blackledge and Thompson and tried to hit Anderson again. He was the only one of the three the safety could recover and defend. He did and the pass fell incomplete. ... One other thing. Talking with some of the players, I've heard over and over about Marshall Lobbestael and Jeff Tuel and the extra hours they spend in the film room, doing everything they possibly can to get ready for the upcoming game. That's earned their peers' respect. ... We've mentioned how polished Tuel is more than once on this blog. His strong arm is obvious, his quick feet are easy to see as well. The mental part of the game? That I can't tell. But both Wulff and Todd Sturdy feel he's mature beyond his years. We'll see. It seems obvious a freshman is going to make mistakes. Tuel may be mentally strong enough to learn from them instead of being defeated by them. And any mistake he learns from this year is one less that he has to endure next year, when WSU should have a chance to win multiple games. ... Finally, if WSU had a lockdown defense, one that was going to limit the opposition to 10, 12, 15 points each game, quarterback play wouldn't be so crucial. But, because WSU is going to have to score 30 or more points to win most games, the offense has to perform as close to optimum as it possibly can. It hasn't thus far. So Lobbestael will get a start, and a chance to make the offense hum. If he can't, Tuel will get his shot. If he can't either? Then maybe it's time to start working toward the future.
• That's it for tonight. I feel pretty drained and my fingers hurt. We'll rest them overnight and we'll be back in the morning. Until then …