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Day 5: Running backs shine on a day when the Cougars passing game was a mixed bag

PULLMAN -- On a day where the defense seemed to get the better of the of the usually dominant Cougar passing attack, the running backs showed why they are thought of as the deepest position group in the program. Whether it was bruiser Gerard Wicks or shifty Jamal Morrow and James Williams, the three-headed monster that makes up the Cougar backfield produced big plays all day for the offense.

Quarterbacks Luke Falk, Peyton Bender and Tyler Hilinski all did good things Saturday, but overall it was a mixed bag. There were several drops by receivers that seemed to keep get the quarterbacks from really getting into a rhythm and performing at the same levels that they did in the days prior.

The wide receiver/defensive back 1v1 period was competitive, but was ultimately won by the defense.

The inside receivers, for the most part, had their way with the safeties and nickel backs that were trying to cover them, while the corners dominated the matchups on the outside with the exception of anyone attempting to cover Gabe Marks.

Cornerback Deion Singleton put together a nice 1v1 period as he saw more reps in this drill and throughout today's practice.

Falk and the first team offense had a good start in the 7v7 period as he hit H receiver Robert Lewis for 12 yards after accurately reading the defense on the run and converted his seam route to a stop when there was heavy coverage over the top. Falk then found dynamic running back Williams underneath, who used his athleticism to turn the short pass into a big gain. However, big plays by a number of Cougar defenders gave the defense first team defense the edge in the drill.

Hilinski took the second team reps in the 7v7 period and made some really strong throws in this period. He had a string of nice completions early in the period, but a few drops and some missed throws due to a lack of communication between himself and his receivers kept the second team from being consistent enough to win the drill.

Inside receiver John Thompson is the do-it-all guy for his position group as he has moved back and forth from the H and Y spots during this spring camp and throughout his entire career. He saw a considerable amount of reps at H Saturday and made the most of them. Thompson caught a touchdown pass from Falk and Hilinski near the goal line, and made an outstanding diving catch of a Hilinski pass from 40 yards out.

Cornerback Singleton made an excellent deflection of a pass as Hilinski tried to find Isaiah Johnson on a post route near the back of the end zone on the final play of the period that capped off an impressive showing by the defense.

Mike Leach was none too happy with his passing attack after the drill and had some harsh words and up-downs for the offense when it was over.

The 11v11 period was extremely exciting and competitive as seems to be the norm now in this year’s spring practice.

The offense that was quarterbacked by Bender started the period with a bang as right tackle Cole Madison laid a huge block on defensive lineman Hunter Maddox, helping send Morrow on a 80-yard catch and run for a touchdown. The combination of the throw, catch, run and huge block got the offense as excited and loud as they have been all spring. Madison is still the first team right tackle, but he took the second team reps today as well.

Madison showed his athleticism on the next play as well as he gracefully moved his big body 20 yards down the field to land a block on safety Jalen Thompson on a receiver screen to Tavares Martin.  Madison has looked really good this spring and seems to be becoming the new leader for the Cougar offensive line, both vocally and with his outstanding play.

The offense rode this momentum for a couple more plays as Williams made a few defenders miss, and on the next play Bender found Gabe Marks on a go route that would have gone for a touchdown if not for a shoestring tackle by Singleton.

Safety Thompson continues to make big plays for the defense as he tipped away a pass that looked to be a sure completion to River Cracraft. This play seemed to spark the defensive line as they made big plays on the next three consecutive snaps. They stuffed two running backs in the backfield, and linebacker Dylan Hanser and defensive lineman Robert Barber combined for a quarterback sack.

A diving catch by H receiver Thompson and a long run by Williams helped get the offense back on track before the drill headed to the red zone.

The defensive line continued to play tough on this part of the field, but the second team reps ended with a beautiful throw and catch from Bender to Priester on a quick out route for a score.

The back-and-forth battle continued as Falk and the first team offense squared off against the first team defense.

Falk started his drive with a completion to Cracraft, who did an excellent job of side-stepping a blitzing linebacker. If these two continue to execute these types of plays, it will be another year of opposing defenses finding the Cougs to be a very difficult team to run blitzes against.

A few drops and an excellent deflection of a long pass to Johnson by cornerback Treshon Broughton seemed to get the Cougar passing attack out of rhythm, but the run game picked up the slack. The offensive line paved the way for several gashing runs by the three Cougar running backs. Morrow and Williams did a great job of using their quickness, but it was Wicks who was nearly impossible to bring down when he got through to the second level. Wicks' combination of power and speed makes him a nightmare for members of the secondary who have the task of bringing him down in the open field.

One collision in particular showed promising things about the offense and defense both. Once again Wicks shot through a hole like a 220-pound bullet and was 1v1 with young safety Thompson. Wicks won the collision, but was slowed down enough for help to arrive before he could get loose again.

The first thing to be taken from this is that although Thompson could not handle Wicks alone, he showed no fear in taking on the bruiser and with a summer of working with Jason Loscalzo and the strength staff he could be really good at flying down and playing the run. The second and more obvious takeaway from the play is that is sure is nice to have Wicks toting the rock for the Cougs.

The offense and defense continued their back and forth battle all the way to the end zone, where Falk and Marks showed why no defense in the nation wants to line up across from them late in a game. As they have done too many times to count, Falk perfectly placed a ball near the back pylon and Marks shielded off a defender while hauling it in for a score. Marks, who never disappoints with his practice celebrations, punted the ball into the stands while giving a little trash talk to the defensive sideline.

There is still plenty for the Cougs to improve on, but today they put another good spring practice in the books.

Notes

  • Keith Harrington, Isaac Dotson, Suli Hameed, Daniel Ekuale, and Marcellus Pippins were inactive Saturday.

  • Carlos Freeman took the second team reps at center. 


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