O-line coach breaks down Cougs' up-and-comers

PULLMAN—It was a practice marked by contrasts. At the beginning of Thursday's session, it was an offense led by junior quarterback Connor Halliday that stood out. But "Thursday Night Football" was dominated by the defense. Also, CF.C caught up with offensive line coach Clay McGuire to talk about his unit, including some of his up-and-coming talent.

McGuire was asked if it is disappointing having the young players struggle during Thursday Night Football.

"It is for them," McGuire said. "They're competitors and this is kind of their game. This is what they look forward to the whole week and they don't get a whole lot of reps in this, but they are very meaningful reps. They don't get the reps the other kids do, but it's kind of that pressure type situation where you only get limited reps and you got to make them count."

But some offensive linemen who already have played on Saturday had the opportunity to showcase their abilities on Thursday Night Football, too.

True freshman Riley Sorenson was among them. The 6-foot-4, 304-pound Sorensen played against Southern Utah, runs with the 2s at right guard in practice, and suits up during Thursday Night Football. With so many opportunities for Sorenson halfway through the season, CF.C asked McGuire about Sorensen and his development thus far.

"Riley has done some good stuff," McGuire said. "He came out like a ball of fire in camp and he kind of hit a wall there for a week or two period, but he is starting to get out of it. You're starting to see him … starting to really come into his own as a player and developing those skills where he is pushing guys to maybe play right now."

"He's a good football player and at some point he's going to hit a wall … he hit it. The biggest thing right now is he is getting out of it and pushing forward and continuing to get better."

One big takeaway from Thursday Night Football was the play of freshman right tackle Eduardo Middleton. He had an excellent pancake on freshman linebacker Nathan Hundeby and freed up a great deal of running room for freshman running backs Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow. McGuire likes what Middleton has done, but still feels there is room for improvement.

"He's done well," McGuire said. "He had a really good spring and a pretty good camp. We've had to move him around a few times just based on what's best for us right now in the rotation. I don't know if that has slowed him down mentally. He has got to kind of get back on track to where he was and kind of start pushing forward a little bit more."

On Tuesday, McGuire was asked about senior offensive lineman John Fullington and his versatility and ability to switch positions on the offensive front. CF.C followed up with McGuire about which lineman was the most versatile among his young players.

"Right now the most versatile guy we got his Sorenson," McGuire said. "The best athlete we have is Cole Madison. As far as the guy that can play any position is Sorenson."

Another standout on the line during Thursday Night Football was the 6-foot-8, 345-pound freshman Cody O'Connell. He has been competing during Thursday Night Football, but spends most of the time during the week with the scout team. Today, he had two excellent seals that sprung Morrow free for big gains on the ground. CF.C decided to ask what else O'Connell brings to the table besides his monster frame.

"He's a very motivated and dedicated kid," McGuire said of O'Connell. "When he develops and figures it out … he's got a chance with his ability and his size to really be a phenomenal football player. The biggest thing right now is he does have the intangibles off the field to go out there and work and make himself better. I'm really looking for big things to come for him in the future."

BEFORE THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL began, Halliday and the offense looked great. Halliday finished the session missing on only one of his 30 passes.

Junior Bobby Ratliff was the standout in the receiving unit with five catches.

Redshirt senior OL Matt Goetz continued to rep with the 1s at RG and all signs point to him starting again this week. McGuire was asked about the thought process to start Goetz this week.

"It was by necessity in the Stanford game," McGuire said. "Then we came out and opened the competition thing back up. We felt that in Lewiston we were getting great practices and getting better as a unit. When we had the competition factor everybody was working for a job so we opened it back up in practice."

McGuire was later asked if he feels this has motivated senior offensive lineman Rico Forbes.

"The first week, I felt like his body language was kind of bad and I don't feel like he came out to earn his spot back," McGuire said. "We went with Goetz and Goetz had a good game. I think Rico has practiced better this week and picked it up a little bit."

The No. 1 defense went against the scouts for a short time Thursday. All week, freshman cornerback Daquawn Brown has been running with the 1s and that didn't change today.

Junior NT Kalafitoni Pole dominated his scout-team counterparts. He had two "tackles" and a "sack."

Sophomore MIK linebacker Darryl Monroe batted a ball down and three "tackles" in the short session, as well.

CF.C reported Wednesday that redshirt junior Mitchell Peterson practiced with the 2s at SAM linebacker. He continued to work there today. We asked defensive coordinator Mike Breske why the coaching staff made the decision to move Peterson to SAM.

"I think it's a depth situation," Breske said. "Mitch is a very intelligent young man and knows our defense. Again, I got the flexibility of him going back to safety or play SAM linebacker. SAM linebacker for us is almost like another safety. He played a lot at Cal."

Senior SAM LB Eric Oertel was not in attendance at practice today.

In Thursday Night Football, the offense had a night to forget.

After having an excellent outing last week, freshman quarterback Tyler Bruggman looked lost and had trouble hitting his targets. His best play came on a 15-yard strike to sophomore wide receiver Drew Loftus. It was among his few highlights. Bruggman finished 7 of 14 with an interception and no touchdowns.

Freshman quarterback Luke Falk finished 5 of 8 with no touchdowns or interceptions.

The offense finally scored when freshman quarterback Connor Ennis took the field. Ennis managed to hit junior wide receiver Daniel Lilienthal for a 20-yard touchdown. He finished 3 of 6 with a touchdown and no interceptions.

The play of the evening came from freshman running back Jamal Morrow. He took a handoff and blasted through a hole created by O'Connell. As he hit the second level, he met freshman defensive back Kahmel Green and leveled him. He scampered for more yards and was finally taken down by sophomore WIL Jeremiah Allison for a 20-yard run.

Defensively, the biggest playmaker was freshman safety David Bucannon. He had one interception and three tackles at the end of Thursday Night Football.

The Cougars have a walk through Friday before taking the field Saturday evening against the Oregon State Beavers. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU.

NOTABLE NOTE:
  • Just for fun, CF.C decided to ask McGuire who he felt were his two fastest OL and who would win in a 40-yard dash.

    "By far Cole Madison would win right now," said McGuire, laughing. "So, let's eliminate Cole Madison from that picture. I would have to say…it would be a three man race between John Fullington, Elliott Bosch and Matt Goetz and I am actually probably giving the nod to Fullington."

    Running with the 1s...

    OFFENSE
    QB—Connor Halliday
    RB—Marcus Mason
    X Receiver—Dominique Williams
    H Receiver—Brett Bartolone
    Y Receiver—River Cracraft
    Z Receiver—Gabe Marks
    LT—Gunnar Eklund
    LG—Joe Dahl
    C—Elliott Bosch
    RG—Matt Goetz
    RT—John Fullington

    DEFENSE
    DE—Toni Pole
    NT—Ioane Gauta
    DE—Xavier Cooper
    BUCK—Destiny Vaeao
    SAM—Cyrus Coen
    MIKE—Darryl Monroe
    WILL—Justin Sagote
    CB—Daquawn Brown
    CB—Damante Horton
    S—Deone Bucannon
    S—Taylor Taliulu

    OFFENSE FOR TNF
    QB—Tyler Bruggman
    RB—Gerard Wicks
    X Receiver—Daniel Lilienthal
    H Receiver—John Thompson
    Y Receiver—Robert Lewis
    Z Receiver—Drew Loftus
    LT—Pierson Villarrubia
    LG—Brent Anderson
    C—Sam Flor
    RG—Riley Sorenson
    RT—Eduardo Middleton

    DEFENSE FOR TNF
    DE—Austin Brown
    NT—Daniel Ekuale
    DE—Max Hersey
    BUCK—Ivan McLennan
    SAM—Feddie Davey
    MIKE—Nathan Hundeby
    WILL—Jeremiah Allison
    CB—Charleston White
    CB—Kamel Greene
    S—David Bucannon
    S—Isaac Dotson

    LIMITED PLAYERS
    OL—Jacob Seydel
    LB—Peyton Pelluer
    DL—Mortiz Christ
    LB—Chester Su'a
    DL—Emmitt Su'a-Kalio
    LS—Ryan Saparto

    NOT IN ATTENDANCE
    S—Bennett Bontemps
    LB—Chester Su'a
    S—Darius Lemora


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