WSU practice: Pole back; eye on UA run game

PULLMAN — Arizona is throwing a lot more and running considerably less compared to last season but WSU linebackers coach Ken Wilson said after practice Wednesday the Cougars must respect the No. 15 Wildcats' running attack. Outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons talked about matching up with Arizona on defense, and a familiar face was back in action on the d-line.

Toni Pole (pictured above) returned to practice on Wednesday and took reps at nose tackle with the second-team defense. Destiny Vaeao remained with the 1’s at the nose tackle spot. Pole left a little before practice ended.

I asked Wilson about elevating Peyton Pelluer (pictured above) this week to starting middle linebacker in place of redshirt junior Darryl Monroe, who has started 32 games.

“(Pelluer) was practicing well and he had a good game. Darryl missed part of the last game and Peyton played well in that spot so now we’ve got two guys in competition,” Wilson said. “Peyton’s taking more reps there so he’s going to play and at least start this week.”

Pelluer had eight tackles, three of which were solo, in WSU’s game against Stanford. The redshirt freshman also had a hit on the quarterback.

Wilson said the Cougars are accustomed to playing at and going against a fast tempo, which is exactly what they will see out of the Wildcats on Saturday.

“We practice pretty fast here year-round, and we run them pretty hard, and our practices go fast from start to finish so we haven’t had much trouble with tempo offenses,” Wilson said.

Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon has thrown the ball well this season to balance out the Wildcats' dual-back system. Solomon isn't a run-first quarterback but he can make plays with his feet.

“We’ve seen a lot of mobile quarterbacks over the last two years. The scheme is pretty multiple and we can give him a lot of looks, and I think we’re pretty athletic at most positions so we’ve handled it pretty well and we’ve got to do it better this week,” Wilson said.

Although Solomon has averaged about 46 pass attempts per game this season, and has completed 62.6 percent of those passes, Wilson said the Cougars still need to respect the run first.

“I think you’ve got to stop the run first. They’ve got a really good run offense, they’ve got a great scheme there, they go really fast, so we’ve got to get lined up,” Wilson said. “His passing ability just gives them another dimension we’ve got to handle better, but really it’s the run game that starts their offense.”

While the Cougars traditionally run a 3-4 base defense, the Wildcats try stopping teams with a 3-3-5 scheme. Simmons said that doesn’t really have much of an effect on how the receivers attack the defense, and doesn’t pose more or less of a a threat than a four-man front. Simmons has often said the Cougs want opposing defenses to account for all five playmakers on each snap. I asked Simmons if the 'Zona defense drops 7-8, or goes to a nickel or dime package in the secondary, do the Cougs then look to counter in some other way? Simmons said the receivers will simply need to find the holes in the zones, but for the most part, the main focus is on WSU running their plays.

“From a defensive standpoint, they view it as they have more guys in coverage so Connor has to make good decisions and put the ball in the right person’s hands. From an offensive standpoint, we look it as if they’re going to drop that many, there should be a good run box for us,” Simmons said.

However, and despite whatever the stats may say, the Arizona defense cannot be overlooked, Simmons said.

“They’re an aggressive group. We’ve got to come ready to play. We played against (Jonathan McKnight) last year, and we played against all of their safeties so I’m sure we’ll see a lot of nickel and dime out of them as well,” Simmons said. “They’re a five-win team for a reason. They’ve been able to stop people and score enough points to win the game so it’s not a game we can look past. It’s not a defense we can look past.”

It doesn't sound like the 3-3-5, in itself, is the main concern.

“It’s just a different alignment than other guys have. It’s not uncommon but it’s a little different alignment than some guys have, and they blitz out of it differently than other defenses,” Mike Leach said.

THE PRACTICE HIGHLIGHTS on Wednesday included a strong showing from Vince Mayle and Jamal Morrow in the kick return game.

Although this was one of the more calmer practices in a while, both players returned a kickoff for a touchdown though it must be noted the coverage team did not finish any of their tackles. Morrow also ran for a touchdown during the team period.

In the passing game, Connor Halliday threw touchdown passes to River Cracraft and Tyler Baker, and found Cracraft for a pair of others that went for long gains. Luke Falk completed a touchdown pass to Mayle.

Defensively, Dylan Hanser sacked Peyton Bender, and Jeremiah Allison blocked a pass as he rushed toward the quarterback.

All of the plays came against the scout teams.

  • Sulaiman Hameed began practice with the 1’s and then worked on the bike toward the end of the day.

  • Charleston White, Kristoff Williams, Calvin Green, and Theron West were not seen at practice on Wednesday.

  • Nick Begg, Kahshan Greene, Mack Hopkins, Nate DeRider, and Isaac Dotson were limited on Wednesday.

  • Although West was not seen practicing with the running backs, Sebastian LaRue did work with that group during drills. He is listed as a cornerback on the roster.

    Primarily taking reps with the 1’s
    QB: Connor Halliday
    RB: Jamal Morrow
    X: Vince Mayle
    Y: River Cracraft
    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: Destiny Vaeao
    T: Xavier Cooper
    BUCK: Kache Palacio
    WILL: Jeremiah Allison
    SAM: Cyrus Coen
    MIKE: Peyton Pelluer
    CB: Daquawn Brown
    CB: Patrick Porter
    FS: Taylor Taliulu
    SS: Sulaiman Hameed

    Primarily taking reps with the 2’s
    QB: Luke Falk
    RB: Gerard Wicks
    X: Dom Williams
    Y: Tyler Baker
    H: Robert Lewis
    Z: Drew Loftus
    LT: B.J. Salmonson
    LG: Cody O’Connell
    C: Sam Flor
    RG: Jacob Seydel
    RT: Cole Madison

    E: Ivan McLennan
    NT: Kalafitoni Pole, Robert Barber
    T: Daniel Ekuale
    BUCK: Frankie Luvu
    WILL: Dylan Hanser, Tana Pritchard
    SAM: Paris Taylor, Mitchell Peterson
    MIKE: Darryl Monroe
    CB: Marcellus Pippins
    CB: Kevin Griffin
    FS: Beau Glover
    SS: David Bucannon

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