WSU Practice: Individual play highlights TNF

PULLMAN — The Cougars began their first practice of the bye week on Thursday bundled up in sweats and beanies. After all, it was a balmy 30 degrees when the team started their afternoon work on the field. Eventually, the young players donned helmets and pads while the regular players stayed warm and cozy to watch Thursday Night Football.

Peyton Bender looked crisp for most of the Thursday Night game, throwing a touchdown pass early to Gabe Marks, who was wide open. Later in the game, Bender completed a long pass to Calvin Green (pictured above), who then showed why he belongs on a different playing field than the rest of the participants.

Green caught the ball and then faked out Kamel Greene before running against the grain and to where he deceived more defenders on his way to about the 20-yard line. Connor Ennis took over on that drive and soon after, he finished it off by finding Green on a pass to the side, which the receiver promptly took into the end zone.

“(Thursday Night Football) was OK,” McGuire said. “It was dominated by individual play as opposed to team efforts and drives, but it wasn’t a bad day.”

The defense stepped up at times to combat the offense’s scoring. Paris Taylor picked off a shallow pass from Bender and returned it for a touchdown. There was a high volume of passes in the game this time, but on one of the few running plays, Kingston Fernandez recovered a fumble and returned that for a touchdown, too.

After the defense was burned on the first touchdown pass from Bender to Marks, Sebastian LaRue stuck to Marks like glue for the remainder of practice. Sometimes, it seemed like the coverage was a little too tight and might have been penalized in a game but nevertheless, Marks was unable to catch a couple of deep balls while LaRue was draped all over him, grabbing at him at some points.

Marks didn’t complain about the defense, though, and the players didn’t complain about the cold, either. McGuire said the cold doesn’t present any extra challenges and the team maintains its routines.

“I think the kids did a pretty good job,” McGuire said. “They weren’t really (complaining) about it, or anything like that. I thought they were excited to be out here in the action.”

Mike Leach said he thought Bender played better than Ennis, who had several incompletions on the pass-heavy day. Leach also said the offense handled the defensive pressure decently on Thursday. It was balanced by a couple of three-and-outs, and the 14 points the offense scored in 30 plays, he said.

“Peyton did some good stuff,” McGuire said. “He’s really talented. He just needs a ton of reps. The more reps he’s going to get, the more things he’s going to see, the more controlled he’s going to be on offense.” Ngalu Tapa sacked Bender once on Thursday, which was the only time it really seemed that the offensive line and the quarterbacks allowed the pressure to affect them. Leach said Tapa still needs to get into better shape, although he is explosive and has a quick first step already.

  • At the beginning of practice, the Cougars participated in team competitions that involved long snapping and running a few plays casually. They also huddled around each other at some points, and from those huddles, yelling and chanting could be heard.

  • Because the players all wore sweats and then transitioned to Thursday Night Football, it was impossible to form a depth chart. It did appear that most of the players were present at practice, though, and several starters could be seen leaving the field at the end of the session.

  • Ennis wore a dark visor on his helmet during Thursday Night Football, which is something he usually does not do.

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