WSU SCRIMMAGE: Two-deeps lend intrigue

LEWISTON – Fans and alums came out to Sacajawea Middle School for the first official scrimmage of the Cougars’ fall camp and when it came to scoring, they saw the most when the threes were on the field. But perhaps the most intriguing thing to come out of the session was what Mike Leach said afterwards about who was running with which unit.

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Leach noted Saturday that the players seen in the scrimmage on the first and second teams are a pretty accurate portrayal of where those players stand on the depth chart after eight days of fall camp.

For starters, that’s downright intriguing when considering the "Z" receiver. Gabe Marks, WSU's leading receiver last year, participated with the third team offense during the scrimmage. Fast-rising Isiah Myers continued to start with the 1's, something he's begun to make a habit out of.

Another position battle that is particularly close -- the one being played out at the WILL linebacker position. Redshirt junior Tana Pritchard and sophomore Chester Sua are vying for the starting job, and defensive coordinator Mike Breske said it is a competition to watch as camp continues to unfold.

“It’s close. Coach Wilson has been alternating him every other day, seeing how they react to that, running with the first group and the second group,” Breske said. “We still have a lot of time left in fall camp, and a lot of quality reps to go.”

Pritchard and Sua flipped between the first and second teams during the latter part of the scrimmage.

It’s also important to note: the 1’s paired off against the 1’s, the 2’s against the 2’s and the 3’s against the 3’s. And with the top two Coug QBs combining for only one TD toss, if you think that sounds like the defense must have won the day, think again, says Leach.

WSU's head man said he was ultimately pleased with both the offense and the defense, saying it wound up about even as the offense moved steadily but didn’t always punch the ball in for the score, and that the defensive line looked good.

Breske said he thought the defensive line, linebackers and secondary all played well together during the scrimmage, maintaining a high energy level and demonstrating the ability to move to the next play, no matter what.

There were definitely some strong plays by the defensive unit throughout the scrimmage, and that was a huge factor in limiting all the quarterbacks besides Peyton Bender.

Nose tackles Toni Pole and Robert Barber each recorded a sack, and redshirt senior defensive lineman Jeff Waldner and freshman defensive end Hercules Mata’afa teamed up for a third sack on the day.

Leach said the quarterbacks didn’t always have an adequate amount of time to throw the ball, citing the depth on the defensive line as a main reason for that.

Connor Halliday was forced to go on the run against the first-team defensive line, and wound up releasing the ball into coverage, where Cyrus Coen was able to step in front and intercept the weakly-thrown pass. Halliday finished 11-of-16 for 95 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT.

Meanwhile, Connor Ennis and Peyton Bender partnered up on two of the six drives during the scrimmage, and one of them turned out to be doubly successful. Ennis began the third drive of the scrimmage, but it was Bender who finished the job, and it was also Bender who ended up with the most glittering numbers on the statistics sheet.

Once the true freshman quarterback took over with the reserves, he threw an incomplete pass that was called for pass interference, completed a pass, and then found Tyler Baker in the end zone for a touchdown. It must have all happened so fast that the offense reset at about the same position to run another drive -- and the same result occurred. Bender completed a pass and then on his next attempt, hooked up with Daniel Lilienthal for his second touchdown pass of the day.

“I thought he did a good job. The ball comes off his hand real quick, real sharp,” Leach said of Bender. “He’s a guy who, for a freshman, is really composed. In high school, he ran an offense similar to what we do so he had some familiarity, but adjusting to college as quickly as he has is pretty impressive.”

Overall though, Leach said official scrimmages tend to be somewhat over-analyzed.

“Basically it’s another practice, just sort of another form of it,” Leach said. “It gives you an opportunity to see a guy in full contact, and how he reacts. Some guys elevate, and some guys withdraw a little, so I think it’s important to do it so you get the same performance each time. I think it’s an important step but in our mind, it’s another practice too.”

During the final drive of the scrimmage, freshman linebacker Chandler Leniu showed off his skills by intercepting a pass thrown by Ennis. On the very next play, the 250-pounder leveled wide receiver Gabe Marks for a tackle that made a much bigger impact than the number in the stat book indicates.

“There were a lot of positive plays out there,” Breske said. “I think you can see our legs are a little bit heavy after a solid week of hot weather and hard work. The major thing we wanted to see defensively was alignment assignment, effort, and really our first day of tackling.”

Despite the heat and the fatigue, the Cougars remain focused on improving each day. That is a typical priority, but it coincides with a statement much loftier than that too.

“We want to be the best defense in the nation, if we can,” junior free safety Taylor Taliulu said. “We’re going to practice every day like we’re the best, and go out there and show people we’re the best.”

Some other observations:
  • H receivers Calvin Green and Rickey Galvin took about equal reps with the first and second teams during the scrimmage. This has been the case during many of the team sessions in previous practices as well, indicating a close battle between the two.

  • Kicker Erik Powell launched both of his field goal attempts through the uprights during the scrimmage. One was a 29-yard field goal, and the other was 32 yards.

  • Joe Dahl, Devonte McClain, Cody O’Connell, Jacob Tweten, Isaac Dotson, Parker Henry, and Brett Bartolone were all limited in their participation today.

  • Sebastian LaRue has not been at practice since Wednesday, dealing with what Leach said is a personal matter.

    Primarily running with the first team during the scrimmage Offense
    QB: Connor Halliday
    RB: Theron West, Jamal Morrow
    X: Dom Williams, Vince Mayle
    Y: River Cracraft
    H: Calvin Green, Rickey Galvin
    Z: Isiah Myers
    LT: Gunnar Eklund
    LG: Eduardo Middleton
    C: Riley Sorenson
    RG: Jacob Seydel
    RT: Cole Madison

    E: Destiny Vaeao
    NT: Kalafitoni Pole
    T: Xavier Cooper
    BUCK: Kache Palacio
    WILL: Tana Pritchard, Chester Sua
    SAM: Cyrus Coen
    MIKE: Darryl Monroe
    CB: Daquawn Brown, Tracy Clark
    FS: Taylor Taliulu
    SS: Darius Lemora

    Primarily running with the second team during the scrimmage
    QB: Luke Falk
    RB: Gerard Wicks
    X: Vince Mayle, Drew Loftus
    Y: Robert Lewis
    H: Calvin Green, Rickey Galvin
    Z: Kristoff Williams
    LT: Eduardo Middleton
    LG: Sean Krepsz
    C: Sam Flor
    RG: B.J. Salmonson
    RT: Jacob Seydel

    E: Darryl Paulo, Lyman Faoliu
    NT: Robert Barber
    T: Daniel Ekuale
    BUCK: Ivan McLennan
    WILL: Chester Sua
    SAM: Mitchell Peterson
    MIKE: Jeremiah Allison
    CB: Charleston White, Patrick Porter
    FS: Sulaiman Hameed
    SS: Beau Glover

    Tyler Baker 4-yard touchdown catch from Peyton Bender
    Daniel Lilienthal 1-yard touchdown catch from Peyton Bender
    Rickey Galvin 7-yard touchdown catch from Connor Halliday

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