PULLMAN — The intensity picked up and the Cougars flew around in an elongated practice on Tuesday. Even the sun started to set behind the library next to Rogers Practice Field before the Cougars were completely finished with their session. Also, one defender whose play has been maligned does not receive the credit he deserves, according to multiple Washington State coaches and players.
While both sides of the ball exhibited high speed and effort in practice, the defense won the day with several big plays and turnovers, which is exactly what the team needs when it faces Oregon on Saturday.
While coach Mike Leach
said after practice that the game is overhyped by outsiders, another coach could be heard at the beginning of practice yelling, “We can’t make mistakes in this game.” The defense didn’t seem to make many on Tuesday as it participated with full tempo during drills and the team period.
“We practice faster and harder than any team that I’ve ever been around, with Coach Leach here,” linebackers coach Ken Wilson
said. “There’s never a huddle, everybody’s moving fast for the whole practice, so conditioning and our strength program have not been a problem with us in any game we’ve played, since I’ve been here anyway. Our guys do a great job with that. We just have to be able to match their tempo, we have to be lined up, we have to be ready to play the whole night.”
Freshman safety Sulaiman Hameed
made an interception and forced a fumble in the backfield, while fellow freshmen cornerbacks Pat Porter and Marcellus Pippins
each picked off a pass, as well. All of these were against the scout-team offenses with a rotating quarterback set of Gabe Marks
, Peyton Bender
and Connor Ennis
Those quarterbacks experienced pressure throughout the practice. Xavier Cooper
sacked Bender twice during the team period, and Robert Barber
had a strip sack against Ennis. Toni Pole
sacked Bender as well, but as usually happens in practice, the play continued. The pass was broken up at the other end of the field by Charleston White
Ducks’ quarterback Marcus Mariota
is a whole different beast who can avoid sacks and actually gain yardage out of a broken play.
“To his credit, he’s a poised and patient athlete, and he knows it,” defensive line coach Joe Salave’a said of Mariota. “We have to make sure we’re on point in what we need to get done with our execution. We can’t sit back and let him do that because he’s going to do it anyway. Those are some of the things we’re approaching coming into this game.”
However, Marks has done as good a job as any to prepare the defense for what they will face, according to the coaches. Wilson said the previous teams he has coached have struggled to find a player who can simulate the pistol and zone read offenses, whereas Marks has fit into it naturally. Wilson described each day as Marks’ Super Bowl, saying he battles on every snap.
After all, the Cougars need to replicate raw speed, and that is hard to do. Salave’a said having Marks consistently simulate a mobile quarterback has helped the defense adjust and learn.
“You’ve got a team that’s disciplined, and they built that thing up for the past few years, and to practice and try to emulate game speed is two different things,” Salave’a said. “We’ve got our work cut out.”
Wilson expressed the importance of the linebackers, in particular, being in the right places in order to contain Mariota and the Oregon offense. He said the Ducks are exceptional and maintaining their tempo and dissecting their opponents’ schemes so they can capitalize on them when that opponent lets up.
One player that will help the Cougars line up correctly and stay focused is MIKE linebacker Darryl Monroe
. His name hasn’t been called too many times for big plays this season, and he didn’t make any noticeable ones on Tuesday, but he has the second-most tackles on the team with 21 total tackles.
“Darryl gets us lined up,” Wilson said. “He’s the leader of the defense, he gets us lined up. He’s kind of like the quarterback over there. He gets a lot of the criticism when we don’t play good, rightly or wrongly, and he doesn’t get as much publicity as maybe he should for all the things he does, getting us lined up and in the right defenses. He’s a very tough guy, and works extremely hard out here. He was banged up earlier in the season, he’s healthy now so I expect him to get better and better.”
On Tuesday morning, Leach also said that Monroe positions the defense well, plus a little more.
“I think Darryl does a pretty good job of getting our guys lined up and just knowledgeable,” Leach said. “I think I’ve seen Darryl play a little better than I have the last couple weeks, but Darryl’s got a good mind for football and does a good job with his teammates.”
And although he isn’t always making the big plays, his job allows others to grab the spotlight by putting those players in the right place to make an impact.
“He’s always accountable to doing his job. He’s not going to be the one who is always going to make the play,” linebacker Cyrus Coen
said about Monroe on Monday. “The guy that’s doing his job is not always going to make the play, so he’s been doing his job every week and every play. If the play’s not going to come to him, you can’t really do anything about it.”
What the Cougars do in practice and how they prepare is only as good as what appears on the field on Saturday, though.
“We’ve got a game plan,” Salave’a said. “We’ve got to execute it. You might as well cancel the game if we can’t do it, so we’re excited about the opportunity.”
Kristoff Williams, Theron West, Chester Sua, Destiny Vaeao, Isaac Dotson, Nate DeRider, Nick Begg, Drew Springfield and Mack Hopkins were all limited today in practice.
Mitchell Peterson returned to the practice field and participated in some activities on Tuesday.
Connor Halliday completed touchdown passes to River Cracraft, Vince Mayle and Dom Williams during the red zone period of practice. Daquawn Brown broke up two passes in the red zone.
The offense was fairly successful in the one-on-one coverage portion of practice, winning a majority of the battles between the receivers and the defensive backs.
Primarily taking reps with the 1s
QB: Connor Halliday
RB: Jamal Morrow
X: Vince Mayle
Y: Robert Lewis
H: Rickey Galvin
Z: Isiah Myers
LT: Joe Dahl
LG: Gunnar Eklund
C: Riley Sorenson
RG: Eduardo Middleton
RT: Cole Madison
E: Darryl Paulo
NT: Kalafitoni Pole
T: Xavier Cooper
BUCK: Kache Palacio
WILL: Tana Pritchard
SAM: Cyrus Coen
MIKE: Darryl Monroe
CB: Daquawn Brown
CB: Charleston White
FS: Taylor Taliulu
SS: Darius Lemora
Primarily taking reps with the 2s
QB: Luke Falk
RB: Gerard Wicks, Marcus Mason
X: Dom Williams
Y: River Cracraft
H: Calvin Green
Z: Drew Loftus
LT: Joe Dahl, B.J. Salmonson
LG: Jacob Tweten
C: Sam Flor
RG: Cody O’Connell
RT: Jacob Seydel
E: Lyman Faoliu
NT: Robert Barber
T: Daniel Ekuale
BUCK: Ivan McLennan
WILL: Jeremiah Allison
SAM: Paris Taylor
MIKE: Peyton Pelluer
CB: Patrick Porter
CB: Marcellus Pippins
FS: Sulaiman Hameed
SS: Beau Glover