Sept. 22, 2011
Editors Note: The below piece is featured in the 2011 Fall edition of Cougars Quarterly. The publication is sent to Cougar Athletic Fund members and season ticket holders. To learn more about the Cougar Athletic Fund click HERE or call 1-877-IMA-COUG. For WSU Athletics ticket information click HERE
By Jason Krump
There were signs.
An early lead over USC and third-ranked and eventual national championship game participant Oregon. Battling UCLA at the Rose Bowl. A halftime lead over Cal.
However, the promise of each game evaporated into one more loss, and the Pac-10 losing streak continued to grow for the Washington State football team during the 2010 season.
"We were up and down," said quarterback Jeff Tuel. "One game the offense would be on fire, the defense couldn't get a stop. The next week, defense was dominating and offense couldn't move the ball.
"Part of that up and down thing is we had to realize it's not all going to be perfect off the bat," Tuel adds. "I think that we still had some immaturity at times, and this includes myself, where we struggled in the first quarter or have a bad first few drives and you hang your head and get frustrated and get out of your game. That's when you start self-destructing."
The streak reached 16 games when Tuel and the Cougars played at Oregon State, Nov. 13.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Cougars ran off 21 consecutive points en route to defeating the Beavers 31-14.
It was the Cougars' first win over a conference opponent since the 2008 Apple Cup win. The pent-up frustration of the streak was released in a team celebration on the Reser Stadium field, joined by the Cougar fans in attendance.
"It was relief for everybody," Tuel recalls. "The fans deserved it as much as we did.
"I think that's when we started to take strides."
Senior Jared Karstetter knew the feeling of both victories, and the 16 losses between.
"The Apple Cup is bigger. It's the last game of the season, and it's the Apple Cup," says Karstetter, "but coming out of the game I felt better after Oregon State because of where the team was.
"We felt like we could maintain that and keep playing at that level."
It was nearly maintained three weeks later in the Apple Cup. WSU fell behind 21-0, but rallied to tie Washington late in the fourth quarter before falling 35-28.
Despite the loss, the game was significant as it provided more evidence of the program's growth when the team avoided self-destructing after the early deficit.
"UW we didn't start out very hot," Tuel remembers. "And then we caught something and just kept rolling with it.
"The team knows we played a good ballgame," Tuel adds. "It was anybody's game down to the wire. We just got to learn how to finish."
As the tandem of Tuel and Karstetter enter the 2011 season, the pair is determined to pick up where they left off in 2010.
In 2010, Karstetter led the team in receptions (62) including a team-leading seven touchdowns, all but one coming from Tuel.
"You should be able to throw these routes with your eyes closed," Tuel explains, "You can't find that other than extra work and one-on -on repetitions with that individual."
"Jeff's got a lot more stuff to worry about with the whole offense and blocking, and stuff like that," Karstetter says. "If he knows how I'm going to release, run my route and where I am going to be at, it makes it so much easier. He can throw it on time instead of having to fire it in there."
The two have developed such a chemistry that just a look is all they need to communicate.
"There are several times in games where he'll supposed to run something and one of us will look at each other, see something and say, `Hey do this, run this,' " Tuel explains.
And the chemistry is not limited to just the Tuel-Karstetter tandem. It's extends throughout the entire team.
"The program as a whole has grown," Tuel says. "That includes players and coaching staff. We have grown into a team. When I got here it wasn't really that close. Now I really feel we have a strong bond as a team and guys are really invested."
Entering the 2011 season, the Cougars are aiming to build on the signs of progress made in 2010.
"We just want to play again," Karstetter says. "You get some momentum at the end and the season is over. You want to keep rolling and let the successes build on each other. That's what it's all about."