I had planned to write this earlier today as a persuasive piece, but given that the decision has now been made, the focus shifts from persuasion to validation.
A few weeks back, I compared the performances of Kevin Lopina and Marshall Lobbestael in the opener against Stanford. It was designed to compare perception with reality, hoping to bring clarity to the situation.Obviously, we're all pretty excited about what Jeff Tuel did while in the game, but as somebody rightly pointed out in the game thread, I'm pretty sure we've never been so excited about a guy who was 1-for-4 passing over the course of his first five drives.
Was the team really that much better when he was in the game?
The answer is ... yes, but maybe not quite as much as you might think.
Whenever we compare two guys, we want to keep it as apples to apples as possible. We'll return to those two long drives to end the game in a moment, but I want to leave those out of the statistical comparison for the time being, given that it came against a number of second stringers seemingly playing a lot of soft zone. That's not to discount what Tuel was able to do -- after all, USC's second stringers went on to score approximately 458 points on us in the second half last year, and with the way this offense has struggled, I wouldn't care if he was throwing against air -- that's just to say that the statistics get pretty significantly skewed when you figure in those last two drives.
Conveniently enough, that leaves us with five dries apiece. As you look at that play call splits, keep in mind that I'm just looking at the official play by play and using my memory to try and remember what happened on each play.
|Team Yards Gained||-3||86|
|Passing||2-of-9, 14 yds||1-of-4, 5 yds|
Without a doubt, the offense was better with Tuel. Then again, it really had nowhere to go but up after averaging negative yards per play with Lobbestael at the helm. Ouchy. But let's not confuse what Tuel did those first three drives with the vintage Cougar offenses of the past decade. The success was relative, and should temper your enthusiasm just a little bit.
However, there's one extremely important distinction between Tuel's performance and Lobbestael's. Check it out how each performed on passing plays:
Despite having more passes called and only being able to get half the number of balls out of his hands -- for half as many completions -- Tuel was able to generate positive yards overall, mostly thanks to his legs. He was able to tuck the ball and avoid taking a sack a number of times, and also was able to limit the damage on most of the sacks he did take.
In fact, of the seven times he scrambled after dropping back to pass on those five drives, five times he produced a result that tangibly benefited the team. Twice, he rushed for 10 or more yards on 2nd-and-long to set up a 3rd-and-short (each of which Logwone Mitz converted); twice, he scrambled for a first down; and once, he avoided a deep sack. This doesn't even take into account the fumble he picked up on 2nd-and-9 on the third drive and ran forward for eight yards, since I think that was supposed to be a running play.
When Paul Wulff originally announced his intention to take the redshirt off Tuel, I was as vocally against it as anyone. It seemed like a waste in a season heading nowhere fast. But I think after Saturday, the implication from the stats is undeniable: For this team -- one that obviously is heading somewhere after a strong performance against USC -- Jeff Tuel is clearly the best option.
There was a considerable amount of consternation about him playing behind a banged up line, but Tuel showed that he's actually the best quarterback to play behind such a line. He's not only mobile; he possesses an uncanny ability to avoid taking a direct hit. And while the arm didn't quite live up to the hype in terms of strength (at least to my eyes, which is obviously subjective), the release was quick and he was accurate.
While the running is nice, that last attribute is truly what distinguishes Tuel from Lobbestael, and why it's clear he should be starting. I think we all kept hoping that Lobbestael would make good on the promise he's shown over the past calendar year, but, as we've done with Lopina, we might just have to make peace with the realization that he is what he is: A statue in the pocket who's incredibly vulnerable to the blitz thanks to slow decision making and inconsistent accuracy. You can only blame the knee for so long, especially when he was only completing ~50 percent of his passes last year before getting hurt.
Tuel, on the other hand, showed he can fit the ball into tight spaces (see his first completion to Tony Thompson) and fire darts into soft spots in a zone. That's why those last two drives make me so excited for Tuel's potential this year: He wasn't just completing passes, he was hitting guys on the numbers or on the hands in stride, prevent zone or not. He was putting the ball in places where guys could do something with it, completing 13-of-18 for 125 yards. I can't say this with great certainty, but I'm fairly confident that no WSU quarterback has had a stretch like that all year.
I'm man enough to admit when I'm wrong. Taking the redshirt off of Tuel was the right decision, and it's time to give him the keys to the offense full time. Here's to hoping that Saturday's start is the first step in that process.