Jeff Tuel in a familiar position against the other half of the Holy War. - Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE
The big boys up front must keep Jeff Tuel upright against a stout Utah defensive line.
There are very few things in this world that are supposed to have holes in them. Storm grates, donuts and Swiss cheese are the only ones that really come to mind. Generally, I'm a big fan of things coming without holes in them. It goes especially true for the offensive lines of teams I love.
Last week, Jeff Tuel went 43 for 60 through the air for 401 yards and two touchdowns. His line behind center is impressive enough considering the yardage is a career high and Tuel was as crisp as he's looked during his time at Washington State. Your admiration for Tuel should only increase when I tell you he was sacked an astounding 10 times in the game against a Stanford Cardinal team with one of the most physical defenses in the conference.
Tuel has spend more time with his back on the turf than just about any quarterback in the country during his tenure at WSU. He's taken more of a beating than my colon after my free Doritos Locos Taco yesterday (I blame you Angel Pagan). One could make a case that many of the injuries Tuel sustained are the result of playing behind an offensive line that functioned more like a strainer than something meant to protect him.
The Cougars rather unexpectedly found themselves in the game with Stanford and had a chance to tie the game at the end of regulation. Outside of one pass with terribly blown coverage, the defense played an admirable game holding Stanford to just 256 yards of offense. Although the receivers still aren't over their severe case of the dropsies (someone should really get the CDC to look into that), they still played pretty well. It's unreasonable to expect the running backs to have done anything considering Stanford eats running backs for breakfast. Special teams played just fine as well.
That brings us to the weak link, the offensive line. Keith Jackson was fond of call them the "big uglies" and WSU certainly lived up to that nickname against Stanford. I didn't expect them to have their best performance against Chase Thomas and his gang of point allowing haters but I certainly didn't expect them to allow Jeff Tuel to be sacked 10 times. Tack on an additional five tackles for a loss and this performance might be the worst we've seen in a long time. It seems like an obvious statement but I'm going to make it anyway: for any offense to function, the line must, at the very least, protect the quarterback. Right now, the offensive line isn't even capable of doing that. Forget protecting well enough to run the ball, the quarterback can't even stay on his feet.
Their job gets no easier this week facing the Utah Utes. Although the Pac-12 newcomers aren't packing quite the punch we thought they may, the defensive line is still powerful enough to push them around. They also possess one of the finest defensive tackles this side of the continental divide in Star Lotulelei. Don't let the name fool you, listed at 6'4" and 320 pounds, this big guy can maul even the best of offensive lines.
The loss to Stanford all but cemented the Cougars fate out of the postseason. In order to make to a bowl game, the Cougars must win out which will be near impossible. It means another season where all were looking for as the year draws to a close is improvement. The defense and the rest of the offense has certainly shown they're getting better. If the Cougars have any hope of picking up their first Pac-12 win in Salt Lake City, the offensive line needs to function more like the Great Wall of China than the Maginot Line.
Keep Jeff Tuel on his feet and give him a little time and the Cougars have a chance to fly home grinning ear to ear with the scent of a victory still on them. But if you continue to allow Tuel to be flattened like a pancake and the Cougars will not only leave without a win but with a potentially battered and bruised quarterback.
Save a safe and happy Halloween everyone.