Spring Day 10: Bender steps up in QB battle

PULLMAN - The score at the end of the team period showed that the offense won, but not by much. After dominating the offense during Tuesday’s scrimmage, the defense had another good practice. The only difference Thursday was the offense’s ability to finally bounce back. Leading the way was redshirt freshman quarterback Peyton Bender.

With 10 practices under its belt, the defense seems to have figured out Alex Grinch’s new system. And its making life difficult for third-year sophomore quarterback Luke Falk and redshirt freshman quarterback Peyton Bender. Coach Mike Leach was impressed with the defense Thursday and said that these last two practices have been its best.

“They have gotten more cohesive, it’s a little more automatic for them,” Leach said.

Anchoring the unit is the front seven. It was effective again today, pressuring Falk and Bender into errant passes. Falk, in particular, struggled. Redshirt senior defensive end Ivan McLennan would have sacked Falk had he not thrown the ball away and linebacker Kache Palacio and defensive end Jeremiah Mitchell were both able to sack Bender. A host of defensive linemen were also there to bring Bender down a third time in his scrimmage, but he managed to rebound.

During Bender’s team period, he threw a lofty ball deep into the left corner of the end zone to redshirt freshman wide receiver Kyrin Priester. Two plays later, he attempted the same pass again, but the defense was there to deflect it. It was the sort of bounce-back play Leach has seen more since Grinch took over. No longer are players moping around after a bad play, as they sometimes did during last season’s 3-9 campaign.

“I think a lot of it is we didn’t have a good day last week,” said redshirst sophomore linebacker Peyton Pelluer. “And we got disciplined for it both on the field and off and so I think we kind of realized… it kind of clicked that it is on us. We control our effort. We control our attitude… We’ve just been trying to come out here and control what we can focus on."

During the 7-on-7 drill, it was again the offense that edged the defense, but Leach ordered the up-downs for the offense after Falk was picked off by sophomore cornerback Marcellus Pippins and nearly intercepted by senior linebacker Jeremiah Allison just before that. Sophomore cornerback Pat Porter and redshirt sophomore safety Darius Lemora had passes defensed during the 7-on-7 as well.

Throughout the 7-on-7 and the team drills, Grinch stood just behind the secondary yelling “Do your job!”

“He brings some energy that we haven’t had in the past,” Pelluer said. “And we feed off of it. We’re all supposed to bring our energy but he brings it too and when everyone has the same amount of energy, it’s contagious. And it helps you play, helps you relax. It helps you know that someone’s got your back and is right there with you bringing the same energy.”

Installing the new defense required extra time in the film room. That and walkthroughs have allowed the defense, and especially the front seven, to flourish these past two practices. Grinch has brought new energy and new emphasis to getting to the ball and giving 100 percent effort that has trickled down to the players. Redshirt sophomore safety Isaac Dotson spent his time on the sideline during the 7-on-7 yelling encouragement at his teammates and Palacio did the same at the line.

The offense had its struggles during the team period, in particular. The veteran offensive line has struggled up against the newly energized defensive front, allowing sacks and pressure that doesn’t allow Falk and Bender proper time to go through their reads.

During the 7-on-7 drill, Falk had some trouble early on, as he completed just two of his first six passes but went on to go 12 of 19. He fared better during the first scrimmage period, completing 9 of 12 passes with one interception to end his first set.

In the second scrimmage, the receivers were not making it easy for Falk. He went 10 for 16 with a touchdown to Marks. Bender, meanwhile, threw one lucky touchdown during his second set to redshirt junior wide receiver Gabe Marks that was sent into the air by a defender and bounced off another receiver before Marks hauled it in. Williams dropped two end zone passes, albeit one of them was fairly uncatchable. Falk played it safe today, taking mostly short yardage passes rather than shots downfield.

It was Bender that seemed to have the upper hand at quarterback in today’s practice. During the 7-on-7 drill, he completed eight of his first 10 passes and was able to find fifth-year senior wideout Dom Williams for a touchdown after Williams put the moves on Pippins. In the first scrimmage period, Bender capitalized on the red zone practice, throwing touchdowns on his first three passes to John Thompson and Baker as well as Williams. During his final scrimmage period, Bender finished completing nine of eleven throws.

“I thought the offense bounced back from Tuesday’s practice and we played more up tempo and we got after it a little bit harder today,” Bender said. “The offense clicked a little bit better today and we had a good day.”

The back-and-forth battle at the position has been one of the most watched storylines of the spring, and the confidence and poise that Bender demonstrated today, especially in the red zone, bodes well for the remaining five practices.

“I felt a little bit more comfortable today,” he said. “In skeleton I got into a really good rhythm and I think that carried over to team and just gave me a little bit more confidence than I’ve had in previous practices. I think I have been feeling more comfortable as each practice has gone by.”

Notable Notes:

Among those limited in practice today were Nick Begg, Nate DeRider, Andre Dillard, Frankie Luvu, Brett Bartolone and Sulaiman Hameed.

Third-year sophomore running back Jamal Morrow participated fully in practice today and, with fresh legs, looked re-energized. He was able to put together several 10-plus yard runs during team period.

Special teams took time to practice punt returns and blocking. Redshirt senior Quentin Breshears was kicking and Marks, Pippins and Harrington took turns returning. Harrington had the only return able to escape without being brought down.

Running with the ones:

Offense -

QB: Luke Falk/Peyton Bender
RB: Gerard Wicks/Jamal Morrow
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
RUSH: Kache Palacio
WILL: Jeremiah Allison
MIKE: Peyton Pelluer
CB: Marcellus Pippins
CB: Charleston White
DB: Darius Lemora
S: Taylor Taliulu
S: Isaac Dotson

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