Few concerns after WSU offense has issues

PULLMAN – Washington State’s explosive offense sputtered at times against the Cougars’ unproven defense during practice Wednesday, and at least one offensive player views that as an indicator of good things to come for the 2015 Cougars.

“Every day, we’ve been really competing, going back and forth with the offense and the defense,” senior offensive tackle Joe Dahl said (pictured above). “That’s always good to see. You don’t want to see a one-sided team at this time of the year.”

A shaky defense has offset plenty of outstanding work by the offense during Mike Leach’s three seasons as coach of the Cougars. This fall, however, the defense has looked more aggressively physically and mentally under new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.

That never appeared more obvious than in 11-on-11 team play toward the end of practice Wednesday. In a span of four plays inside the 10-yard line, true freshman cornerback Darrien Molton intercepted a would-be touchdown pass from Luke Falk to Gabe Marks; redshirt freshman linebacker Chandler Leniu intercepted Falk’s next pass; running back Jamal Morrow was stuffed at the line of scrimmage on a running play; and Falk’s last pass of the day sailed high over the head of wideout Kyrin Priester in the back of the end zone.

Earlier in the drive, Falk squeezed two low passes into tight windows, with John Thompson and Kyle Sweet making fine catches as they hit the turf. Peyton Bender, challenging Falk for the starting quarterback job, responded to Falk’s poor finish in 11-on-11 by leading the offense the length of the field on a scoring drive that ended with back-to-back passes to Marks.

Bender quickly added another TD pass to Marks in a short-yardage drill, but Bender followed the TD pass one play later with a poorly thrown ball that safety Shalom Luani picked off near the goal line.

Bender has shown a tendency to mix great passes with poor ones this fall. Earlier Wednesday, in skelly drills, Bender threw passes that were easily intercepted by linebacker Peyton Pelluer and safety Isaac Dotson.

WSU coaches, continuing to look at a wide range of players in different situations, mixed presumed starters and backups on offense and defense at times.

CONCERNS ABOUT WSU’s kicking game were eased Wednesday – however temporarily – with stellar performances by true freshmen Brett Schafer and Zach Charme.

Schafer went 5-for-5 on field goals, with a long of 45 yards. Charme boomed punts far and high early in practice during individual work at Rogers (practice) Field and later against a pass rush at Martin Stadium.

WSU OFFICIALS clarified the eligibility status of Priester on Wednesday, saying the Clemson transfer is a second-year sophomore.

The Cougars had been listing Priester as a second-year freshman, and he was originally expected to sit out this year to satisfy the standard NCAA requirement for transfers between Football Bowl Subdivision schools. However, with Clemson’s cooperation, the NCAA approved Priester for immediate eligibility Monday, even though he played on special teams in Clemson’s first game last season before being dismissed for disciplinary reasons.

Priester again shared time on the No. 1 offense at the X receiver spot with listed starter Dom Williams.

  • New injuries: RB Keith Harrington spent several minutes kneeling or bent over after suffering an undetermined injury on the final play of the main practice. Harrington was hurt near the line of scrimmage, but it was not clear what caused the injury. Eventually, the promising second-year freshman slowly walked off the field under his own power.

  • Top plays: Schafer went 5-for-5 on field goals, gradually working his way back to 45 yards. Another true freshman, Charme, boomed long, high punts during two separate sessions.

  • Thumbs up: QBs Falk and Bender again threw a number of outstanding passes.

  • Thumbs down: Falk and Bender again threw some costly interceptions.

  • Odds and ends: Butch, the Cougar mascot, made a brief appearance at the start of practice. He/she/it can’t be blamed for leaving early, because who wants to wear that heavy costume in 90-degree weather on artificial turf? … The main practice lasted 2 hours, 10 minutes. Many players stayed late for extra work.

  • Thursday's schedule: Practice 2:30 p.m. (open to public) at Washington State.


    Quarterback – Luke Falk, RS-so.
    Running back – Gerard Wicks, RS-so.
    Left tackle – Joe Dahl, RS-sr.
    Left guard – Gunnar Eklund, RS-sr.
    Center – Riley Sorenson, jr.
    Right guard – Eduardo Middleton, RS-jr.
    Right tackle – Cole Madison, RS-so.
    X receiver – Dom Williams, RS-sr.
    Y receiver – River Cracraft, jr.
    Z receiver – Gabe Marks, RS-jr.
    H back – Robert Lewis, RS-so.

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