Day 7: Cougars not passing on run this spring

PULLMAN — It's clear there's some emphasis this spring on improving the running game, and that was evident again for Thursday's Day 7 practice. The Cougars dedicated a portion of the workout to run blocking, including a brief 11-on-11 showdown. While the offensive line didn't shine during this drill, they picked it up during the team period to lead the offense to a victory over the defense.

Again, the outcome of the team scrimmage came down to just one play. Quarterback Luke Falk lined up under center at the 1, handing off the ball running back Gerard Wicks. Wicks cut right and had a clear path to the end zone, which sealed the win for the offense.

It’s no secret that the Cougars have emphasized running the ball more this spring. WSU is coming off a 2014 campaign with an offense that was heavily dependent on passing the ball, a good one at that, leading the nation with an average of 477.7 passing yards per game.

Washington State offensive line coach Clay McGuire said the team was soft and hesitant last year running the ball, allowing opponents to game plan primarily around the passing game. With an experienced offensive line returning this season, McGuire hopes the Cougars take a step toward becoming a little more balanced.

“I said, if we get a strong run game, run efficient, it’ll be a lot harder for teams to stop our offense,’” McGuire said. “So you know it’s definitely a point of emphasis. One thing I’ve said is we’ve gotten older. We’ve got everybody back, the (running) backs have gotten older...we had a couple things we kind of just tweaked ... it’s coming along pretty good right now.”

Though the offensive line returns five starters this season, the younger reserves are putting up a good fight for playing time.

“It’s been great. I say the competition always makes everybody better. It’s one thing right now where the vets can’t just come out here and think they can take the day off or just get through,” McGuire said. “They got to push themselves for their jobs. Like I said at the end of the day whoever the five best guys are, we’re going to be better regardless if it's a young guy or older guy.”

McGuire hopes one thing his unit can clean up this spring is preventing the defensive line from getting pressure on the quarterback.

“I think we passed a little bit better,” McGuire said. “Obviously just a few things keep happening everyday and you know I’ve said play fast and it’ll take care of itself.”

Left guard Gunnar Eklund (pictured above) believes the offensive line is showing improvements with its run blocking. He added the first team O-line is clicking this spring.

“The year we went to the bowl, we were pretty close (as a unit), and I don’t feel like we were as close last year for whatever reason. I don’t know why,” Eklund said. “This year it kind of feels like that year we went to the bowl game. So far (we’re) clicking good, we all like each other. We’re all friends, we go out to eat after practice and all that stuff like that. The big boy’s got to eat.”

STICKING WITH THE OFFENSE, receivers dominated the secondary in team drills once again. During 7-on-7s Falk was in the zone. He completed 17 of 19 passes for two touchdowns. His first touchdown pass was a 35-yarder to Dom Williams on a vertical route. Williams caught four balls during the drill.

But once again, it was fourth-year junior wide receiver Gabe Marks who stole the show. He caught 10 passes, four for touchdowns. All of his TD grabs came from Peyton Bender. The second-year freshman quarterback completed 17 of 23 passes and six touchdowns. After the drill, WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch pulled the secondary aside to discuss what occurred.

“He was telling us we did good,” cornerback Marcellus Pippins said. “We just got to get down to the ball and get to the ball faster and just be there to make plays on the ball.”

Though Pippins has played one season in the secondary, he feels he's among the unit leaders.

“I just carry myself like I’ve been here,” Pippins said. “Some of them look up to me because they are young and they haven’t played…I just got to step up and take the role.”

During the team scrimmage, the defensive front was able to pressure Bender. Linebackers Ivan McLennan and Jeremiah Allison each recorded a sack.

Bender did a nice job of keeping his composure in the pocket, and completed 10 of 12 passes, two for touchdowns. Bender delivered nice touch on his TD toss to wide receiver Daniel Lilienthal, who ran a goal-line fade route and caught the ball in the corner of the end zone.

Falk finished 8 of 11 and two touchdowns, both to Marks. Again, Falk looked comfortable in the pocket and also scrambled for a few nice runs when the play broke down.

WSU will hold a team scrimmage at 10:15 a.m. Saturday at Martin Stadium.

NOTABLE NOTES
  • The special teams unit focused on blocking punts today.

  • Third-year sophomore kicker Erik Powell took punting reps today and didn’t have his best performance of the spring.

  • Players who were limited in practice today: Brett Bartolone, Reece Alvardo, Ngalu Tapa, Nick Begg, Nate DeRider, River Cracraft and Sulaiman Hameed.

    Running with the one’s:

    Offense:
    QB: Luke Falk
    RB: Gerard Wicks
    X: Dom Williams
    Y: Robert Lewis
    H: Daniel Lilienthal
    Z: Gabe Marks
    LT: Joe Dahl
    LG: Gunnar Eklund
    C: Riley Sorenson
    RG: Eduardo Middleton
    RT: Cole Madison

    Defense:
    E: Darryl Paulo
    NT: Daniel Ekuale
    T: Destiny Vaeao
    BUCK: Kache Palacio
    WIL: Jeremiah Allison
    MIKE: Peyton Pelluer
    CB: Marcellus Pippins
    CB: Charleston White
    DB: Darius Lemora
    S: Taylor Taliulu
    S: Isaac Dotson


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