WSU Practice: "D" lacks identity, Leach says

PULLMAN — Tuesday marked the beginning of the Luke Falk era. The redshirt freshman took over with the 1’s and displayed exceptional pocket presence once again, evading the pass rush and making completions downfield. A familiar face in Charleston White (pictured above) was back in action during practice, and overall, the defense was able to force a lot of turnovers.

Turnovers have been an issue for the Cougars all season as the defense has intercepted two passes and recovered five fumbles. To make matters worse, White has one of those interceptions, and the other is credited to Tana Pritchard. White hasn’t played since an injury against Stanford, and Jeremiah Allison has been starting in place of Pritchard since the Oregon game.

On Tuesday morning, coach Mike Leach offered another reason, besides youth, for why the Cougars might be struggling on defense and special teams.

“I think that some of it is a lot of new faces. Part of it is that I feel like defensively, we don’t entirely know who we are, so as a result, from one series to the next, the defense may show up,” Leach said. “Some of that exists with youth where you’re bringing in young guys. Some of that is just the necessity of, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a young guy, play like you belong out there.

"Some of it, I think, is we need to select better what we’re going to do, what our core beliefs are, what we believe in, and what’s going to be the signature things that we run and that we’re effective in.”

Asked how the defense can establish an identity, defensive coordinator Mike Breske said it needs to focus on what it does well.

“We’re just working hard on our fire zones, trying to create pressure, and yet be able to cover them on the back end,” Breske said.

Breske said he would like to see the defensive unit play well together in the final three games, and make necessary stops. He also said he wants the defense to do well on third downs, focus on takeaways, and continue doing what the coaches have harped on all season.

The Cougars will need those tools against Oregon State senior Sean Mannion, who Breske said is an NFL-caliber quarterback.

“It’s never easier,” Breske said about getting pressure on a pocket passer like Mannion as opposed to a mobile quarterback. “It’s just that you have a better idea of where he’s at. He’s just not a scrambler, but he gets the ball off well, and he hits his check-down receivers well, so he’s very talented.”

Oregon State has allowed the second-most sacks in the Pac-12 conference this season with 24. Only UCLA has more, with 30.

For what they give up in sacks, the Beavers more than make up for on defense. They are second in the Pac-12 in pass defense, and Leach said that is because they play hard and have a lot of returners. Their depth chart features eight seniors and three juniors for the game against Washington State.

That defense has racked up nine interceptions and five recovered fumbles this season, doubling the turnover total that the Cougars have amassed in 2014.

That means Falk will need to avoid the defensive players and strictly throw to players wearing Cougar jerseys, Leach said. The last two times the Cougars have played the Beavers, though, they have surrendered four interceptions in each matchup. Leach said he was pleased with how Falk made his decisions on targets against USC, and while his arm strength is not as strong as Connor Halliday, the potential exists for it to improve to that point.

“I thought he did a really good job," Leach said. "He played three and a half quarters and threw for 370 yards, and with all the dropped balls, he could have thrown for 500."

Falk played well in practice Tuesday, showing good pocket awareness, scrambling away from trouble on blitzes, and connecting with receivers on many throws. Falk threw a touchdown pass to Tyler Baker against a mix of 1’s and 2’s on defense, and also notably hit Vince Mayle in tight coverage by White and Dylan Hanser.

Hanser is listed as the backup at WILL nowbehind Allison, but he has been playing as the backup since the preparation week for Utah. Pritchard also participated with the 2’s on Tuesday.

The defense looked capable of forcing turnovers on Tuesday as Darius Lemora picked off Falk, and Taylor Taliulu, Paris Taylor and Daquawn Brown all intercepted passes against Connor Ennis. The defense also forced two fumbles on the day.

Despite what appeared to be an overall solid performance for the defense, the defensive backs were punished a little bit at the end of practice. Before joining the huddle with the rest of their teammates and coaches, the DB's rolled around on the ground briefly in the same fashion as they do in the sandpits.

  • Cole Madison, Gerard Wicks, Tracy Clark and Hercules Mata’afa were not seen at practice on Tuesday.

  • River Cracraft, Nick Begg, Calvin Green, Mack Hopkins, Nate DeRider and Isaac Dotson were limited in practice.
  • Two fights broke out during practice on Tuesday. A large huddle of players were involved in both incidents.

    Primarily taking reps with the 1’s
    QB: Luke Falk
    RB: Jamal Morrow
    X: Vince Mayle
    Y: Tyler Baker
    H: Rickey Galvin
    Z: Isiah Myers
    LT: Joe Dahl
    LG: Gunnar Eklund
    C: Riley Sorenson
    RG: Eduardo Middleton
    RT: Jacob Seydel

    E: Destiny Vaeao
    NT: Kalafitoni Pole
    T: Xavier Cooper
    BUCK: Kache Palacio
    WILL: Jeremiah Allison
    SAM: Cyrus Coen
    MIKE: Peyton Pelluer, Darryl Monroe
    CB: Daquawn Brown
    CB: Kevin Griffin
    FS: Darius Lemora
    SS: Taylor Taliulu

    Primarily taking reps with the 2’s
    QB: Peyton Bender
    RB: Theron West, Marcus Mason
    X: Dom Williams
    Y: Tyler Baker
    H: Robert Lewis
    Z: Drew Loftus
    LT: B.J. Salmonson
    LG: Cody O’Connell
    C: Sam Flor
    RG: Riley Sorenson
    RT: Jacob Seydel

    E: Darryl Paulo, Ivan McLennan
    NT: Robert Barber
    T: Daniel Ekuale
    BUCK: Frankie Luvu
    WILL: Dylan Hanser, Tana Pritchard
    SAM: Paris Taylor, Mitchell Peterson
    MIKE: Darryl Monroe
    CB: Charleston White
    CB: Pat Porter
    FS: Beau Glover
    SS: Sulaiman Hameed