The wins have not come yet, no doubt about that. At the same time, the Cougs are clearly, demonstrably better. All losses count the same, but not all losses are created equal – 52-6 is a lot different than 38-28. Games were, in effect, decided before halftime in 2009, such was the scope of the massive rebuilding job.
This season, WSU has had chances to instead win some of those games they were blown out of last year – the issue remaining in doubt headed into the second half and on occasion, the fourth quarter. By any reasonable measure, the Cougs look like a team learning how to win, and getting closer.
Can you talk about QB Jeff Tuel and his development?
Jeff Tuel has made a good sized leap this year though he is, like many of the young Cougs, still learning. His NCAA passing efficiency rating is 134.71, which places him No. 44 in the nation and ahead of much hyped preseason Heisman Hopeful and senior Jake Locker of Washington, as well as Steven Threet. Tuel has thrown for 200 or more yards in every game.
He is still just a second-year sophomore, but looks far more comfortable in the pocket than his true freshman campaign and has a firm command of the WSU offense. He's done as well as he has this season despite sometimes porous protection. No question, he sometimes holds the ball too long. He's also made some "sophomore" mistakes, both early and at key junctures late, but in the big picture, he's done a lot of good work. He's got good feet plus an accurate, strong arm -- some of his recent touchdown passes have been frozen ropes. And if WSU's line can give him time, he'll put up some crooked numbers over the season's last four games.
Can you talk about the young WSU defense and their strengths and weaknesses?
They're significantly faster and more athletic than a year ago. They're also young, and prone to the mistakes of youth. They need to get bigger and stronger up front and the defensive line has been the most significant issue, but they're starting to show at least a small amount of improvement there as the year has gone along. Overall, WSU's biggest weakness defensively has been against the run, though some starting changes in the linebacking corps have improved that to a degree.
The defensive backfield is much improved from last year, but still a work in progress, and they, as well as the team overall, is a little banged up – incredibly, WSU plays 11 straight games this season before getting a bye.
Overall, the D looks better at times than their statistics show, but that's also part of being a young team who will play decently on first and second downs, but then can't get off the field on third down.
How is WSU's defensive speed and how have they fared against spread offenses?
Significantly better, though not as good as it will be next year, and the year after that, what with the players who are redshirting this year and the current recruiting class that arrives in 2011.
Washington State, at this stage of their development, probably matches up better against a spread than they do a traditional, power running offense. WSU against Oregon's explosive spread offense, trailed 36-23 at the end of the third quarter and was on the Oregon 12-yard line with a fresh set of downs. Poised to cut the lead to 36-30, and enter the fourth quarter with momentum on their side and trailing by six, they turned the ball over and went on to lose by 20.
As mentioned before, WSU is still young and learning, and mistakes, critical and otherwise, are part and parcel of that process.
Who have ASU fans probably never heard of that they should keep an eye on, both offensively and defensively, for the Cougars?
On defense, some to look for are linebackers Sekope Kaufusi and C.J. Mizell, and safety Deone Bucannon. Kaufusi is the old man of the group, he's a redshirt freshman. Mizell and Bucannon are true frosh. All are hard hitting and fleet of foot. They'll make mistakes, no question, but along with that they'll also make you rise up out of your seat.
On offense, starting LT John Fullington is also a true freshman and performed admirably against Stanford last week. Fullington will make mistakes, and he might not have as good a game as he did the previous week. But he's going to be a good one in the years to come. True freshman WR Marquess Wilson is one to watch. All he's done so far is lead the Pac-10 in receiving yards per game, (7thnationally). At the same time, he's a true freshman, still learning, and teams are now focused on shutting him down and making other receivers beat them. ASU is expected to try and do exactly that this week.
Other than turning the ball over (the obvious answer), if ASU does
If ASU doesn't stop the run, and WSU does better on the ground, something they've struggled with all year, then WSU can pull off the upset.
Given the struggles that ASU has had over the past 2.5 seasons, how does the average WSU fan view Arizona State football today?
Some WSU fans find it puzzling. ASU looks to have a number of inherent advantages that should lead to some great Pac-10 recruiting classes, from the weather to facilities and beyond, and that in turn would seem to lead to ASU being a consistent challenger to the Pac-10 crown.
Despite the bad record WSU has been able to land an impressive 19 commits for the 2011 class. What is the reason behind that?
Based on the conversations we've had with recruits, it's become apparent the chief reason is they've have bought in to the staff's vision, and where this program is headed. The staff also prides themselves on trying to outwork everyone on the recruiting trail, and to unearth those diamond in the rough types.
Critics will point to verbals who have few or no other Pac-10 offers. The argument against that view can be found in "gets" like WR Marquess Wilson, QB Jeff Tuel, OT John Fullington, LB Sekope Kaufusi, LB C.J. Mizell and several others.
How is the fans' patience maintaining with Wulff and, despite some signs of improvement, continued losing?
A mixed bag. The past two years have been painful for everyone, and some of the more vocal wanted a change after Year 1. Others feel the corner has been turned this year, that good things are ahead, and that they've seen tangible evidence on the field on Saturday that Paul Wulff's plan is working.
Wulff will keep his job at the end of the year. True or false and why?
What keys would you need to see on Saturday to have WSU win at SDS? What is your prediction?
Washington State needs to not dig themselves an early hole, something they've done in virtually every game. WSU needs to run the ball at least a little better than they have – they don't have to tear it up on the ground, they just need to have some level of consistency.
Assuming ASU runs more than they customarily have, the Cougs need to do a competent job against the ground attack, and get off the field when they have opportunities. And WSU needs to simply limit the young mistakes, most of which have come at crucial points over the last 4-5 games. If they do that, WSU will win. The feeling here is that this is the week WSU does enough in those areas, and gets a W.