Cougar D struggles early, then lights ups

PULLMAN – What a difference a day makes. Paul Wulff, furious with his team's lack of focus in Thursday's practice, was all smiles Saturday morning after his Cougars turned in their first scrimmage of the spring season. And well he should have been. The intensity was high, the offense looked sharp throughout, and the defense came up with a series of big plays after a rough start.

"For a first scrimmage it was very good compared to where we've been," Wulff said. "Our defense wasn't real good early. They weren't ready for the pace the offense came out with play after play but you could see as the scrimmage went along our defense really came up with the tempo the offense was at and made some plays."

Indeed the offense came out of the gates red hot and used a balanced attack to craft a nine-play, 70-yard drive that was capped with a 3-yard scoring aerial from Jeff Tuel to Jared Karstetter. Running back Logwone Mitz fueled the drive with several runs of 10 yards-plus. Mitz registered had a 1-yard TD run later in the scrimmage. Rickey Galvin also had some nice runs, and offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy told CF.C he was pleased with the way the ground game performed.

"I thought they all had a pretty good day today," Sturdy said. "They ran the ball extremely well, took care of the football. No fumbles out of that group and they were physical."

As for the quarterbacks, Tuel had an excellent day, throwing with accuracy, zip and touch. He wasn't the only signal caller who looked good. Senior Marshall Lobbestael took some turns with the 1s and while he didn't lead any TD drives, he was accurate. One of his drives ended with a 43 yard field goal by sophomore-to-be Andrew Furney.

Conner Halliday, the touted redshirt freshmanQB from Spokane, struggled early on Saturday. His day began with an interception that safety Casey Locker took back 35 yards for a TD. Halliday also short armed a couple of throws and struggled hitting his targets during his first few drives. He battled back, though, and turned in one one of the day's highlights with a 31-yard rope to receiver Bobby Ratliff.

Sturdy said all three QBs are making strides this spring.

"You know I've been pretty pleased," Sturdy said. "Our accuracy is pretty good, our fundamentals are increasing every day. We've done a pretty decent job of taking care of the football, especially the older guys. They're great kids and great leaders."

MEANWHILE, ON DEFENSE Locker's interception return to the house wasn't the only big play of the morning. With the 2s lined up against the 2s, Halliday fired a 10-yarder to receiver Bennett Bontemps for a first down but true freshman linebacker Darryl Monroe put a licking on Bomtempts to force a fumble. Cornerback Aire Justin nabbed the ball and returned it for a 35-yard TD.

"We just had to come out strong and come out with some intensity," said Justin, a fifth-year senior from Van Nuys, Calif.. "We always start slow and wanted to come out and make big plays early so we wouldn't have to worry about playing the catch up game."

Another fine play from the defense came from safety Tyree Toomer. Tuel fired a 40-yard bomb to Marquess Wilson who appeared to come down with a phenomenal TD grab, but Toomer put a hand on the ball and stripped it out of Wilson's hands as the two tumbled to the turf. Wilson was in disbelief, while the defense let loose with hoots and hollers.

"The whole defense, we have a lot of plays and a lot of checks so us communicating better makes it easier for us to execute," Justin said. "I think we came out communicating well and everyone was in the right spot. We had a couple mess ups but for the majority we made some good plays."

Monroe, the 6-1, 215-pound ‘backer from Orlando, Fla., turned heads running with the second team. In addition to forcing the fumble, he had a series of nifty open-field tackles. Monroe has been coming on strong this spring, and with the play of rookie ends Ian Knight and Xavier Cooper, has the team excited about the new defensive talent.

"I'm very happy," Wulff said about his new guys. "They're going to have their ups and downs and that's how we'll grow. Those guys are doing well so far and I like our recruiting. I say that because we've got more guys who are coming in and contributing. I like that we've identified quality players that can come in and have some impact."

"I think the young guys are growing up and they're really disciplined," Justin added. "Everybody wants to be the best and I think when you have a team full of young dudes that want to improve every day, I think you can only come out with positives."

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • Karstetter tweaked an ankle during the second drive of the day. Karstetter went across the middle and attempted to haul in a pass from Tuel, but he was leveled by Locker. The injury didn't appear to be too serious, and Karstetter's ankle was iced breifly.

  • LT David Gonzales and LG Wade Jacobson did not participate in Saturday's scrimmage. Wulff told CF.C that he is hopeful both will be able to return by Tuesday's practice. Gonzales has been out since last week with a virus, while Jacobsen has been out since Thursday with a knee injury. Both were present at the scrimmage but not dressed in uniform. JC transfer Rico Forbes stepped in with the 1s at LT, while Michael Pfeiff subbed in for Jacobsen. Both held their own on Saturday, and did a nice job along with the other Cougar hosses in opening up holes for the run game and protecting Tuel and Lobbestael.

  • The Cougars will cap the spring season with the Crimson & Gray game on April 16 in Spokane.

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