Jeff Tuel breaks clavicle in Cougars' 64-21 win over Idaho State
The question is, why did coach Paul Wulff play quarterback Jeff Tuel in the first place? He was sick.
Seattle Times colleges reporter
PULLMAN — They played a football game here at Martin Stadium on Saturday shrouded both in exuberance and dread. And maybe if the Cougars are lucky, over time the first emotion can drown out the other one.
Washington State swamped Idaho State, 64-21, with better players and bigger plays, in their 2011 football opener. It would have been a rollicking day for the Cougars if they hadn't lost their underrated quarterback, Jeff Tuel, to a broken left clavicle late in the first quarter.
Nobody seemed to know quite what to feel about it afterward, and maybe that's the residue from three pretty horrific football seasons. You don't know what to feel when you've been the butt of scores like that.
Tuel is due to be out 4 to 6 weeks. The Cougars seemed surprisingly sanguine about the whole thing. They're either naïve, or they know something we don't.
"I think our team is confident enough that we've got enough players to be a dang good football team, and we're gonna go out and play," said fourth-year coach Paul Wulff. "Jeff's handling it extremely well already. He's going to be around this football team just like he's playing. I think this team's gonna be just fine."
Maybe that's what he has to say. But Wulff pointed out that he lost a couple of defensive backups — Travion Smith and Darryl Monroe — for the season, so he wasn't ready to call it a bittersweet day based solely on Tuel's misfortune.
Eighteen days ago, I stood on the turf at Martin Stadium with offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy, and you could sense from him that Tuel was having a sensational fall camp, and that even if nobody else was talking about him, WSU believed it had a star-in-waiting in Tuel.
Saturday, Sturdy wasn't ready to get misty-eyed over the loss of Tuel. When I asked him to boil it all down, whether this was a significant blow, he said, "I can't do that. The message to our players needs to be, 'Next guy in.'
"We've got a football team that's up and coming. We've got a lot of good players. Marshall will be the guy going into next week and he'll do a fine job."
Marshall Lobbestael, the senior from Oak Harbor, shredded the defenseless Bengals, completing his first nine passes. But it was after his sixth straight completion — and a 14-0 lead — that Wulff, Sturdy and Co. decided Tuel, whom Sturdy conceded was "really, really sick" from a stomach virus earlier, felt good enough to go into a game that Lobbestael had started.
Honestly, my reaction upon seeing Tuel in the game was: Why? If he's sick, he's sick. The outgunned Bengals provided the perfect foils for Lobbestael and promising redshirt freshman Connor Halliday.
But I understand Wulff's point. Tuel was the leader of this team last November, and last February in winter workouts and in the spring and summer. And leaders earn the right to play.
"He felt good enough," Wulff said. "He's a big-time competitor. He wanted to play. He's worked really hard to get to this point. It (sitting him) never crossed our minds."
So there was Tuel, looking for a receiver running a post near the Idaho State goal line, seeing it covered, and running to the right sideline. He was upended there, but he bounced up quickly.
He threw another pass before a field goal. By the time he throws his next one, the Cougars somehow have to keep the losses to, say, one.
"That's Jeff for you," said receiver Jared Karstetter. "He finished the drive with a broken collarbone."
The Tuel injury dulled what was otherwise a hopeful effort by the Cougars, who flew around, blitzed mercilessly and allowed only 113 yards in piling up a 40-0 halftime lead.
But now it's Lobbestael's team for maybe a month or more, which takes the Cougars through UNLV, San Diego State, and after a bye, Colorado (Oct. 1) and UCLA (Oct. 8). He'll have to be a lot better than he was in his last start against UCLA in November 2009, when he threw three interceptions by the middle of the first quarter.
Next guy in. That's the way it is on the good teams. Tuel or no Tuel, the Cougars think they can be one of them.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
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