COMMENTARY: Of course you play Tuel

MINUTES BEFORE the 2011 season-opening kickoff at Martin Stadium, there was a buzz around the place. And not a good buzz, either. Jeff Tuel didn't walk in with the Washington State captains. This was concerning on so many levels, since there is no one on the Cougars' sidelines who brings more hope to a WSU football revival this season.

Word soon leaked that Tuel had a stomach virus. He didn't start the game against Idaho State as expected.

But football players with queasy stomachs have been taking part in games back to Knute Rockne era, and Tuel was no exception. He worked his way into the action during Washington State's third offensive series. As it turned out, maybe the flu bug should have hit Tuel harder. Not long after entering the game, Tuel was out, suffering a broken clavicle that puts his 2011 season – and maybe Washington State's – in doubt.

Suddenly, Cougar Nation became a divided house.

Twitter and the Cougfan.com message boards began lighting up to debate this story line: What was coach Paul Wulff thinking?

On the scale of grasping at straws, this one is off the charts.

"You don't put the savior into a game that was well in hand. Why risk our best player in a game like this?"

"When you're up 14-0 against a terrible team and the kid is sick!!! Why take a chance at that point."

"Just spoke to 2 doctors; they agree Coach Wulff was stupid to let Tuel play. That is when injuries occur!!"

"I'm looking for answers: Like, if sick, why was Tuel in for the third series of the game when we were already up 14-0? Coach?

"There was NO reason to bring Tuel in … costly coaching decision!"

"This was a very sad statement on our coaching staff – you don't put players in situations like this."

Seriously? Come on now.

It is the right of every fan to play Monday Morning Quarterback. Debate the playcalling. Wonder why the defense didn't bring it. But calling out Wulff for playing his starting quarterback and likely best player in the season opener because the kid had a tummy ache?

If ever there's a case of a Monday Morning Quarterback rating of zero, this is it.

To be fair, many Cougar fans saw Tuel's injury for what it was: a football player trying to make a football play that had an unfortunate ending. But it was surprising that more than a few felt someone had to take the blame, no matter how lame and shortsighted the thinking might be.

Everyone outside of Pocatello knew Washington State was going to beat Idaho State, and probably by a lot. If Tuel has a bad hamstring or sore shoulder, maybe you sit him in a game like this. But a flu bug? If Tuel says he's good to go, Wulff believes him and the team trainer says OK, you have to play him.

In fact, Wulff owes it to Tuel to play him. Wulff also owes it to fans who spend good money on tickets, hotels and travel to Pullman to play his best if his best is available.

College football athletes spend 12 months a year getting ready to play 12 games. That's it, 12 games. It might have just been Idaho State to you, but it was everything to Tuel. He needed the Bengals, if only to test his off-season work against someone other than his own teammates, and to sharpen up for games down the line.

Tuel may have the ability to become one of the best quarterbacks in WSU history, but Wulff can't put a bubble around the kid. Coach scared in college football, and you won't be coaching long.

Injuries happen in football. The notion that Tuel hurt himself because a stomach virus weakened him is laughable.

There are times for Wulff to be cautious. If the Cougs are up 40-0 in the third quarter, send out the second string. Tell Tuel it's OK to throw the ball away on occasion, or not take on a tackler near the sideline.

But Wulff shouldn't give a second thought to playing Tuel if he's medically capable of performing. And the guess here is that Wulff -- rightfully so -- hasn't.

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