PULLMAN – Philosophers have long pondered the question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
The college football equivalent of that question is, “What came first, the victories or the top recruits?”
Washington State’s long, downward spiral on the gridiron began with poor recruiting during Bill Doba’s reign (2003-07) as coach. Recruiting gradually improved under Paul Wulff, and 15 freshmen have played in Mike Leach’s first season as coach, including six who started Saturday in a 24-17 loss at No. 19 Stanford.
Leach has stressed the need to recruit bigger and better offensive linemen since he arrived in Pullman. Washington State’s offensive line shortcomings were highlighted when Stanford recorded 10 sacks and 15 tackles for losses and held the Cougars to minus-16 yards rushing.
The Cougars rank last in the nation in sacks allowed per game (4.25), rushing yards per game (33.5), rushing attempts per game (20.6) and yards gained per rush (1.6).
Leach said the offensive line is recruiting target No. 1. The Cougars are trying to land five high school linemen and two from junior colleges, Leach said.
Cougfan.com, which closely monitors WSU recruiting, reports the Cougars have verbal commitments from two offensive linemen: Cole Madison from Kennedy Catholic High in Burien, and Cody O’Connell from Wenatchee High.
Scout.com gives Madison three stars, O’Connell two stars on a five-star scale. Scout.com ranks WSU’s current group of 15 committed recruits 10th in the Pacific-12 Conference and 52nd in the country.
Fueling WSU’s recruiting angst is the fact that Puyallup High graduate Joshua Garnett started at offensive guard as a true freshman for Stanford on Saturday. Also, Washington Huskies running back Bishop Sankey – who originally committed to WSU out of Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep – ran for 92 yards and two touchdowns Saturday in an upset win over Oregon State.
After Washington State shredded Stanford’s respected defense for 401 passing yards, Cardinal coach David Shaw said, “The biggest misleading stat there is, is passing yards.”
Shaw might have a point. Despite ranking eighth in passing yards per game (332.1), the Cougars are 103rd in scoring (20.6) and 91st in total offense (365.6) among the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams recognized by the NCAA.
WSU ranks second with 51.5 pass attempts per game and is tied for first with 15 interceptions thrown. The Cougars are 33rd among the top 34 passing teams in yards gained per pass attempt at 6.45.
The school records for most pass attempts and completions in a season should fall, but the Cougars are running behind the record pace for passing yards and passing touchdowns. The infamous 1970 team’s record of 36 interceptions seems safe.
The top-rated recruit committed to WSU, four-star quarterback Tyler Bruggman of Phoenix, has passed for 2,199 yards, 28 touchdowns and six interceptions in 11 high school games.
Another recruit verbally committed to WSU, Olito Thompson, is the type of big running back (5-10, 210) the Cougars lack. The three-star recruit ran for 251 yards and three touchdowns in one game this season for Concord (Calif.) High.
Asked about freshmen redshirting this season, Leach lauded speedy cornerback Alex Jackson and 6-5, 294-pound offensive lineman Eduardo Middleton.
Only a 4-0 finish to the regular season will prevent Leach from enduring his first bowl-less and losing season in 11 years as a head coach. … Utah, bidding for its 10th straight bowl, expects a 17th straight sellout Saturday for WSU. … Freshman cornerback Ray Ford, who chose WSU after failing to gain admission at California, has stopped practicing with the team after failing to gain academic clearance from the NCAA. Leach is uncertain about Ford’s future. … Leach gave the Cougars a day off Sunday, in addition to Monday’s standard rest day. As usual, no injury information was released.
COUGARS’ OPPONENT THIS WEEK
UTAH (3-5 OVERALL, 1-4 PACIFIC-12 CONFERENCE)
Noon Saturday, Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City
TV: Pac-12 Networks. RADIO: 710-AM, 104.3-FM
Coach: Kyle Whittingham (69-30, 8th year)
Last year: 8-5 overall, 4-5 in Pac-12.
Against the Cougars: Utah leads the series, 6-5. The Utes won last year, 30-27 in overtime, in Pullman.
Washington Connections: No Utah players graduated from Washington high schools, and no Utah coaches played or coached at Washington colleges.
Scouting report: Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (Lo-too-leh-lay), a 6-foot-4, 320-pound senior, may be the Pac-12’s best player and a top-five pick in the 2013 NFL draft. The Utes often struggle on offense, but they lead the nation in kickoff returns (30.1-yard average) and fumbles returned for touchdowns (four), and they’re second in forced fumbles (16). Utah snapped a four-game losing streak last week against California with the aid of a pair of 100-yard interception returns for touchdowns by Reggie Dunn. The Utes think that is a Football Bowl Subdivision record, and Dunn’s one-game average of 74 yards per kickoff return is definitely an FBS record. The Utes are down to their third quarterback, Travis Wilson, a 6-6, 230-pound true freshman with surprisingly good mobility. He’s being brought along slowly behind a shaky offensive line that has limited the production of senior running back John White. One year after rushing for a school-record 1,519 yards – including a career-high 185 on 42 carries at WSU – White topped 100 yards Saturday for the first time since the season opener. Utah scored 49 points against a Cal defense that was missing three starting linebackers.
Aug. 30d. N. Colorado, 41-0Sept. 7lost to Utah St., 27-20
Sept. 15d. BYU, 24-21Sept. 22lost to Arizona St, 37-7
Oct. 4lost to USC, 38-28Oct. 17lost to UCLA, 21-14
Oct. 20lost to Ore. St., 21-7Oct. 27d. California, 49-27
Saturdayvs. Washington StateNov. 10at Washington
Nov. 17ArizonaNov. 23at ColoradoHowie Stalwick, contributing writer