Tuel, via run game, ready to blast off

BASED ON articles this offseason from near and far, Washington State QB Jeff Tuel opened some eyes last year. But this season, the stars are lining up for him to yank some heads around.

Tuel will have a plethora of riches to throw to this year – the wide receiver corps is stacked deep for 2011 like in no other year since WSU receivers coach Mike Levenseller arrived in Pullman in 1992.

But that's not the main reason.

The Cougs' offensive line took significant leaps up the ladder this spring. Even-keeled Paul Wulff has been darned near ebullient when discussing the performance of the 1s this spring, and the quality of depth that is now in place up front.

That's not exactly the reason either, though it's getting warmer.

This spring showed Washington State looks once again to have a credible running threat, something that absolutely must be in place if the Cougs' offensive air attack is going to lead to wins in the Pac-12.

Everything gets harder in the passing game when you can't run or, more specifically, when you don't have the threat of the run.

Defenses jump the A-gap, they can overload one side, without fear of reprisal. They simply pin their ears back and don't worry nearly as much about defending the run. It makes what Tuel and Co. did through the air in 2010, a year when WSU couldn't run the ball effectively, that much more impressive.

Through the first nine games of last season, Tuel was the only QB in the Pac-10 who had thrown for 200 yards or better in each contest.

But WSU also paid a price, with an ungodly 51 sacks surrendered.

Assuming what happened in the run game this spring carries over, the sack numbers will plummet alone on the lack of blitzes opposing defenses dare to throw at the Cougs -- they can't defend WSU the way they have if the Cougars start to have success with the run. And a better and deeper o-line than in 2010 will hack away further at that stat.

Rickey Galvin is listed behind senior Logwone Mitz on the post-spring depth chart but some think it may only be a matter of time before Galvin is the established starter. Galvin is dynamic, a true ground game threat, the kind WSU hasn't had for a while.

Losing Galvin for the year on his first play from scrimmage was a killer in 2010. His ability to read blocks and get to the second level is advanced and like all good running backs, he at times looks like he's skating rather than running.

But the success of the run game could still wind up depending on Mitz.

Galvin is officially listed at 162 pounds, though the school has not updated it's official weights since last season. Still, even if Galvin adds considerable weight and comes in at 180, that's still light for an every down back over a 12-game regular season.

And even if Mitz does wind up getting starter type carries at some point, it may be an adventure. Over his career, Mitz has been sublime one day, a liability the next. He's looked great on some plays, unable to practice on others. He has a world of capability, but he has to prove he can hang onto the football and give the same amount of effort and concentration on every play, both in practice and in games.

This spring did a lot to ease concerns about the WSU running game. For all that Galvin and Mitz did, don't forget about Carl Winston. He's never really been truly healthy since arriving on campus, and he has more in his bag of tricks than he's yet shown on Saturdays.

And as long as the WSU running game is at least credible, a step up from last season, that's going to pay big dividends in the WSU passing game. Tuel threw for 2,780 yards and 18 TDs last year with the Cougs' leading rusher averaging just 43 yards per game.

Just imagine what Tuel and Co. might do through the air in 2011 with a very real running attack threat.

William Sherman is a 1991 graduate of Washington State and travels to as many Cougar games, home and away, as he can.

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