The defense still shows potential to be the best group that the Cougs have had in years, and they made many plays of their own today, but it was the offense's ability to move the ball in a variety of ways that stole the show.
All of the individual drills were completed early and the competitive periods began with the wide receiver/defensive back 1v1 period. The drill was very competitive, but Gabe Marks and River Cracraft proved that when they are at their best, they cannot be covered. These two put together outstanding periods and seemed to be at a higher level than any other defensive back or receiver.
Another offensive bright spot of this period was X receiver Tavares Martin. He had another solid 1v1 period and seems to be finally developing some consistency. He is always good in flashes, but when he learns to play his best all of the time he will be as dominant as any receiver on the roster. He is getting closer to his potential with every practice.
The extra team run period was added to the practice today the Cougar air raid offense showed that it is capable of pounding out tough yards on the ground. Aside from defensive lineman Robert Barber and safety Shalom Luani combining for a stop in the backfield and Peyton Pelluer getting a hand on a play action pass, this period was all about the offense.
Gerard Wicks, Jamaal Morrow and James Williams had huge runs in this period. The offensive line did a good job of opening up holes and the receivers did an excellent job of blocking downfield. On every long run there were receivers blocking 20-plus yards down the field, and those blocks helped spring the runs even farther.
Down field blocking is something that Mike Leach emphasizes because it is extremely important in his offense. There are many short runs and completions in this offense that are turned into big plays because of players continuing to block down field, so it was encouraging to see the receivers doing such a good job of that today.
The offense was red-hot in the 7v7 period again today. Quarterback Luke Falk threw more touchdowns (five) than incompletions (three) during this drill. Two of his touchdowns were 40-yard passes to John Thompson, who was playing Y today. Thompson continues to show his versatility as he has made plays from H, Y and Z this spring. Once the drill moved to the red zone, Falk continued to find his inside receivers in the end zone.
First Falk found H receiver Kyle Sweet after he ran an excellent option route against man coverage. Sweet got into his defender, sold him inside and then burst away to space where he was rewarded with the touchdown pass from Falk. Next Falk found Cracraft, who was running across the end zone and stopped in a hole between two linebackers.
Hilinski took the second team reps in this drill, and also put together a solid performance as he only had four incompletions. His many completions were highlighted by three touchdown passes to Marks, who was always very vocal after his scores.
Hilinski’s solid day had one blemish as he was intercepted in the end zone by ball-hawking safety Jalen Thompson. This young defensive back continues to impress and has remained in the starting lineup.
Today’s special teams work was highlighted by some live punt return reps against a scout punt team. Receivers Kaleb Fossum, Cracraft, and Marks were the returners, and they all looked good in their reps. The return unit was able to open up space for them, creating big returns. Fossum looked to be fearless back there as a returner as he fielded punts effortlessly with a bunch of bodies around him. Fossum showed potential to be the No. 1 returner, but there is a lot of competition left before that decision will be made by special teams coordinator Eric Mele.
The 11v11 period was exciting to watch once again. Peyton Bender was quarterbacking the second team offense, and was off to a hot start as he completed his first seven passes, including a 20-yard catch and run by Cracraft, and a deep completion down the sideline to Martin.
These were nice gains but the defense responded with some big plays of their own. There was Mike linebacker Pelluer hit running back Williams in the backfield for a loss of a couple yards. Also sack each by Rush linebacker Nnamdi Oguayo and defensive end Hercules Mata’afa.
This back and forth battle of a drive ended with two consecutive Bender touchdown passes. He found Cracraft and Sweet in the end zone for scores.
Falk started his drive with a quick completion on a screen out to Marks that helped the offense get into a rhythm, and then Wicks followed with a big run of over 20 yards. Falk had a few more short completions over the middle and then fired a dig route to Marks, who took the pass the rest of the way for a 65 yard touchdown.
Another big play for the offense came just a few snaps later as Wicks peeled off a 50-yard touchdown run. This play was well blocked by the offensive line, and the receivers did a nice job of blocking down field, but Wicks looked really good on this play, and many plays all day. If I had to pick a leader in the running back race it would be Wicks.
The offense was dominant until the drive moved into the red zone where the defense took four of the last five plays. The defense forced two straight incompletions and Rush linebacker Logan Tago got to Falk for a sack. Falk then dumped a quick screen pass to Marks, who followed the blocking of Cracraft to the end zone. The last play once again went to the defense. Cornerback Darrien Molton did an excellent job defending a goal line fade route by Martin and forced an incompletion.
The defense continues to do good things this spring, but the offense was too much to handle today. The offense ran and threw the ball extremely well today and if they execute on that level all of the time they will not be stopped. But overall, it was another solid day of work for the Cougs.
- Isaac Dotson, Cole Madison, Keith Harrington, Kyrin Priester, C.J. Dimry and Carlos Freeman were all inactive today.