©M. Samek / SCOUT

Both sides have their moments Tuesday, and Mike Leach decides to extend workout with overtime practice

PULLMAN -- The Cougs have done a great job this spring of improving every practice and Tuesday was no different. Big plays were made by players on both sides of the ball, and the high level of competition helped the team take another step in the right direction.

The individual drills were completed early in the practice, and the wide receiver/defensive back 1v1 period was the first round of competition between the offense and defense. The first portion of this drill, which consisted of routes in the open field, was dominated by the quarterbacks and receivers. It is a tall task to ask a defensive back to cover a receiver 1v1 in the open field, but the receivers did their jobs and created separation rep after rep.

X receiver Tavares Martin continued his improvement today and had an excellent 1v1 period. He had his defenders turned around on a variety of different routes and created the most separation of anyone during the period.

Gabe Marks also looked great in this period as usual. No defenders had any luck when trying to cover him and Marks also recorded the highlight of the period when he went up and over a cornerback and snagged a Luke Falk pass near the sideline on a deep comeback route.

The defense stuck to the receivers much closer during reps near the goal line. They had more success across the board, and were led by the effort of senior safety Shalom Luani. Luani made life difficult for every inside receiver he faced and recorded several pass break ups in this area of the field.

The offense and defense continued to sharpen each other in the 7v7 period. The defense did a great job of covering things down the field for the majority of the drill, and the offense responded properly by landing several short completions. However, when mistakes were made during this period, the opposing units did a nice job of taking advantage of them.

Falk did the best job of taking care of the ball, as he had only one incompletion in the period, on a deep wheel route to running back James Williams. The defense did a good job of eliminating any huge plays, but Falk continually found the open man and finished the drill 19 of 20 passing.

Peyton Bender took the second team reps, and took a few more risks than Falk. Bender had five incompletions, including interceptions by safety Colton Teglovic and linebacker Aaron Porter. The defense took advantage of Bender’s mistakes, but he also returned the favor as he found running back Jamaal Morrow and H receiver Robert Lewis for 40-yard touchdowns when they got behind the defense.  Bender nearly had a third deep touchdown pass to H receiver Kyle Sweet, but nickel back Kirkland Parker made an excellent play, poking the ball away from Sweet as he was attempting to tuck the ball to his body in the end zone.

Bender had a few mistakes in the period, but put together another solid day. Bender has looked really sharp over the last week and seems to be starting to emerge as the No. 2 quarterback for the Cougs. The competition is still far from over, but he seems to leading the race at this point.

The back and forth battle continued in the 11v11 period. Quarterback Tyler Hilinski took second team quarterback reps, and his offense gained momentum on the opening play as running back Williams took a handoff for a 40 yard gain. Hilinski completed a short ball to Marks on the next play, but the next two plays belonged to the defense: swarming a running back screen pass on one snap and having linebacker Paris Taylor cover a lot of ground to deflect a Hilinski pass over the middle on the next.

The battle continued as Hilinski completed another seven passes to seven different receivers. Defensive lineman Ngalu Tapa blew through the offensive line and made a big stop in the backfield on a handoff to Williams.

When the drive reached the red zone the defense stood strong as it allowed no touchdowns. The defense front stuffed a couple of runs for short gains near the 5, and cornerback Treshon Martin picked off Hiliski’s final pass in the corner of the end zone.

Falk and the 1s then took the field and this drive looked much like his 7v7 performance, as Falk did an excellent job of taking what the defense gave him. Short and steady completions along with nice runs by Gerard Wicks, Morrow and Williams were the recipe for success on his drive.

Two of Falk’s completions were due to great catches by Y receiver River Cracraft and X receiver Kaleb Fossum. On separate plays, these two guys both went diving to the turf to scoop up low passes from Falk.

Big plays were scarce on this drive, but there were a few.  Defensive end Hercules Mata’afa sliced into the backfield and crashed into running back Morrow, bringing him down for a loss of a few yards.

The offense then returned the favor as the big guys up front paved the way for Morrow to score on a run from 20 yards out. The offensive line struggled some in this period, but looked as good as they have all spring on this snap. 

When the drive reached the 5, the defense held strong for the most part. They forced a couple of incompletions and Mike linebacker Peyton Pelluer hit Wicks in the hole on a running play, stopping him for a minimal gain. However on the final play of the drive, Falk broke contain, scrambled and dove across the goal line for a score.

This is usually the point at which practice ends, but Coach Mike Leach had more in store for his team today. He took the time to work on an overtime situation. He brought the whole team up and discussed the organization of an overtime period and then the guys did a couple of drives from the 25 yard line as they would in an overtime period.

This is one of the things that Coach Leach does that I really appreciated as a player. Many times a game that gets into overtime is chaotic, and teams will often have a chaotic sideline because it is a situation that they are not used to. Coach Leach’s teams have a specific plan for the beginning of an overtime period and come together to get organized and refocused for the extra period of play. This period of practice was done to show the exact organization and communication that needs to take place in this type of situation.

Once all of those things were covered by Leach, the No. 1 offense and defense squared off at the 25. This was a very short drive as Falk and Sweet had some miscommunication on a route and Falk’s pass was intercepted by none other than safety Luani in the end zone. Luani has a knack for interception balls in the end zone in overtime. (Just ask the Ducks)

The 2’s then took a drive with Bender playing quarterback, and they won some pride back for the offense as Bender hit freshman receiver Isaiah Johnson on an 8-yard post route for a score on the drive’s fourth play. The excited young receiver then gave the ball a huge spike in the back of the end zone before he was greeted by a mob of offensive players to celebrate even further.

There was little room for error in today’s practice and that is the biggest sign of improvement for the Cougs this spring. There was a very high level on football being played in Martin Stadium today and it is very exciting to think of what may be possible for this group this season.


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