PRACTICE: Cougars look for room to run

PULLMAN – Sacks and runs for negative yardage. Those have been conversation topics among Washington State fans throughout the season, but the Cougars might be in a better situation this week as one key contributor returned to practice Wednesday. The offense line is still a work in progress, and took a step back on Saturday, something offensive line coach Clay McGuire found extremely disappointing.

Junior running back Leon Brooks scampered across the field Tuesday exuding his boisterous laugh all evening as the shifty playmaker was out of his walking boot and back in action.

Brooks missed last week's game with an apparent ankle injury, but competed in the running game and special teams Tuesday. Both areas were concerning Saturday against Stanford.

"The running game was horrible," said offensive line coach Clay McGuire. "Really a disappointing effort in all respects."

While Brooks absence surely wasn't the prime reason for the team's struggles, it should help having another healthy body in the backfield this week when WSU takes on another stout run defense in Utah.

"Them and Stanford are kind of the class of the league in that," coach Mike Leach said of the opposition's run defense. "Just got to try and find a crease."

The Cougars, short both Brooks and freshman tailback Teondray Caldwell Saturday, boasted their third game this season with negative net rushing yards. The rest of the country has just two such performances combined. WSU is last in the FBS in virtually every rushing statistic this season.

"We came out and made more mental mistakes in the first quarter last week than we have all year," McGuire said of the quarterback sacks and rushing performance. "We didn't block anybody."

It shouldn't be overlooked that the Cardinal vaunt one of the most daunting run defenses in the league, but that's certainly no excuse for lackluster performance put forth up front at Stanford, something McGuire said will not happen in Salt Lake City.

"We got to go out there and be great at doing our job," he said. "The run game is a big focal point this week. We can't become one-dimensional."

On the football field, Caldwell and sophomore Isiah Myers remained absent from practice. Caldwell left the game against California two weeks ago with an apparent concussion, while Myers' absence remains unexplained by WSU. Leach does not comment on injuries or matters deemed internal to the program.

Freshman Gabe Marks was a full participant Tuesday evening, a surprise to many onlookers. Marks took a big shot against Stanford and did not return. The young playmaker had his right arm in a sling for the remainder of the game.

Senior quarterback Jeff Tuel has developed good chemistry with the young receivers on the team, so having the explosive Marks and nimble freshman Brett Bartolone at his disposal against the Utes should be advantageous to the Cougars.

Tuel flung the ball around nicely all afternoon and looks to be grasping the offense much better in recent weeks. The senior leader of the offense seems to have shaken on the early knee injury that sidelined him for almost a month and has put together some strong practices as of late.

After a less than impressive two of weeks of practice, coupled with losing a start to freshman pass-catcher Dominique Williams, junior All-American Marquess Wilson came out Tuesday and beat virtually anybody that tried to guard him. Whether Saturday was a wake-up call or not, something seems to have lit a fire beneath Wilson.

As far as the presumptive "punter controversy" goes, junior Mike Bowlin erased any warrant to that after dominating redshirt freshman Wes Concepcion all evening. Bowlin routinely booted 50-yarders, while Concepcion's efforts, although acceptable, didn't compare. Bowlin also dominated the hang-time statistic, routinely smashing balls into the sky for 5 to 6 seconds at a time.

The defensive side of the ball also had a new look Tuesday. Although listed as the starter on Washington State's official depth chart, freshman defensive lineman Destiny Vaeao ran with the 2s all afternoon. Taking the left defensive end spot instead was sophomore Logan Mayes.

As it stands right now, the Cougars starting eleven on defense features just three players that were perceived as ‘starters' at the start of fall ball. Senior BUCK Travis Long, junior safety Deone Bucannon, and freshman linebacker Darryl Monroe are the only players from the original first team still at their positions.

On the scout team, a few players came to play Tuesday, especially sophomore wide receiver Drew Loftus. A transfer from Hawaii, Loftus had an exceptional fall camp and battled for playing time, but was beat out by athletically superior receivers. Loftus not only caught a couple long touchdowns Tuesday, but he also blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown.

Elsewhere, freshman linebacker Parker Henry had a nice day on the field. Henry regularly busted up run plays against the first-team offense, and played consistent zone coverage all evening. Henry has been a regular on the exercise bike this year, as he had a right arm injury for the majority of the season.

It's beginning to sound like a broken record, but freshman linebacker Feddie Davey had another spectacular day on the field Tuesday. Davey had a forced fumble and placed a hard hit on a receiver coming over the middle trying to catch a pass from Tuel.

The 1s
Running with the 1s for the scrimmage:

LT- Gunnar Eklund (Brevick got some time)
LG- John Fullington (Goetz got some time)
C- Elliott Bosch
RG- Jake Rodgers (Goetz got some time)
RT- Wade Jacobson (Brevick got some time)
QB – Jeff Tuel (Connor Halliday got quite a few snaps as well)
RB –Marcus Mason/Carl Winston/Leon Brooks
X-WR – Marquess Wilson (Dominique Williams received some snaps)
Y-WR – Brett Bartolone (Gino Simone got a lot of reps)
Z-WR – Gabe Marks (Kristoff Williams got some time)
H-WR – Gino Simone, Bobby Ratliff

LT- Logan Mayes (Matthew Bock got some time)
NT- Ioane Gauta
RT- Xavier Cooper (Steven Hoffart got some snaps)
BUCK- Travis Long (Logan Mayes got some time)
SAM- Cyrus Coen
MIKE- Darryl Monroe
WILL- Justin Sagote
CB- Anthony Carpenter
CB –Daniel Simmons
FS- Casey Locker
SS- Deone Bucannon

LS - Alex Den Bleyker
P - Mike Bowlin
KO – Bowlin
FG - Andrew Furney
KR - Rahmel Dockery, Leon Brooks, Theron West, and Brett Bartolone
PR - Brett Bartolone, Leon Brooks, Theron West, Rahmel Dockery and Marcus Mason

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