Cougar Outlook 2011: Sizing up the Offense

PULLMAN -- A brilliant young receiver, a blossoming quarterback and a veteran touchdown machine are just three of the reasons why Washington State fans can envision a return to the good ol' days of high-scoring Cougar football in 2011.

Only four seniors started on offense in the Apple Cup on Saturday, and one of those -- running back James Montgomery -- might have an outside chance of returning next year on a medical hardship waiver. Going off the official depth chart, WSU has eight starters returning on offense.

Top returnees:
QB Jeff Tuel, WR Marquess Wilson, WR Jared Karstetter, RB James Montgomery(possibly), OT David Gonzales, OG B.J. Guerra, OT John Fullington, WR-KR Isiah Barton, OG Wade Jacobson, WR Gino Simone, RB Logwone Mitz, PK Andrew Furney.

Up-and-comers:
TE Aaron Dunn, QB Connor Halliday, RB-KR Rickey Galvin, WR Kristoff Williams, RB Carl Winston, WR-KR Blair Bomber, OT Elliott Bosch.

Notable losses:
OT Micah Hannam, C Zack Williams, RB James Montgomery (possibly), WR Daniel Blackledge, WR Jeffrey Solomon.

Look for:
Tuel and Wilson have established themselves as two of the most exciting players in the Pacific-10 Conference. Karstetter might not be as flashy as those two, but he's a big, physical receiver who blocks well and led the Cougars in touchdowns for the second straight year. Indeed, Karstetter in 2010 beat out Wilson for the team lead in catches (62-55) and touchdown catches (7-6).

Tuel completed almost 60 percent of his passes for 2,780 yards (231 per game), 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Those numbers would have skyrocketed if not for the fact that WSU allowed more sacks (51) than any Football Bowl Subdivision team except Rutgers (61).

And the Cougars might have lapped Rutgers in sacks allowed if not for Tuel's superb scrambling ability. Coaches loosened the reins on Tuel down the stretch and permitted him to run more, but the risk of injury is obvious, and you're playing with fire any time a starting QB goes down.

Wilson leads FBS freshmen with 1,006 receiving yards, which ranks second overall in the Pac-10 and eighth in WSU history. Wilson burned defenses for nine catches of 40-plus yards, and the lanky youngster vows to come back bigger and better after hitting the weights hard for the first time this winter.

Karstetter has registered all 13 of his career TD receptions over the past two years. Only two Cougars finished their careers with more than 18 TD catches: Jason Hill (32) and Hugh Campbell (22).

Montgomery led the Cougars with modest rushing numbers (478 yards and five touchdowns), but his courageous comeback from a career-threatening leg injury was inspiring. Montgomery would have benefited from better blocking and splitting time with the the slippery quick Galvin, who was lost for the season with a broken arm on his first collegiate carry in the first game of the season.

The Cougars lose a four-year starter on the offensive line with the graduation of Hannam. However, Gonzales (who suffered a broken forearm at midseason) and Jacobson made strides as first-year junior college transfers, and coaches and teammates talk so much about the "great feet" of Fullington, you'd think the kid was Fred Astaire.

Keys to the season:
It may be boring, it may be trite, but it is true: It all starts up front. For the Cougars to make significant improvement on offense next year, the line must play much better.

Coaches are scouring the junior college ranks for reinforcements on the line to fill out the 2011 class. They're also looking at JC and high school running back options. Dynamic prep running backs Bishop Sankey of Spokane and Demarcus James of Alabama have made verbal commitments to WSU, but both are listening to other suitors.

Fullington, a true freshman who started at the all-important left tackle spot after Gonzales went down, is a man-child with "NFL" practically stamped on his forehead. Coaches also love the potential of Galvin, who possesses the type of quickness WSU has lacked in the backfield.

Coach Paul Wulff has tossed out Tuel's name as one of the top quarterback prospects in the country for 2011. And Halliday, who redshirted this year after putting up all-world numbers in the pass-happy offense of Ferris High School in Spokane, is a rising star and could take the backup QB job away from former starter Marshall Lobbestael.

Williams, a physical specimen at 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds, was drawing as many raves as Wilson in fall camp before he went down with a case of turf toe that sidelined him all season and continues to bother him -- he is, however, expected to be 100 percent by the time spring ball rolls around according to OC Todd Sturdy. Dunn is another big, strapping, gifted freshman who redshirted after being injured (broken wrist) in fall camp. Sturdy also envisions Dunn being ready in time for the spring session.

Put Williams and Dunn on the field with Wilson and Karstetter and mix in a decent running game, and Tuel Time should be a great time for everyone but opposing defenses next year.

Coming tomorrow: A look at the Cougars' defense and special teams in 2011.

JARED KARSTETTER


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