Day 15: No Spring Game hangover, as offense shows plenty of firepower during final spring practice

PULLMAN -- The Cougs capped the 15-day spring practice Tuesday with another sharp day of work. The offense was stellar for the majority of the day and the defense found ways to make plays of their own. After the long build up to the spring game it can be difficult to stay motivated for another day of work, but the Cougs did an excellent job of staying focused and finishing spring the right way.

The individual drills were completed for the last time, which led to wide receiver/defensive back 1v1 period. This session was dominated by the offense and looked more like a highlight reel than a drill in practice. Gabe Marks, River Cracraft, Tavares Martin, Robert Lewis and Kyle Sweet all showed that they still had some things to prove in this last spring practice as they put on a route running clinic. When the offense executes at this high level, there are few that can keep these guys from completing passes.

The team run period was added to Tuesday's practice, and this is where the defense showed up big. Running back James Williams had one run of eight yards, and quarterback Tyler Hilinski fooled the defense as he pulled a handoff and ran it himself for a few yards. The rest of the period was defensive highlights. There were several tackles for loss, including Shalom Luani flying down from his safety position to impressively drop the running back.

The defense also forced two fumbles to solidify its domination of the period. The defensive front has really taken a turn during the last couple of weeks of spring ball. Suddenly an area that seemed like a position of need at the beginning of spring is turning into a potential strength for the team.

The offense got its revenge when the 7v7 period started; especially when quarterback Luke Falk was at the helm. Falk finished the period 17 of 19 passing, with a touchdown apiece to Marks, Martin, Sweet, and Isaiah Johnson.

Hilinski took the second team reps during the 7v7 period, and also did a nice job. Hilinski was 17 of 21 passing, but learned the hard way as to how dangerous the Cougar safeties can be, as he was intercepted by Luani and Jalen Thompson.  Hilinski also threw touchdown passes to Martin, Kyrin Priester and running back Jamal Morrow.

The 11v11 period began with the second team offense on a drive led by quarterback Peyton Bender. He was lights out in this period. Bender put together his best showing since arriving on campus, as he was 13 of 14 passing with two touchdowns and several other explosive completions.

One of Bender's touchdown passes came near the goal line as he found H receiver Sweet near the back of the end zone; his other was a perfectly-placed 65 yard pass to speedy H receiver Lewis.

Bender’s stellar passing also opened up things in the run game as running back Gerard Wicks took a handoff 40 yards for a score.

The defense really had a tough time slowing down the offense, but defensive end Hercules Mata'afa did single-handedly stop one play, as he blew past the left tackle and got to Bender for a sack. The play happened so quickly that Bender never had any chance to get rid of the ball.

Bender’s spring game was not up to his own standards, but he has really made strides over the last couple of weeks and the backup quarterback job seems to be his to lose at this point.

When Falk and the 1s took over for their drive, the defense made things really difficult for the first few plays. Mike linebacker Peyton Pelluer and rush linebacker Logan Tago both made separate tackles for loss and safety Luani had a nice pass break up of a ball intended for Priester over the middle.

The offense then got into a bit of a rhythm as Falk completed his next four passes, including an incredible diving catch by Cracraft over the middle for 17 yards. However, the momentum was halted when the super athletic Will linebacker Frankie Luvu made the most impressive interception of the spring. Falk threw a pass that looked to be a sure completion to Sweet up the seam, but Luvu skied into the air and made a fingertip grab, holding onto the ball as he fell to the turf on his back.

Luvu's amazing play sent the defense into an uproar and seemed to inspire them on the next couple of plays as it stuffed two runs for short gains, forced an incompletion and had defensive lineman Kingston Fernandez get to Falk for a sack.

The offense was eventually able to overcome the run of good plays by the defense and had the last laugh of the period when Falk fired a ball to running back Wicks for a 5-yard touchdown.

Mike Leach decided that spring was not quite done, adding an overtime period to the last practice of the spring.

The 1s took the first drive from the 25, and Falk had another disappointing end to a spring overtime period. He completed his first pass to H receiver Lewis for 10 yards, but then was intercepted by cornerback Treshon Broughton when he tried to hit Lewis again.

Hilinski took the drive with the 2s and this group got some revenge. Hilinski completed three of his four passes and had the offense down to the 1, when running back Elijah Lee finished the job by plunging into the end zone.

Today’s sharp practice was the perfect ending to a very productive spring for the Cougs. Throughout the entire spring we have seen new guys step up and veterans fine tune their craft as the team has improved at every positon across the board over the last 15 practices. If the Cougs continue to build on their work in spring ball, then it will be a lot of fun watching them attack the Pac-12 this fall. If there was ever a time to be excited about Cougar football it is right now.



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