Big plays reign in WSU's first scrimmage

PULLMAN - Looking at the practice schedule, Saturday was the first chance for the Cougars to go live in a scrimmage setting, but if you ask redshirt sophomore quarterback Luke Falk, little was different other than more reps against the defense.

Falk completed 20 of 29 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns and generally appeared comfortable running the Air Raid offense on a day when the Cougars ran 102 plays inside Martin Stadium.

“We should practice like we play," Falk said. "If we practice perfect than we should play perfect."

Falk had his first pass of his first drive dropped by redshirt sophomore Gerard Wicks but was able to use his legs to run the ball in for a touchdown from 13 yards out on that first drive against the first team defense. He connected with redshirt senior Daniel Lilienthal several times on the following drives. He completed a 36-yard pass to Lilienthal followed by another shorter pass and then a five-yard touchdown.

While Falk was able to use his legs to create more time to throw on several occasions, one of them resulting in a touchdown pass to redshirt senior Tyler Baker, he was also sacked by the defense twice. The sacks came from redshirt sophomore linebacker Peyton Pelluer and redshirt senior linebacker Ivan McLennan. Falk criticized himself after practice for the drive that included the sacks and a couple negative plays.

“It was an alright day," Falk said. "Pretty good, except for that one drive and that’s on me because I had a lot of negative plays and your job as a quarterback is to eliminate the negative plays. I didn’t do a good job of that on that particular drive."

Both Falk and redshirt senior wide receiver Dom Williams noted that after coach Mike Leach ordered 30 up-downs plus another 10 when he didn’t see the effort he was looking for, the offense was able to put together a much stronger drive that resulted in a rushing touchdown from Wicks.

“We were kind of slow coming out of the gates but we did alright," Williams said. "We had one bad drive where they got down on us but we got it back in gear after that."

Bender tallied four touchdowns and completed 23 of 30 passes for 241 yards throughout the scrimmage. On the first drive of his first possession he was able to march the offense downfield efficiently. He threw a four-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Calvin Green and completed all five of his passes to begin the drive.

Bender spoke positively about his first live outing in a while after practice.

“I thought it went well," he said. "I thought I did good overall. I missed a few reads here and there. But I’ll go back and look at the film and evaluate how I did, but I thought I had a good day."

For Bender, this spring has been all about the reps that he didn’t get while Falk was on the field for the last part of the season. He said that he feels really comfortable because Leach runs the same type of offense as his high school and that although being under center is new, he is enjoying it.

“I think I have gotten a lot better at making my decisions faster," he said. "I’m making much quicker decisions now and that’s helping my o-line out a lot by getting the ball out of my hand."

The unit with the most experience on the field, the offensive line, struggled for the first time this spring during the scrimmage. The defense was able to gather nine sacks. While the secondary didn’t look as sharp at some points, the line and linebackers had a good day. Senior linebacker Jeremiah Allison spoke after practice that the defense still has a lot more to do before the season begins.

“The defense still has a long way to go," he said. "We have a lot of corrections we still need to make, we left some plays out on the field and we have a long way to go to get it corrected."

The sacks --three came via McLennan -- were attributed to new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s emphasis on getting to the quarterback and blitzing more. Grinch is also almost exclusively running nickel packages.

Williams noted after practice that the defense has taken great strides forward this spring compared to fall. It finished Saturday with a forced fumble and an interception from senior safety Taylor Taliulu, while redshirt sophomore safety Isaac Dotson led the way with six tackles.

“They’ve gotten a lot better," Williams said. "They are competing a lot more. We are arguing back and forth and going after it. They are looking a lot better."

Notable Notes:
- Redshirt sophomore Erik Powell practiced field goals and kick offs in the rain before practice started and was making them consistently from about 30 yards out.

- The special teams unit practiced kickoffs for about 30 minutes before practice and featured Marks and Harrington on the returns.

- Safety Suliaman Hameed and wide receiver River Cracraft were among the limited players in practice today.

- Freshman quarterback Tyler Hilinski went 13 of 16 for 116 yards and a touchdown, while redshirt sophomore quarterback Connor Ennis went 7 of 8 for 48 yards.

Running with the ones:

QB: Luke Falk/Peyton Bender
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

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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