COMMENTARY: Drawing conclusions from WSU spring game

AFTER WATCHING THE Crimson and Gray game, it’s likely to me that Washington State will lead the nation in passing once again. It’s just as likely their defense will be better than a year ago.

Granted, a scrimmage is all about preparing to win football games this coming season. As Mike Leach might put it, “We worked on some stuff.” In that context it’s appropriate to paraphrase an old adage, “What a difference an offseason makes.” That’s an apt summary of the action at Joe Albi Stadium Saturday afternoon.

But in watching the level of talent on hand, the Cougs just keep hitting new benchmarks. And there's more talent on the way to Pullman between now and the beginning of fall camp.

Not only is the Washington State roster entirely comprised of Leach’s recruits, it now compares favorably with his teams at Texas Tech which made 10 consecutive bowl game appearances.

Overall, in watching the Cougs on Saturday, Washington State is faster and bigger than the team which earned a 9-4 record this past season.

Nowhere is that speed more evident than looking at the guys lining up on defense.

Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch dialed back his calls for this scrimmage. No blitzing. No stunting by defensive linemen. Just plain vanilla defensive calls for 128 plays. It’s noteworthy that despite eliminating those two aggressive elements Grinch’s defense was credited with 12 sacks. Impressive stuff for a team known almost exclusively for their Air Raid offense.

The Cougar secondary used enhanced overall speed and strength to cover a very experienced and talented group of receivers. Some may try to explain away 12 sacks because of scrimmage limitations. Fine. This wasn’t a game.

But that improvement in speed was most evident in the secondary coverage. When quarterbacks are hesitant to attempt a pass, oncoming rushers become sack masters. That's what I saw again and again.

Comparing this spring scrimmage to the previous ones directed by Leach and his staff, the Crimson and Gray Game produced another conclusion about the WSU football program -- this team appears to know their respective jobs.

The scrimmage progressed at a business-like pace. Position coaches no longer need to be on the field to evaluate student-athletes. Guys no longer amble about the field and sidelines. Those things have been replaced with precision.

Lest it be forgotten, the offenses combined for 6 touchdowns translating into a 24-12 victory for the Gray team led by quarterback Luke Falk. A double-digit win total for the Cougs in 2016 feels like a distinct probability to me.

Leach’s offensive arsenal includes Heisman candidate Falk along with seasoned backs Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow, wide receivers Gabe Marks, River Cracraft and Robert Lewis to name a few. Add to that list redshirt freshman running back James Williams. Simply put, Williams was impressive and explosive in the spring game. Both rushing and receiving, Williams looked special using elusive speed along with flashes of power.

Cougar Nation still must wait until September 3 for the games to count. On the heels of the final spring scrimmage, visions of winning the North Division of the Pac-12 should be prominent in the days and weeks until then.

The eye test exam, which was the Crimson and Gray Game, revealed improved defensive play with more of the same on offense. And for me, this coming season promises to be a rosy one for Cougar football.

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