Cougar D gets stop when needed most on Day 1

PULLMAN -- Score one for the crimson stop corps. And another for first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. After getting dominated by coach Mike Leach's Air Raid offense during team drills, Grinch's group responded by orchestrating a goal-line stand during a spirited red zone competition Thursday during Washington State's first spring practice.

Not a bad way for Grinch to make a first impression after being hired in January to replace Mike Breske.

Indeed, it only took Grinch one spring practice to make his presence known. The Cougar offense seemed to have complete control over the defense during the majority of Thursday's team drills. However, the Cougar defense was able to rally and keep the offense from scoring in the red zone thanks to a timely hit.

On the deciding play, redshirt sophomore running back Jamal Morrow received a handoff near the goal line and was denied by redshirt sophomore safety Darius Lemora. It was a controversial call, and the Cougs were going helmets-only and there wasn't any real contact, but the defense was ruled the winner.

Grinch noted that a lot of things are new for the defense this spring, plus he’s getting to know his players and evaluating them. He did say he came away impressed with his players' mental approach.

“I think what you saw from a mental standpoint I thought was fairly clean, guys getting lined up which is always your biggest concern,” Grinch said. “I think we accomplished some things we need to accomplish in the offseason in terms of coming out day one and getting lined up to give us a chance in the end, compete for the most part on the day.”

Grinch’s biggest task this spring will be to mold together a young secondary and help improve a defense that finished 123rd in the country last season in turnover margin. That inexperience showed a bit today with the defensive backs, primarily with the one-on-one drills.

On one play, sophomore receiver Robert Lewis extended his hands in front of senior safety Taylor Taliulu and snatched the ball for a touchdown.

The secondary got its revenge when redshirt sophomore cornerback Charleston White intercepted redshirt freshman quarterback Peyton Bender’s pass in the corner of the end zone.

Bender threw another pick during the team scrimmage.

“They’re (the secondary) hungry to get better, ready to take the next step,” Grinch said. “A lot of those guys have played snaps of football…those snaps need to be effective snaps. We’ve got to have better snaps, results, if you go back a year ago.”

Senior linebacker Jeremiah Allison also made a big play for the defense during the scrimmage. The Cougs aren’t tackling yet but Allison dished out a pretty good love tap on redshirt senior receiver Daniel Lilienthal. Allison’s “hit” forced Lilienthal to fumble the ball.

“That’s what Coach (Grinch is) drilling,” Allison said. “That’s the emphasis of spring ball and carrying over to fall ball -- to get the ball out by all means necessary.”

The veteran linebacker is also completely on board with his new defensive coordinator.

“He’s a phenomenal individual, he has high energy,” Allison said. “He’s backing his players and he’s behind us a 100 percent. He’s simplifying the whole game plan, so we shouldn’t come out here confused because he makes sure he drills it in to us in the meeting room.”

ON THE OFFENSIVE side of the ball, redshirt sophomore Luke Falk and redshirt freshman Peyton Bender split the reps at quarterback during team drills. Freshman quarterback Tyler Hilinski spent most of his time on scout team.

Falk finished the team scrimmage completing all nine of his passes, including two for touchdowns. One was a long strike to redshirt junior Gabe Marks against tight coverage and the other was a short pass to Lewis, who escaped the defense and took it to the house.

“I think we have a great receiving corps,” Falk said. “Those guys (Vince Mayle and Rickey Galvin) are big losses, but I think the guys are stepping up. Dom’s (Williams) awesome, we've got Robert Lewis, Tyler Baker, River (Cracraft), John Thompson, Gabe Marks, Calvin Green. I mean I could name them all.”

The Cougars will hold their second spring practice this Saturday at 9:30 a.m.

  • Though the Cougars practiced in no pads today, that didn’t stop the defense and offense from having a big dust-up during the team scrimmage. The fight originally started between redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Cody O’Connell and redshirt linebacker Peyton Pelluer (pictured above).

  • Redshirt sophomore Eric Powell was taking reps and working as punter on special teams. Sophomore linebacker Frankie Luvu also took a few punting reps.

  • Redshirt sophomore Marcellus Pippins was the only player to return punts.

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