James Snook-US PRESSWIRE
Back in the driver's seat for the first time since being injured against Eastern Washington, the Cougars need their senior quarterback to put the offense on his shoulders this Saturday against Stanford.
When I was a freshman at Washington State University, the Stanford Cardinal were the conference doormat. In fact, I can distinctly remember quarterback Trent Edwards telling the media before their game with the Cougs how unafraid of Mkristo Bruce he was. The menacing Bruce would go on to sack Edwards a school record five times in a drubbing in Stanford. The next season, more of the same for a chilly Dad's Weekend tilt that saw the Cougs take relatively easy care of the Cardinal.
My, how times have changed. Weren't those the days? You know, when someone else was the team everyone expected to smack around by three touchdowns or so. Man I miss it. You all know the story so there's no point in rehashing it here. Even without All-World quarterback Andrew Luck and Sharpie necklace loving head coach Jim Harbaugh, the Stanford Cardinal remain a formidable opponent. They dominated the California Golden Bears in an early edition of the Big Game last weekend 21-3. By the final gun, Stanford had held California to 0.1 yards per carry. That's not a typo. Cal only averaged 3.6 inches per carry. The football itself is triple that length. It should go without saying the Cougars will have some difficulty running on the Cardinal defense this Saturday.
And for what seems like the umpteenth time, we find ourselves looking towards a quarterback whose career has had more ups and downs than anyone in recent history. We're looking to a quarterback about which an immense amount of positive and negative things have been said and written over the last four years. Many fans have pontificated his mere presence in a game he wasn't even playing in could've changed the outcome. Could Jeff Tuel have led the Cougs to victory over UCLA in Pasadena last year? For many, the answer is an unequivocal 'yes'.
We aren't here to bring that argument out of the cobwebs. We're here because, once again, it's all on Jeff Tuel's shoulders. This has arguably been the most tumultuous year of Tuel's Cougar career. After holding onto his starting job following fall camp, Tuel was Wally Pipp'd after an injury against Eastern Washington allowed Connor Halliday to take over the starting job. But Halliday is no Lou Gehrig and by the time WSU made the trip down to Corvallis to face the Beavers, Halliday's poor play forced Leach's hand. He continued to flip flop between Halliday and Tuel against Oregon State but after two interceptions against Cal, Halliday seems to have found the bench for good.
Both quarterbacks have had their problems so far this season. Halliday locks onto receivers like a leopard on a hunt for a weak antelope. Tuel holds onto the ball in the pocket like Taylor Swift holds onto grudges against ex-boyfriends. But where Halliday has seemed to regress after showing signs of improvement, Tuel has become a somewhat stable solution behind the center.
Before the season, we joked the most important person would be Jeff Tuel every week. It'd be the easiest thing I ever wrote because I'd just plug in different teams and cities and the glorious thing was, I'd never be wrong. After all, the quarterback in an Air Raid offense is awfully important. Then, Tuel got hurt and Halliday continued to gun sling even after Tuel was healthy. But poor play on the part of the younger quarterback has thrust Tuel into the starting role again.
It's a familiar situation. Here comes Tuel riding in on a minotaur, carrying a quiver full of arrows tipped with hell fire ready to save another seemingly lost season. The problem is one man with warm arrows riding a person who is literally bullheaded can't bring a team back from the depths. But it's better than not having it at all I suppose.
Throughout four years at Washington State, Jeff Tuel has had to be the men who frequently shoulders all the promise. Promise of a year that won't be as miserable as the last, promise that this team will finally break through and stop destroying the hearts of thousands of fans across the state and country. It's a lot to ask of a young man who can barely buy a pint of beer for himself.
So I'll ask this nicely Jeff. Please, just one more time put this team on your shoulders. We're getting desperate trying to remember what winning feels like. A victory over a Pac-12 powerhouse would do wonders for us and our psyche. Additionally, I promise you a shoulder massage after the final whistle because putting dozens of football players and coaches on there can cause one's upper body to become quite sore. Or I can send a professional, non-creepy person over to do it.
One more time is all I ask Jeff. I'll never bother you again after this.
Remember though Jeff: when you win, don't tweet about it.