For the second week in a row, the head coach of an opponent sought out Jeff Tuel after the game and pulled him aside for a few words. Two weeks ago, it was Rick Neuheisel, no doubt asking him to transfer to UCLA. This week, Chip Kelly not only grabbed him for a few words, but walked off the field and through the tunnel, chatting him up the whole time.
"He said that he really believes I'm one of the better quarterbacks in the Pac-10.," Tuel said after the game. "He's telling every paper he can about that and that I had a good game."
Kelly confirmed what we already knew: Jeff Tuel is growing into a fine young quarterback. He's only a sophomore -- and he just passed a full season of work in total -- but Tuel is showing maturity and intelligence typically reserved for upperclassmen.
It's clear he makes mistakes, but he learns from them and hasn't really made the same mistake twice. After throwing a pick-six against USC, Tuel said "it won't happen again." He hasn't made the same throw against a corner squatting a route since.
In fact, since throwing three interceptions against USC, he's really only made one bad throw -- the interception near the goal-line against Oregon. He played a near-perfect game against UCLA, almost leading the Cougars to victory. This last weekend, he made that one mistake -- while also suffering because of numerous drops by the receivers. It's clear, however, when Tuel is on, the team can hang with anyone.
Against Oregon, Tuel's one bad throw came in a moment of greed. With the Cougars deep in Oregon territory, he made a throw he shouldn't have. Afterwards, he showed his maturity, owning up to the mistake.
"I got a little greedy, little excited, wanted to get in the endzone. I took a shot a probably shouldn't have," he lamented after the game. "I should've thrown it outside. The backer was just shuffling out then jumping back in front of the ball. I gotta move on from it, but that hurt -- that hurt big-time to shoot ourselves in the foot after that."
It's not just his words showing his leadership, but his actions. Tuel is now unquestionably the leader of the offense, charged with making all the calls at the line and conducting an offense that's become more dynamic as the season progresses.
Against Oregon, it was clear who ran the show. Multiple times, Tuel shifted players around to pick up the blitzes before the snap. When he saw less than seven men in the box, he checked to a run. What you saw was an offense that could competently run the ball because of it.
Really the only thing holding Tuel and the offense back is the play of the offensive line. Many times, he had receivers moments away from flashing open, only to be hurried by an oncoming defender.
"When has time, he can go out and throw it against anybody in this country. That's the bottom line." Wulff said after another encouraging performance from Tuel.
And he can. When given time, like any good quarterback, Tuel can pick his spots and tear a defense apart. He's smart enough to make his reads and his footwork and mechanics have continued to improve, leading to some beautifully thrown balls.
Against Oregon, the deep throw down the sideline to Marquess Wilson, the fade to Jared Karstetter for a big gain on third down and the post route thrown to Daniel Blackledge for a touchdown are all examples of what Tuel can do -- and do with consistency now.
Every week, we're seeing Tuel and the offense improve, making me think the sky really is the limit for them. With a confident leader in Tuel running the offense, I have no doubt the unit will continue to progress and evolve as the season goes on.