The team began practice with normal drills and stretches to get players loose and prepared for the scrimmage. Then there was a multitude of special teams work as punting, punt returning, kickoffs and kickoff returning all put in some reps. More on that later. Also, Saturday I reported that the kickoff coverage didn’t look good, but I was informed that the kickoff coverage team Saturday was the Scout team, meaning the point of the drill was to work on blocking and returning, not coverage and tackling. I wanted to apologize, specifically players and coaches that the article made it sound like they weren’t doing a good job.
At the outset of the scrimmage, it was 2s vs. 2s, with Peyton Bender at quarterback. The offensive line struggled early, as they allowed the WSU defense to pressure Bender. The offense was able to get a first down after back-to-back catches from Kyle Sweet. Following a stuffed run from Keith Harrington and a short gain by River Cracraft, Bender threw a ball that went through Cracraft's hands. On fourth down, Bender threw behind Daniel Lilienthal nearly resulting in a Willie Roach interception. Mike Leach then called for the field goal unit, and Erik Powell drilled a 47-yarder.
Things improved when the 1s took the field. Luke Falk started by completing a short pass to Gabe Marks. Gerard Wicks followed that play with an 8-yard run for the first down. A couple of short completions to Dom Williams and Robert Lewis led to a first down. Wicks caught a ball in the flat leading to a 15-yard gain before Isaac Dotson tackled him. Later in the drive at the 10, Falk was forced to throw out of bounds after the defense bullied through the O-line. A pass from Falk to Marks led to apparent touchdown, but holding wiped out the score. Pushing the ball back to the 30, Falk was sacked on consecutive plays as Darryl Paulo, followed by a team sack of Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan. Matt Abramo ended the drive by hitting a 43-yard field goal.
“The offensive line started off a little slow, and we struggled on the first few drives,” offensive tackle Cole Madison said. “We gave up things that we shouldn’t have, like the penalty in the red zone.”
For the first time in camp, freshman Tyler Hilinski saw some 11-on-11 action. Hilinski started off sharp and gave the Cougs a spark, hitting Lilienthal for a first down on his first pass. Next up was a 20-yard pass to the scrimmage star, Tavares Martin, Jr. Three plays later, Logan Tago sacked Hilinski, who thought about throwing it, but saw a defender in all of his receivers’ faces, so he just took the sack. After a 10-yard run by James Williams, Martin Jr. caught a pass at the 3, then bounced off Parker Henry, Kemonee Jenkins and Aaron Porter and muscled into the end zone. Brett Schafer then tried a 37-yard field goal, hitting it.
“Neither side got the upper hand today, the defense did a good job flying around,” Leach said. “Both sides executed good, but neither side could get into a rhythm.”
Falk returned with the second team offensive line against the No. 2 defense. Some of the struggles continued for the O-line as a low snap resulted in a late hand-off to Harrington for a loss of three. The next play the pocket collapsed and Falk was forced to run for about 10 yards. Sweet bailed out the offense on third down, as he found a hole and receiver Falk’s shovel pass just past the markers. Two plays later a false start pushed the offense back. Again Falk was forced to scramble, gaining nine yards. On third down Harrington dropped the ball. The offense had a fourth-and-one that became a fourth-and-six after another false start. But a great catch in traffic by Kyrin Priester and a defensive penalty moved the ball into the red zone. After two plays created minimal gains, Falk scrambled on third down. Lilienthal was drifting in the back of the end zone, and Falk noticed the 6-2 receiver just as he got open and gunned the ball in for a 7-yard score. As with each other drive a field goal was attempted before the next series. Powell was called back in and hit a 37-yarder.
Bender returned to action with the first team offensive line. He helped the team get to the 11 after several nice throws. Bender then threw a couple incompletions, and Abramo settled for a 37-yard field goal.
Hilnski made another appearance, it was a great drive for the freshman. He went to the hot receiver of his previous series in Martin Jr., who caught a pass, juked Andrew Hecker and converted a first down. After three short gains, the Cougar offense got another first down. Two of the next three plays, Hilinski was sacked, once by Kingston Hernandez and once by Nnamdi Oguayo. However, Hilinski found help in James Williams on consecutive plays to get the first down. Hilinski then hit his second touchdown of the scrimmage, a 20-yard pass to a diving Martin Jr. Schaefer made it 5-for-5 among kicker on field goal tries, hitting a 42-yarder.
About Martin Jr., Leach said “He’s been doing some good things in camp, we just need to get some more reps until he gets used to things and that he doesn’t have to think about it too much."
Bender returned for his final stint of the scrimmage. Without missing a beat, the team went for three plays and a quick touchdown pass from the young QB. Bender hit Marks for an 11-yard touchdown as Kirkland Parker couldn’t make a play on the pass. Up followed another series, and Cracraft picked up a huge third down, and then had another diving catch. The team was set up at the 3 after D.J. Thompson made a big catch and hit from Pat Porter. Two plays later, Morrow ran the ball in for the only rushing touchdown of the day. There was no field goal attempt following Bender’s final series.
Falk returned to with 1s O-line and had a methodical drive. He started with completions to Marks and Williams for a first down. Two plays later a short run left third and eight. John Thompson showed up big, as he has all camp, and pulled in the ball as Taylor Taliulu closed on him. The next play Reggie Coates swarmed around and swatted a pass intended for Jamal Morrow. Then Palacio came fast off the right edge and sacked Falk for a six-yard loss. On third and 16, Falk hit John Thompson who caught-bobbled and re-caught the pass for eight yards. On fourth-and-8, Falk connected with Williams for an 18-yard touchdown pass. Powell returned to kick a 42-yard field goal, his third field goal of the scrimmage.
Hilinski came in to finish the day and Hernandez immediately sacked him. Then Martin Jr. had an uncharacteristic drop. Two plays later Hilinski was sacked again. Kaleb Fossum got in on the action as he gained eight yards on first down. Martin Jr. then caught a first down pass from Hilinski. After a false start penalty, Cougar tight end Nick Begg caught the next pass for six yards. James Williams returned and got a short pass and couldn’t get far enough for the first down. On the final two plays, Tago sacked Hilinski. On the last play, Tago was a little over eager and pushed Hilinski to the ground. Coach Leach was not happy after that.
“We had good effort and energy, but we have to play smarter and not knock the QBs down,” Leach said.
Abramo and Schafer each got shots at 47-yard field goals, and both missed. Abramo missed to the right, and Schafer missed to the left side.
NOTABLE SCRIMMAGE STATS
Passing: Bender: 17 completions, 184 yards, 1 TD; Falk 16 completions, 144 yards, 2 TD; Hilinski 15 completions, 168 yards, 2 TD.
Receiving: J. Williams 4-39, Martin Jr 7-105 2TD, Cracraft 5-49, Marks 5-39 1 TD, D. Williams 4-35 1 TD, Lilientha 3-35, 1 TD.
Defense: Logan Tago: 4 sacks
Field goals: Powell 3-3, Schaefer 2-3, Abramo 1-3.
QB: Luke Falk
RB: Gerard Wicks
LT: Joe Dahl
LG: Gunnar Eklund
C: Riley Sorenson
RG: Eduardo Middleton
RT: Cole Madison
X: Dom Williams
Y: River Cracraft
Z: Gabe Marks
H: Robert Lewis
DE: Darryl Paulo
NT: Robert Barber
DT: Hercules Mata’afa
Rush LB – Kache Palacio/Ivan McLennan
WIL LB – Jeremiah Allison
MIKE LB – Peyton Pelluer
NICKEL CB: Isaac Dotson
CB: Darrien Molton
CB: Marcellus Pippins
FS: Taylor Taliulu
SS: Shalom Luani