Return to Pullman leaves Cougar D wanting

PULLMAN -- Washington State made its return to the Palouse and the rolling hills did not spell success for the Cougar defense. WSU quarterbacks had some sharp moments against the defense, which walked away from Tuesday's practice looking ahead to a better Wednesday.

Facing off against Peyton Bender and Luke Falk during the skeleton drill showed missed tackles, slow reaction to the ball and allowing receivers into open space for difficult, but manageable, completions for the QBs. During team time, the defense was down early to Bender, but made the sequence tight as the young QB ended his session. Falk made an immediate impact and attacked the defense with check downs to runs and great catches from several receivers.

“Defensively we were not where we wanted to be today,” safety Taylor Taliulu said. “We gotta watch the film and get our bodies right.”

The day started off like every practice, stretching, position group drills and unit specific (offense or defense) drills. DC Alex Grinch worked with each position group (d-line, linebackers, defensive backs) on scooping fumbles, intercepting footballs. The defense went by position group to three different stations to work on speed to the QB, avoiding/breaking through blocks, and technique in general.

“It’s good to be back, we had a good practice today,” coach Mike Leach said. “We expect tomorrow to be even better.”

When the defense joined the offense in Martin Stadium, the team went through some small 11-on-11 groups. The offense worked with the scout defense while the defense worked with the scout offense.

The offense and defense then worked on some 11-on-11 general work and play calls against each other. One notable play came with Falk, who checked into a run play that saw Gerard Wicks break off a nice run through a gaping hole created by the line. Robert Lewis also had a nice reception for 15 yards.

The Cougars then moved to working on gunner drills for punts, working on blocking for the returner and ripping past the blocks to reach the ball carrier.

The skeleton drill started with success for Falk, who carved up the defense with short passes. The defense did a good job of flying to the ball here, but also gave up really good plays including some nice passes between two defenders. Willie Roach was on the coverage as the help safety who had to watch the ball float over the DB in coverage into the hands of River Cracraft and then Kyrin Priester.

“We could have done better today, we flew around still ran to the ball, but I thought we could have done better on defense,” cornerback Marcellus Pippins said.

Bender came in and exploited the defense as well. Darrien Molton and Kirkland Parker gave up first downs on consecutive plays. Taliulu and Dotson couldn’t get to Cracraft quick enough on the next play. Later in the drill, Tavares Martin Jr. caught the ball around the 10, where Roach and Dakota Sinchak collided, allowing Martin Jr. to score.

Falk returned and the defense benefited from some overthrows to his receivers on three of his five plays. On to Bender, who exploited David Bucannon with Gabe Marks. The receiver had a few steps on the fourth-year defensive back and scored a touchdown. The defense did clamp down on the final three plays of skeleton, holding the offense to one third down conversion.

When the Cougars reassembled for team time, Bender started at QB. The defense had trouble getting started, falling behind 8-0 early. A fumble gave the defense some momentum. The defense put together six consecutive plays to take a 9-8 lead, which included several short passes, and a knockdown from Roach. The offense made a good run to Keith Harrington, but Robert Barber returned with a sack to push the defense up, 11-9. Bender ended on a great note with two scoring plays to John Thompson and Cracraft, against Darius Lemora.

Falk returned, and so did the offense. He checked down to four runs in his first six plays and five in his first eight. No one on defense seemed to be able to keep up with the running backs. Wicks and Morrow each ripped off 20-yard runs; Wicks had three runs of 15 or more. With a 26-15 lead, the offense kept pushing the defense back. Kyle Sweet made a catch, and put a move that Dotson was unprepared to handle. Bucannon then came up big, tackling Lewis behind the line of scrimmage. Two plays later Jeremiah Mitchell sacked Falk, and forced a throwaway, with Destiny Vaeao (pictured above) chasing Falk out of the pocket. Falk rebounded with a touchdown pass, though the defense finished the drill when Jeremiah Allison swatted at Falk, who jumped to throw to Dom Williams. The ball was nearly intercepted, but the defense still lost 32-23.

“We didn’t really bring the energy we needed in the second half, but we need to be able to come in every day and have consistency,” said Dotson.

As punishment the defense ran from the goal line to the 40 and then back several times following practice.

  • As mentioned, special teams worked with gunners to improve both blocking for the returner and ripping past the blocks to tackle the return man. Paris Taylor showed good technique to rip past his man. Dom Williams also had some nice blocking and ripping past blocks. Parker did a good job getting past his blocker on several occasions en route to the ball carrier.

  • C.J. Dimry and Tyler Baker were in pads, but were still limited to no contact drills. Dylan Hanser did not have pads on. Charleston White returned to practice, with no pads, but was seen running on multiple occasions.

    Defensive 1s
    DE: Darryl Paulo
    NT: Robert Barber
    DT: Hercules Mata’afa
    Rush LB –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

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