WSU Spring Ball Day Three: Pads go on, Coug D starts hot, O takes over

PULLMAN -- In the first padded practice of Washington State’s spring session, the Cougar D came out with a ton of energy. But it was the offense that caught fire later in the day and had their way in the run and pass game for the majority of the practice.

Once the individual drills were complete and the offense and defense came together for the wide receiver and defensive back 1v1 period, the defense began their hot start and dominated this period.

The offense did some good things in the period including an impressive highly contested over-the-shoulder grab by starting Y River Cracraft on a bomb from Luke Falk, and a ridiculous one handed grab in the corner of the end zone by newly converted X Tavares Martin on a goal line fade route.

But for the most part, the receivers had a very difficult time creating separation between themselves and a pesky Cougar secondary.

Although many defenders put together a solid period, it was sophomore cornerback Treshon Broughton who had the most solid performance.

He had several great pass breakups and recorded two interceptions in the period. Whether he was forcing receivers to run subpar routes or sticking with them even when they were doing a great job of using their technique, he was stuck to his opponents like glue for the entire period.

Even more impressive than the interceptions was Broughton’s defense of an excellent post route run by Tavares Martin.  Martin lost Broughton at the line of scrimmage and had a great stick at the top of his route, but Broughton flipped his body around and found a way to be hip-to-hip with Martin by the time the ball arrived and batted the would be completion to the turf.

Mike Leach was highly displeased and had some strong words, and some up-downs, for his quarterbacks and receivers at the completion of this period.  None of the offensive players enjoyed it, but Leach did inspire his players as they really picked up their performance in the following periods.

The 7v7 period started as a good battle, but the offense found a way to separate towards the end. Falk did not produce a ton of big plays in his opportunities in this period, but he showed why he has been so good at sustaining drives in his time as the starting quarterback for the Cougs.

He took what the defense was giving him and simply found the open man, over and over, in this period.

Falk capped off his performance in the 7v7 with two touchdown strikes to Y Kyrin Priester near the goal line.

Priester looked unguardable in the red zone today.

Leach continued to rotate his reserve quarterbacks today, and Tyler Hilinski was the one taking the second teams reps in 7v7. He completed a very high percentage of his passes, including four to second-year freshman running back James Williams who did an exceptional job of catching the ball all day.

Hilinski also threw a couple of touchdown strikes to end his 7v7 work. He found Gabe Marks on the back line of the end zone and hit an excited Priester who had separated from man coverage on an option route. Priester gave the ball a violent spike once he had secured his third touchdown of the period.

Excitement filled the practice field when the 11v11 period started as it was the first padded team period of the spring. From the very start one could tell that the big bruisers on the offensive line were ready to do some real blocking as they fired off and paved the way for running back Jamal Morrow to gash the defense for a gain of 20-plus yards. This sent the whole offense into an uproar and set the tone for the entire period.

The inside receivers taking reps in this period (Cracraft, Priester, Robert Lewis, Kyle Sweet) are known for their ability to get open and pick up first downs, but it was their ability to create explosive plays in today’s practice that helped the offense have its best day yet.

Quarterback Peyton Benderwas taking the second team reps in the 11v11 period and he did an excellent job with his accuracy on Day Three. Bender was hitting receivers in stride so that they were able to turn shorter completions into big plays.

He started by hitting Sweet at the H spot on a drag route that ended  a 20-yard gain, and then hit Lewis, Priester and Cracraft accurately on dig routes so that they were able to turn them into explosive plays.

Some new names for Cougar fans made big plays in the second team portion of this drill today. Junior college transfer defensive lineman Garrett McBroom made a big play in the run game as he shed his blocker and stuffed Morrow in the backfield for a loss. And second-year freshman defensive tackle Hunter Mattox made a big hit on a running back that seemed to inspire the whole defense.

Also, Aaron Porter who played sparingly last year at WSU after stints at UCLA and junior college, sprinted from inside the box out to the numbers to make a highlight real tackle on running back Williams as he attempted to leak out of the backfield on a pass.

The second team offense finished the drive with a Williams touchdown run and a touchdown strike form Bender to Priester to cap off the productive period.

It was now time for Falk and the first team offense to square up against the first-team defense. 

It started with a powerful rush by running back Gerard Wicks where he had defenders bouncing off of him, followed by a reception out of the backfield by Wicks in which he outflanked the defense to get up the sideline for a nice gain. The two big plays in a row by Wicks caused linebackers coach Roy Manning to throw his hat to the ground in frustration.

Marks showed why he is regarded as one of the top receivers in the nation as he slid onto his knees to make a catch on a dig route.

Cody O'Connell, the leading candidate at the starting left guard spot entering the spring and pictured above, is showing signs of improvement -- he laid a hug block on a defender to spring Williams on a big run.

Running backs coach Jim Mastro was so excited about the performance of his running backs and the development of O’Connell that he could be heard from anywhere in the stadium.

The running game continued to be a big factor as the offensive line cleared the way for a 12-yard score by Morrow followed by an eight-yard score by Williams, where he made an impressive juke move on All-Pac-12 safety Shalom Luani that once again had Mastro beside himself excited.

If there is one thing I took away from today’s practice it is that James Williams is the real deal. Yes, it’s early in spring but he simply continues to make plays all over the field. It is difficult to imagine him not earning playing time for the Cougs this year.

Falk found Lewis at the H on a slant pattern for a touchdown to end the day for the Cougs.

The offense looked solid for the majority of the day, but as he always does, I expect defensive coordinator Alex Grinch to make some adjustments and lead his defense to a better day on Thursday.

Running back Keith Harrington was inactive. CF.C reported yesterday Harrington will be out for the spring.

Isaac Dotson, a safety who was expected to get time at linebacker this spring, was also inactive for the third straight day.

Depth Chart on Day Three:
First Team Offense
QB: Luke Falk
RB: Wicks/Morrow/Williams
X: Tavares Martin
H: Robert Lewis
Y: River Cracraft
Z: Gabe Marks
LT: Andre Dillard
LG: Cody O’Connell
C: Riley Sorenson
RG: Eduardo Middleton
RT: Cole Madison

First Team Defense
Buck: Dylan Hanser
Tackle: Daniel Ekuale
Nose: Robert Barber
End: Hercules Mata’afa
Will: Frankie Luvu
Mike: Peyton Pelluer
Nickel: Parker Henry
Cornerback: Darrien Molton
SS: Charleston White
FS: Shalom Luani
Cornerback: Marcellus Pippins

Second Team Offense
QB: Bender/Hilinski
RB: Wicks/Morrow/Williams
X: Kaleb Fossum
H: Kyle Sweet
Y: Kyrin Priester
Z: Isaiah Johnson
LT: Cedric Biggie-Duren
LG: Drew Norvell
C: Noah Myers
RG: Amosa Sakaria
RT: B.J. Salmonson

Second Team Defense
Buck: Nnamdi Oguayo
Tackle: Hunter Maddox
Nose: Ngalu Tapa
End: Logan Tago
Will: Paris Taylor
Mike: Aaron Porter
Nickel: Kirkland Parker
Cornerback: Deion Singleton
SS: Hunter Dale
FS: Willie Roach
Cornerback: Treshon Broughton


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