WSU Practice: Cougs take what they are given

PULLMAN — Turnovers make the defense roll, just as an open mind makes the offense roll for the Cougars. Anther long and fast-paced practice unfolded Wednesday on Rogers Practice Field, and the Cougars worked on forcing turnovers in drills before they showed off the results of that work during the team period. Meanwhile, the offense took what it was given by the defense and went from there.

Both sides of the ball had their share of impressive plays during Wednesday’s practice. Freshman wide receiver Zaire Andre made two touchdown catches with the scout offense against great coverage by Charleston White and Daquawn Brown. Jeremiah Allison practiced at the WILL linebacker spot with the first-team defense instead of Tana Pritchard, and he sacked Connor Ennis and went untouched on his way to almost wrapping up Gabe Marks for another sack.

The linebackers gave the quarterbacks plenty of trouble in practice. Allison, Darryl Monroe and Peyton Pelluer all broke up passes on the day, and Ivan McLennan was able to pressure Peyton Bender by hitting him and forcing the interception by Lyman Faoliu near the line of scrimmage.

On the other side of the practice field, Connor Halliday completed many passes as he usually does in practice. He found Rickey Galvin wide open downfield for a long gain, and was able to make two touchdown passes in a row at one point, the first to Vince Mayle and the second to River Cracraft. Halliday also completed a touchdown pass to Dom Williams in the red zone, but was intercepted by Darius Lemora in the red area, too.

The running game wasn’t to be forgotten, either, as Gerard Wicks made a couple of long runs on Wednesday. He and Jamal Morrow have steadily become more involved in the offense as the season progresses.

“Right now, those guys are one and the same, and that’s a good problem to have,” running backs coach Jim Mastro said of Morrow and Wicks.

The Cougars have kept an open mind to how they attack opposing defenses this season, utilizing the run when possible and spraying the skies with passes when needed. The ratio shakes out as it may during the games.

“It’s hard to say a percentage because this offense is predicated on running when they give us the right look,” Mastro said. “We thought Portland State would give us the looks they gave us, so we ran it a bunch. It all depends on what we get defensively, and we’re not going to beat our head against the wall and try to run the ball into eight-man fronts. Then we’re going to throw it. If they give us the right look, we’ll run it. If not, we’re going to throw it and we might be throwing it 100 times. It just depends on what it takes to win the game.”

The tandem of Wicks and Morrow has graded well in terms of consistency so far this season, but Mastro still expects more from them as they get older. After all, they are only redshirt freshmen.

“They’ve just got to take their game to the next level. Like I just told them, they’re freshmen. They have to make sure their game evolves every day, every year through the process,” Mastro said. “They’re going to be great players here. They just have to make sure they don’t relax, and these practices are hard for them. We make them do a lot. That’s part of the process. Mental toughness is everything, especially at the running back position.”

If the running game doesn’t work against the Ducks on Saturday, not to worry. The Cougars’ passing game is led by Halliday and wide receiver Isiah Myers, who is fifth in the nation in receptions, fourth in Football Bowl Subdivision in yards second in touchdowns. Myers also was named to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List earlier this week.

Those numbers deservedly command some attention, but that won’t matter on Saturday, according to outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons.

“Everybody else is playing well. Last week, they tried to do some things to take the X out of the equation, and when you do that against our offense, as I’ve said many times, our objective is to make sure they account for all five of the skill players,” Simmons said. “It leaves a lapse or a gap in one of those areas, and Isiah benefited from it.”

Simmons said that any of the other skill players could benefit like Myers did if the Oregon defense decides to take away the Cougars’ most potent weapon.

“He’s off to a good start his season,” Leach said of Myers. “He’s kind of explosive and he’s always had a little explosion in him. I think in the past, at times, he’s been streaky. He hasn’t been streaky all this year, and I think that has paid off for him. He’s becoming a really reliable guy, and also I think he got a little bigger and he’s in better shape.”

The Ducks will use two experienced cornerbacks in Troy Hill and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, along with a veteran front seven group. Nevertheless, the Cougars have to face them.

“We’ve just got to be physical and stick our routes. Obviously they’ve got some great athletes over there, but I think if we do that, and focus on us, I think we’ll be OK,” Simmons said.

Mastro put it best, although graphically, when he explained that physicality is the best way to thwart speed.

“Hit them in the mouth and just hope it wears somebody down,” Mastro said.

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Kristoff Williams, Isaac Dotson, Theron West, Chester Sua, Destiny Vaeao, Nate DeRider, Nick Begg, Drew Springfield, Mack Hopkins, and Sherman Hutcherson were limited on Wednesday.

  • Theron West was not seen at practice on Wednesday, but Mastro said he is fine when asked about the running back after practice concluded.

  • Freshman quarterback Andrew Reding, who was an add-on to the roster over a week ago, has been watching from the sidelines for the entire time he has been present at practice.

  • River Cracraft was back to holding field goal kicks, meaning that he will probably do the same in the game against Oregon.

  • Darryl Paulo made some aggressive tackles on the day, playing in place of Vaeao at defensive end. Paulo recorded a sack and made a strong tackle for a loss during the team period at the end of practice.

    Primarily taking reps with the 1s
    OFFENSE
    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

      DEFENSE
    E: Darryl Paulo
    NT: Kalafitoni Pole
    T: Xavier Cooper
    BUCK: Kache Palacio
    WILL: Jeremiah Allison
    SAM: Cyrus Coen
    MIKE: Darryl Monroe
    CB: Daquawn Brown
    CB: Charleston White
    FS: Taylor Taliulu
    SS: Darius Lemora

      Primarily taking reps with the 2s
    OFFENSE
    QB: Luke Falk
    RB: Gerard Wicks, Marcus Mason
    X: Dom Williams
    Y: River Cracraft
    H: Calvin Green
    Z: Drew Loftus
    LT: Joe Dahl
    LG: Jacob Tweten
    C: Sam Flor
    RG: Cody O’Connell
    RT: Jacob Seydel

      DEFENSE
    E: Lyman Faoliu
    NT: Robert Barber
    T: Daniel Ekuale
    BUCK: Ivan McLennan
    WILL: Tana Pritchard
    SAM: Paris Taylor
    MIKE: Peyton Pelluer
    CB: Patrick Porter
    CB: Marcellus Pippins
    FS: Sulaiman Hameed
    SS: Beau Glover

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