SPRING DAY 9: Front Seven rules again

PULLMAN — Day 9 of Washington State’s spring practice included the defense dominating the offense in team drills. The front seven on defense was flying off the ball and getting constant pressure on both quarterbacks. Head coach Mike Leach even took notice of the defense’s performance and said it was their best day of spring so far.

The defense made a statement on the first play, which set the tone for the rest of scrimmage. Second-year freshman quarterback Peyton Bender lined up in shotgun and was unable to get a throw off as he was swarmed by the defensive front. Second-year freshman defensive end Hercules Mata’afa recorded the touch sack.

Two plays later, second-year freshman running back Keith Harrington received a handoff from Bender and was crushed at the line of scrimmage by second-year freshman defensive lineman Ngalu Tapa, which got the whole defense, including defensive line coach Joe Salave’a jumping and screaming.

The defense clinched their victory over the offense in the team scrimmage when fifth-year defensive lineman Darryl Paulo came around the right side and forced enough pressure for third-year sophomore quarterback Luke Falk to throw an interception to third-year sophomore cornerback Charleston White.

Fifth-year senior BUCK linebacker Ivan McLennan was happy to notch a dominant victory.

“It’s was real nice because a couple of times the offense gave it to us so it felt good to just give it to them a little bit,” McLennan said. “You know we have a great offense, we just had a good day today. A lot of people were just out there competing.”

McLennan added that it was the front seven’s energy and desire to get to the quarterback that helped them succeed.

“Upfront we always come with the mindset that we just want to get after the quarterback from d-line to outside backers to inside backers,” McLennan said. “We just always want to get to the quarterback so it’s just our mentality we have here and just always get to the quarterback.”

Though McLennan’s main priority is rushing the quarterback, he’s been working a lot with outside linebackers’ coach Roy Manning on backpedaling and staying back in coverage.

“He (Manning) just said when I backpedal, he wants me to stay lower, use my arms more when because I’m so used to playing linebacker, d-line,” McLennan said. “I feel like backpedaling was such a DB (defensive back) type of tactic, so I really never learned it. Coach Manning has been pretty big on teaching me how.”

McLennan did a nice job in the end zone staying back and deflecting a fade pass in the corner of the end zone from Bender.

Manning believes McLennan is doing a nice job in coverage.

“For those rushing linebackers it’s a little different, anytime you put them in coverage, but everybody kind of has to be versatile in this defense, getting guys, doing different things,” Manning said. “I think all the guys have adjusted well to it.”

Manning is also working with third-year sophomore defensive back Darius Lemora, who’s adjusting to playing more up in the box than last year.
“You know it’s different, a lot quicker there and he’s asked to identify things that’s probably a little faster from there (in the box), so it’s adjustment for him,” Manning said. “He’s done a good job if you look at how long we’ve practiced now, it’s been about three weeks or so, and you know we got a couple weeks left so I’m just expecting him to continue to improve, but all those guys have a great attitude to learn and just get better.”

“My biggest thing is I didn’t really set where I want to be by this point or that point,” Manning added. “I just want to look at practice and kind of focus on the day and make sure to improve day by day, one day to the next.”

SWITCHING TO THE OFFENSIVE SIDE OF THE BALL, the unit did not have its best day of the spring. It started during one-on-one drills where Bender and Falk each were overthrowing their targets. It also didn’t help that the receivers were dropping balls too. The offense’s slow day during one-on-one’s resulted in up-downs and a defensive victory.

However, the offense would get its revenge in 7-on-7’s. Falk completed 17 of 22 passes for one touchdown, with fifth-year senior wide receiver Dom Williams running a vertical route and hauling in the catch. Once again, Falk didn’t try to stretch it too much against the back seven, and instead went through his checks often to find the open receiver. That happened to be the running back the majority of the time.

Bender completed 12 of 18 passes for two touchdowns and one interception. The Florida native tried to look off third-year sophomore MIKE linebacker Peyton Pelluer, but the linebacker wasn’t fooled and ran in front of sophomore receiver Calvin Green to pick the ball off.

In the team scrimmage, Bender was under constant pressure and sacked three times, but managed to complete 11 of 13 passes for three touchdowns. Junior wide receiver John Thompson hauled in two of those touchdowns.

For Falk, he completed 6 of 10 passes for one touchdown -- that came when Williams caught a screen pass and avoided multiple tackles and eventually took it to the house for a 74-yard touchdown. While Falk was in, the offense spent a lot of time running the ball.

The Cougars will hold their 10th spring practice this Thursday at 2:30 p.m.

NOTABLE NOTES:

Third-year sophomore kicker Erik Powell took punting reps today and had a better performance than last Thursday.

Players who were limited in practice today included Brett Bartolone, Nick Begg, Jamal Morrow, River Cracraft, Sulaiman Hameed.

Tapa, McLennan, senior defensive lineman Destiny Vaeao, senior linebacker Kache Palacio, senior linebacker Jeremiah Allison, and sophomore linebacker Dylan Hanser all recorded a sack during the team scrimmage.

Freshman kicker Daniel Garcia kicked field goals today and finished 2 of 3 in pretty bad conditions.

After the team scrimmage, WSU offensive line coach Clay McGuire pulled his group aside and was not happy with their performance. The unit was forced to do up-downs.

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
WILL: Jeremiah Allison
MIKE: Peyton Pelluer
CB: Marcellus Pippins
CB: Charleston White
DB: Darius Lemora
S: Taylor Taliulu
S: Isaac Dotson

Cougfan.com correspondent Kelsey Jones also had the chance to catch up with Salave'a for an interview after practice.


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