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Day 7: Cougar offense starts slow, but pick it up after Mike Leach, Luke Falk have some words

PULLMAN -- The members of the Cougar secondary really showed how good they can be as they got the better of the Cougar receiving corps for the majority of spring's Day 7. The Cougs' passing attack is one of the best in the nation and they still found a way to make some plays, but the talent and depth of the secondary really showed up big in the Cougs’ final practice before Saturday’s scrimmage.

The wide receiver/defensive back 1v1 period was dominated by the defense. It seemed that no matter what the Cougar receivers did, they were unable to separate from their defenders. Coach Mike Leach even stopped the drill after a few reps, gave the offense an earful and started the drill over.  Cornerback Darrien Molton (pictured above) looked particularly impressive in this drill. No receiver Molton faced was able to get any separation, and he seems to be emerging as the No. 1 cornerback in this deep group of players.

Deion Singleton is another cornerback who had a solid period. He did an excellent job of using his size and physicality to cover his opponents. Singleton is the biggest of the cornerbacks, has a lot of potential and it is exciting to watch him start to reach that potential.

This drill was dominated by the defense from start to finish and Coach Leach was irate by the end. He had some more harsh words for the quarterbacks and receivers followed by a large amount of up-downs to show his disapproval of their performance in the period. His frustrations were understandable, but the defense was playing at an extremely high level during this drill and not only took advantage of offensive mistakes, but also made many plays of their own.

The 11v11 run period was added to today’s practice and Robert Barber and the rest of the defensive front seven controlled this session. Running backs James Williams and Gerard Wicks put together a few nice runs and Y receiver River Cracraft found space on a play action pass, but the defense stuffed the offense during the rest of the plays of this period.

Barber proved to be very difficult to block in the run game. He seemed to be in the backfield on almost every snap and led the defensive front with his excitement, vocal leadership, and playmaking ability.

The special teams period started with more specific drill work, but eventually took the first live reps of the spring as the first team kickoff return unit squared off against the scout team kickoff coverage unit.

During the drill work, linebackers Nathan DeRider and Greg Hoyd seemed to be getting the hang of blocking defenders on the front line of the kickoff return unit. This is a difficult job for anyone to do, but these two used great technique to control their opponents during their reps. I would look for these two players to be big time contributors for the Cougar special teams units in the 2016 season.

In the live reps, receivers Kaleb Fossum, Tavares Martin and running back Williams took the turns as returners. They all did a good job of finding space and put together great returns during their respective reps.

In the 7v7 period the offense started slow and it looked as if it was going to be another period that would be dominated by the secondary. After seeing the lackluster 1v1 period and the slow start to 7v7, quarterback Luke Falk had seen enough. The heated signal caller huddled the whole offense up and let them know that their performance was not up to their standards and that it was time to start playing the way that they are capable of. This seemed to inspire the offense as Falk completed his next eight passes before his first round of reps of this period ended.

The rotation of second team quarterbacks continued today and Tyler Hilinski took the second team reps in this period.  Hilinski looked the best he has all spring during his first round of reps as he only threw three incompletions, with one being thrown away and another being dropped. Hilinski really seems to be getting more comfortable with every new day of practice.

Sophomore H receiver Kyle Sweet had an excellent period as he reeled in six passes in the period, including a touchdown strike from Falk once the drill moved down to the red zone. Sweet is showing to have a knack for identifying coverages on the run and either separating from man coverage or finding holes in zones. This is causing the quarterbacks to feel very comfortable when looking and throwing his way.

Freshman safety Jalen Thompson was in the first team lineup today for the first time. He proved worthy of the promotion when he intercepted a pass from Falk to Kyrin Priester in the end zone. The sky is the limit for this kid as he has a combination of great instincts and superb athleticism.

In the 11v11 period, Peyton Bender took the second team quarterback reps, and was helped out by the running backs who continue to be the most consistent and dependable position group on the team. On the first snap he found Williams on a running back screen that went for 30 yards due to great blocking and crafty running. Running back Jamal Morrow then blasted through the line on his way to a 10-yard carry to continue the drive.

Kirkland Parker helped the defense respond to the big plays by stripping the football from receiver Robert Lewis after he caught a 10-yard out from Bender. This ignited the defense and really got them excited because forcing turnovers is defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s biggest point of emphasis.

Bender and the passing attack struggled to get a lot of big completions, but it was Williams’s running that kept the offense going. Every carry he took during this period turned it into a play worthy of being on a highlight reel and the defense had no answers for him. 

While Bender struggled somewhat to complete passes consistently, he avoided big mistakes and ended his drive with the most impressive pass of the day by any quarterback. Bender fired a pass on a line away from defenders where only his inside receiver Sweet could get to it, and Sweet did an excellent job of snagging the pass and finishing the drive with a touchdown.

The running backs also showed up big the first team offense’s drive. On the third play from scrimmage, Wicks took a handoff from Falk and carried it down the field for an explosive run of 40 yards.

There were not a lot of big plays, but Falk and the first team offense scratched and clawed their way down the field by consistently putting together productive plays. Receiver screens to Fossum and Martin,5-to-7 yard runs by Wicks and Morrow, and short completions to inside receivers Cracraft, Priester, Lewis and Sweet were the types of plays that kept the offense moving down the field against the stingy Cougar defense. Falk even showed his ability to run once again as he scrambled for a gain of 15 after he was unable to find an open receiver.   

Once the drive entered the red zone, Falk showed why his finishing ability is one of his greatest qualities. He found X receiver Martin on a curl route for a gain of 15 and on the next play hit Martin again on a perfectly-run out route for a score. The ball was then backed up to the 5-yard line, where it was handed to Williams, who blasted through the middle for a score.

The offense came out to a slow start, but with the amount of the ball it is difficult to perform at high levels in every period of every practice in the spring.  However, the high level of competition that the offense and defense provide for one another is going do nothing but help the Cougs during the 2016 season.

 

Notes:

  • Keith Harrington, Marcellus Pippins, Paris Taylor, Isaac Dotson, Drew Griffin and C.J. Dimry were inactive today.

  • Cole Madison and Gabe Marks did not finish practice today. 

  • Charleston White was moved back to cornerback, while Willie Roach moved back to safety.

  • Linebacker Nate DeRider and Safety Colton Teglovic were seeing reps with the second team defense.

  • Freshman safety Jalen Thompson was inserted into the starting lineup.

 


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