Thursday Night Football: Young Cougar D roars

PULLMAN – Thursday Night Football, Mike Leach’s weekly showcase session for the Cougar youth, was a big night for the defense. The Cougar D was flying around the entire time -- stopping four fourth down attempts, collecting five pass breakups, picking off a pass and forcing and recovering a fumble. The Washington State offense?

The offense had some success because they found the end zone twice, but bright spots were few and far between by comparison.

All three quarterbacks had a drive that the coaches restarted because of a turnover or  failed fourth-down try.

The Cougar D set the tone early when Peyton Bender and the offense couldn’t get a first down on their first four plays, leading to 14 up downs for the O. The offense had third-and-one, but pass breakups from corner Treshon Broughton and safety Skyler Cracraft led to the up downs.

Bender’s second shot was a lot better, mostly because wideout D.J. Thompson took a short pass 61 yards through traffic. He would have taken it the full 75 yards, but defensive back Calvin Green didn’t give up on the play and tracked down Thompson at the 14-yard line.

A few plays later running back James Williams scored his first touchdown from one yard out. Bender stayed in for the next drive, and was able to get the Cougs to midfield before the coaches subbed him out for Tyler Hilinski.

Bender, the second-year freshman, finished TNF six-of-11 for 106 yards, the one turnover on downs and the big Thompson reception.

Hilinski started with great field position at midfield, and a great running back to help him out. Williams touched the ball on three straight plays including a 34-yard catch and run, and a 12-yard TD run.

Great blocks on the left side of the line from Cody O’Connell and Cedric Bigge-Duren set up the TD.

Hilinski stayed in, and linebacker Aaron Porter immediately made him wish he’d come out.

Porter shadowed Nick Begg perfectly in pass defense by smacking the ball, then plucking it out of the air for an interception.

The offense reset at the 25-yard line and on a third down play, wide receiver Xavius Boone made a great diving grab with Broughton draped all over him for a first down. It's hard to explain just how impressive a catch that was for the walk on.

Williams then showed his breakaway speed and elusiveness, again, when he took a short pass 33 hashes. A few plays later, Hilinski took a shot at the end zone but wideout Kaleb Fossum dropped it. Hilinski was taken out after the drop and finished the night eight-of-10 for 96 yards including the two 30-plus yard catch-and-runs from Williams and the Porter INT.

Christian Jorgenson came in for Hilinski and couldn’t get into the end zone despite setting up at the 18-yard line. Nnamdi Oguayo “sacked” Jorgenson on a blitz and soon after, the offense was being reset on the 25-yard line because of a failed fourth down try.

Four plays later and the offense was reset again thanks in part to another pass breakup from Broughton. Jorgenson was given another try, starting at the 25, and he got a big boost from Thompson. It was a perfect pass that moved the offense 21 yards.

However, that would end the highlights for Jorgenson. A few plays later the defense unraveled the Cougar O.

Safety Kameron Powell dove to swat a pass out of Thompson’s hands. DB Nate DeRider followed with a pass breakup of his own against Begg.  Jorgenson was able to complete a pass short to Williams, but safety Andrew Hecker read it perfectly and upended the freshman back for a short gain.

On fourth down, the offense set up a nice wall of blockers for James Williams, but Greg Hoyd came bursting through the blocks --  and stripped the ball.  A diving Dakota Sinchak recovered, ending things on a high note for the D and bringing a merciful end to TNF for the Cougar offense.

Jorgenson finished 10-of-14 for 68 yards, with three failed fourth down attempts and one sack.

In my mind, the best part of seeing the young Cougar defensive players doing so well: defensive coordinator Alex Grinch doesn’t work with them every day, and yet they're assimilating his and the staff's teachings.

Most of the defense in TNF are the scout defenders who only work with Grinch in the warm ups to start practice, and the rest of practice they face Luke Falk and the Cougar O. Their primary purpose is to give the No. 1 offense a representation of that week's opponent.  

But in TNF, they effectively become the first unit and on this Thursday, they gave Grinch and the other defensive coaches something to smile about.


-The Cougs continued their Thursday tradition of going heavy on the special teams work. Eric Mele ran his troops through several different kickoff and punt drills and the customary “buzzer beater” field goal kick. Erik Powell missed the first attempt, but hit the second try. Zach Charme looked strong during the punting drills in both direction and depth.

-Before TNF, Marcellus Pippins, Charleston White, and Calvin Green all picked off passes but that might have been the design - they were just sort of thrown up in the air by the scout team in 11-on-11.

Extra Stats from TNF:

D.J. Thompson: 2 catches, 82 yards

James Williams: 4 rushes, 14 yards, 2 TDs & 7 receptions, 82 yards, fumble lost

Kaleb Fossum: 5 receptions, 38 yards

Treshon Broughton: 2 pass breakups (both diving stops)

Kameron Powell, Nate DeRider, Skyler Cracraft: one pass breakup each

Offense: Thursday Night Football

QB: Peyton Bender / Tyler Hilinski / Christian Jorgenson

RB: James Williams / Alijah Lee

LT: Cody O’Connell (when Cedric at LG) / Cedric Bigge-Duren (when Noah LG)

LG: Cedric Bigge-Duren / Noah Osur-Myers / Cody O’Connell

C: Carlos Freeman

RG: Moritz Christ

RT: B.J. Salmonson

X: Erik Anderson / Kaleb Fossum

Y: Xavius Boone / Nick Begg

Z: Kainoa Wilson / Madigan Taulelei

H: D.J. Thompson

Defense: Thursday Night Football

DE: Reggie Coates / Kingston Hernandez (when Mattox at DT) / Jacob Laird

NT: Ngalu Tapa / Devonte McClain / Austin Brown

DT: Kingston Hernandez / Hunter Mattox

Rush LB: Nnamdi Oguayo / Logan Tago / Dylan Hanser

WIL LB: Frankie Luvu / Paris Taylor / Nate DeRider

MIKE LB: Chandler Leniu / Triston Brock / Greg Hoyd III

NICKEL CB: Treshon Broughton / Colton Teglovic / Darius Lemora

CB: Willie Roach / Dakota Sinchak

CB: David Bucannon / Deion Singleton / Aaron Hecker

FS: Hunter Dale / Skylar Cracraft

SS: Calvin Green / Kameron Powell

NOTE: If you’re wondering where our customary listing of the first string offense and defense has gone, WSU has made it clear all interview access to coaches and players will be denied if we continued to publish who is running with the 1s.

Cougfan Top Stories