All week long, we heard about Tyson Pencer getting ready to make his first start at left tackle, as Paul Wulff raved about his athleticism and how he's the kind of player we need more of on our offensive line.
Lost in translation, apparently, is that Pencer can't block very well. At least not yet.
Pencer was repeatedly beaten Saturday, especially in pass protection. He looked slow coming out of his stance and awkward with his footwork. Watch him (left tackle, No. 75) on the Jeff Tuel highlight video. It's not pretty in spots, and that's even with the understanding that it represents a substantial improvement over what he did early with Marshall Lobbestael under center.
Now, does that mean I'm down on Pencer? Not really. It just means he had a not-so-good starting debut against a defense that possesses the kind of speed that simply can't be replicated in practice or appreciated on video. (If we did have players with that kind of speed, they'd be playing, right?)
Pencer looked to me like a guy whose head was just swimming -- a feeling I can readily identify with.
Let me start out by saying I was not a good football player in high school. I played offensive line because I was too slow to really play anywhere else, but I did play left tackle because I had pretty good technique and could move my feet well enough to keep most guys in front of me.
Or so I thought.
My junior year, I started one game midway through the year. I was the backup to our best offensive lineman -- a country strong 6-foot-4 guy with 7-foot arms -- who had gotten in a spat with the coach and quit the team. In I went to the starting lineup.
So I trot out onto the field for our initial drive, adrenaline pumping through my veins. Despite my limitations, I was there, on the field, playing varsity! I was still feeling pretty good when I got down into my stance for our first offensive play, a running play in which I was supposed to block down on the tackle for a counter. All I could think was, "Don't false start." Followed by, "Please, legs, stop shaking."
The quarterback barked out the snap count, I took my first step ... and there was no one there to hit. Where did he go? A million thoughts went through my brain in about a tenth of a second, the last of which said, "Turn around." He was in the backfield tackling my quarterback before he could hand off the ball.
Welcome to varsity, Nusser.
I was a mess the rest of the half. That first play had me so freaked out that I kept trying to get off the ball quicker, resulting a false start or two. I kept questioning my blocking assignments, worried I was going to block the wrong guy. I was serviceable in pass protection, but that's about it. For a guy who wasn't very good to begin with, I really wasn't good when my head was messed up. Oh, and I was benched at halftime for a bigger sophomore in my one and only start of my high school career.
To be honest, that's what Pencer looked like on Saturday. He got his "welcome to the big time" moment when rushing linebacker Michael Morgan blew around him like he was standing still, and then looked like he was overthinking and overcompensating for the rest of the night.
The difference, of course, is that Pencer's got talent. Lots of it. Which is what gives me hope that we're going to see a much different Pencer this weekend.
If we've learned anything from watching the WSU players this year -- and we've learned lots -- it's that the ones with legitimate physical talent (however few they may be) are rapidly improving each week. The learning curve in the Pac-10 is steep, but these guys have proven up to the task, and that's a real credit to the coaches.
To be truthful, we desperately need a huge improvement from week one to week two out of Pencer. He's going to be tangling with junior Kenny Rowe, who recorded two sacks last week against the vaunted Cal offensive line. He's precisely the kind of quick pass rusher (a converted linebacker at 6-foot-3, 232 pounds) that gave Pencer fits last week, and while Tuel's mobility is a plus, he's simply not going to be able to have any success if he's consistently running for his life.
C'mon, Tyson. Show us that talent everyone's been talking about.