THURSDAY NIGHT: Young Cougs extra physical

PULLMAN— This easily was the most physical Thursday Night Football in a while. And it's also been a reoccurring theme the last few Thursday practices -- the "Ground Raid." It's difficult to not be redundant when speaking about the play of the two redshirt freshman running backs, but they continue to gain coaches' praise with their athletic ability and physicality during Thursday Night Football.

"We had a great week of practice," defensive coordinator Mike Breske said. "We played fast. ‘Do your job' was the emphasis and know your job."

While offensive line coach Clay McGuire felt his unit was somewhat hindered by the bye week, he agreed that the Cougars' practices were strong this week.

"I thought practice has been good," he said. "I thought we were a little rusty in the off week, which if you have a couple of days off you come back a little rusty. I think these couple of practices have been good practices. The biggest thing is we need to go out there and start fast and worry about what we do. We can't worry about what's going on in the game — we just need to worry about the process and go out there and play the best we can."

After a rough practice on Tuesday, the Cougars picked it up Wednesday and that carried over into Thursday. As usual, there was a great deal of special teams work to start.

Junior QB Connor Halliday breezed through skelly with ease and didn't miss any of his 10 targets in the quick session.

Later, the public address system at Martin Stadium howled crowd noise during team session, but that didn't seem to deter anyone. While running against the defensive scouts, Halliday zipped all of his passes for completions. He looked comfortable in the pocket and had no trouble hitting his targets.

At the end of team, he went 22-of-24 with no interceptions.

Defensively, the biggest standout was sophomore BUCK Kache Palacio. On Wednesday, Palacio had an interception against the scouts and had another one today. He also tallied a "sack" on freshman quarterback Tyler Bruggman.

On the defensive line, they supplied enough pressure to stifle the scout team's running attack and piled up three tackle-for-losses. Senior nose tackle Junior Gauta had two of those and shook off scout team offensive lineman with ease. The other tackle-for-loss went to junior defensive lineman Matthew Bock.

Senior WIL Justin Sagote did a fine job of dropping into coverage from the linebacker position. On one play, he stuck side-by-side with sophomore wide receiver Drew Loftus on a deep ball and batted it down to the ground.

In the secondary, senior cornerback Nolan Washington had two batted down balls and one interception.

It appears that Breske's mantra was clicking for the Cougars' defense Thursday afternoon.

Thursday Night Football was all about hard hits and a physical running game. Freshmen running backs Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks continued to showcase their diverse skills as both ran and caught the ball well.

"Those kids are getting better and better," McGuire said. "In this offense, the more reps you get the more it makes sense. As you can see we've ran the ball the last couple of weeks and the quarterbacks have done a good job of getting us into the right runs, the o-line is doing a good job of getting holes opened and you can see the talent. Those two guys have talent out there and are doing a good job."

By our count, the Cougars ran 37 plays. Among those, they put the ball on the ground 14 times.

"When he had it rollin' at (Texas) Tech … we ran the ball 30 times a game," McGuire said. "We were one of the more efficient teams running the ball in the country. Our backs averaged well over 5 yards a carry, they scored a lot of touchdowns and they had a lot of yards. One year we averaged like 133 yards rushing a game, which is pretty good."

Does McGuire believe Wicks and Morrow can turn WSU into a better running team?

"I think so," McGuire said. "They both have talent, they're both hungry, they both run hard, they're a bit bigger than what we are playing with right now as far as weight and you can see that there is some natural ability."

It's hard to decipher who had the better day on the ground, but Wicks edges Morrow by a nose. Wicks ran with power, but also made many defensive players miss.

On one play, freshman quarterback Luke Falk dumped off a short pass to Wicks that looked like it was going for a loss. Wicks turned up field, shook off an arm tackle from junior cornerback Tracy Clark and then proceeded to juke BUCK Ivan McLennan. He eventually was brought down by freshman safety Darius Lemora after a 15-yard gain.

Morrow's first run was a solid gain off the left guard for an 18-yard gain. After that run, he continued to break off 4- and 6-yard gains for the offense.

"Ideally, we want to run the football," McGuire said. "It's a pass-first offense, we understand that, but we do want to be able to run the football. That's something where guys have to have that mentality and then they have to be able to do it to make this offense really work like it should."

Bruggman had a good day, as well. He was 6-for-7 with no interceptions of touchdowns.

Freshman walk-on quarterback Luke Falk continues to have some decent outings as the signal-caller, as well. Despite completing just 8-of-15 passes, he threw a pair of touchdowns. One of those plays was to redshirt freshman wide receiver Willie Roach for 56-yard touchdown. The other was a 46-yard touchdown strike to junior wide receiver Dan Lilienthal.

On defense, Thursday Night Football full of hard hits. Breske even took notice.

"The first couple of series we were very physical," Breske said.

Breske mentioned freshman safety Darius Lemora as one of the players who kept laying big hits.

"He's hitting his own players on defense," Breske said. "He's got to be careful, but he is flying around."

Lemora delivered the hit of the day on freshman WR Robert Lewis. Lewis was led just a little too far down the middle by Falk and as the ball sailed by him, Lemora came flying in and laid an excellent hit on Lewis that received many cheers from his fellow coaches and players.

Lewis has been on the receiving end of many hard hits this year, but continues to show resiliency by getting right back up and playing through the tough shots he takes.

Freshman cornerback Charleston White had the most tackles with four and also had an interception off of Falk that would have been returned for a touchdown.

On the defensive line, freshman defensive lineman Daniel Ekuale had a sack and a tackle-for-loss.

Sophomore SAM Paris Taylor also notched a tackle-for-loss. He hit his gap perfectly and went through the offensive line untouched and hit Wicks with a perfect form tackle and a 2-yard loss, which triggered "P-T" chants from his teammates.

The Cougars will travel to Arizona on Friday morning. Kickoff is slated for an 11 a.m. start on the Pac-12 Network.

Running with the 1s...

OFFENSE
QB—Connor Halliday
RB—Marcus Mason
X Receiver—Dom Williams
H Receiver—Rickey Galvin
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

LIMITED PLAYERS
OL Jacob Seydel
DL Moritz Christ
LB Chester Su'a
S David Bucannon
S Bennett Bontemps

NOT IN ATTENDANCE
CB Alex Jackson
LS Ryan Saparto
S Isaac Dotson


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