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Morrow makes case for top Washington State running back

LEWISTON -- The biggest offensive play on Day Six came from Washington State running back Jamal Morrow (pictured above) on the very first play of Luke Falk’s drive during the team session. The Cougar offensive line created a massive hole -- one that appeared to surprise Morrow when he hit the second level. He had no one in front of him.

Morrow looked right then left, evidently deciding which lane he should take to get past the safeties. Morrow was eventually forced out of bounds by senior safety Shalom Luani -- but only after the play went for over 40 or more yards.

“I think Jamal is the best all around (running back) right now, as far as just everything,” Mike Leach said after practice.The defense got the upper hand on the day by a narrow margin. They kept the offense to short gains and made them earn every yard.

Gerard Wicks and James Williams were the guys taking the most reps with the starting group. Third-year playmaker Keith Harrington is showing more effectiveness in the pass game than carrying the rock.

“We’ll have to sort it out," said Leach about the rotation of running backs. "Its good (having four running backs) except for the fact that in the end we will end up repping three predominantly.”

It’s hard to imagine one of the four not getting any playing time. My guess is that they will all be used to some extent this season.

Although Morrow lit things up on that one run, and there was definitely focus by the offense, big plays just weren’t being made. That doesn’t mean that it was a bad practice by any means. In the early going of this camp the defense is tightening up their game and the offense is staying away from taking big risks.

The Cougs seemed a little bit fatigued as the sun beat down on Day Six. Luke Falk and Tyler Hilinski padded their stats with short and intermediate throws all day today. Falk is showing his control and comfort running the offense. You can tell that he’s more concerned about keeping a drive alive than he is about making a big play. The short throws are likely a result of good coverage down the field, but it's nice to see that Falk doesn’t want to take risky throws.

The run game was on fire once again today and that may be another sign that Falk has improved his ability to check into a run once he reads the defense. He has the freedom to make checks on the line, and its starting to become clear he just wants this team to move the ball regardless of how they do it.

Whether he’s checking into runs, screen plays, or throwing check downs, Falk has a plan to keep the ball in the hands of the offense.

Offensive line coach Clay McGuire talked after practice today about some of the reasons the run game is showing improvement:

“The quarterbacks are really understanding the run schemes, and were running good plays into good fronts," said McGuire. "we’re not running bad plays into bad fronts”.

The only downside of Falk’s practice today came when he did make one of those risky throws. He tried to hit Tavares Martin across the middle of the field, but his target was blanketed by Treshon Broughton. Broughton came up with the interception and Mike Leach just about lost it. It was one of the only times I’ve seen Leach really get after Falk vocally. From what I heard, it sounded like Leach was getting on his starting quarterback about going through the right reads. Falk’s body language showed that he understood what happened, and he quickly moved on to making better decisions.

There’s a lot to be said about the progress of the offensive line. McGuire made the point about the improved run game by indicating the guys across the OL are bigger, faster, and stronger.

“We’re getting better up front. The guys are really understanding our run scheme so that they know what they’re supposed to be doing - they’re faster in the scheme.”

Leach said he thinks the new faces on the left side of the offensive line (Andre Dillard and Cody O'Connell) are outplaying the vets on the right side right now (Eduardo Middleton and Cole Madison). He also said that both Dillard and O’Connell have been the most consistent.

When it comes to the backups, McGuire really likes the competition with the 2's that has been brewing up throughout camp.

“Fred (Mauigoa) has really stepped in and done a good job. He hasn’t flinched one bit, but its kind of a battle right now with Amosa Sakaria, Noah Osur-Myers, Drew Norvell, and Cedric Bigge-Duren. They are all in there battling out the mix in that group so that they can get in rotation.”

No question the offensive line has definitely improved, but the defensive line has made bigger strides in camp than any other position. Yes, the run game is opening up more, but there are plenty of times these defensive linemen are stopping plays behind the line of scrimmage. The D-line is definitely making an impact on the entire defensive unit and are continuing to stall the offense more and more as camp progresses.

Today, fifth-year senior nose tackle Robert Barber recorded a sack early in the team period. Shortly thereafter, Daniel Ekuale, who lines up next to Barber, went untouched and gave Harrington a nice pop right after he took the handoff.

Third-year sophomore nose tackle Ngalu Tapa had another great play today as he moved across the middle to meet Morrow in what looked to be a big hole to run through. Tapa slammed the door on Morrow.

Second-year freshman Nnamdi Oguayo and junior Dylan Hanser also made their presence known on a few plays today by stuffing running backs for no gain.

At the linebacker spots, Peyton Pelluer and Frankie Luvu are firmly repping with the 1’s, while Isaac Dotson and Paris Taylor take most of the reps with the 2’s. Nate DeRider is still in the mix and made an incredible interception in the team period today. Charleston White broke up a pass from Falk intended for John Thompson and DeRider came up with the pick.

These backers are a solid unit for the Cougs. Given how active Pelluer and Luvu are in the box, I would expect to see Dotson, Taylor, and DeRider on the field a lot when those guys need a breather.

Another guy that should see a lot of playing time is junior college transfer Robert Taylor.

After moving from safety to corner, Taylor was repping with the 1’s today and could have a chance to keep that role. He shows a very polished set of skills that make him a dangerous man out at corner, is extremely competitive and has the confidence to go with it. He’s aggressive in coverage and attacks the ball when its in the air, but also has the finesse and footwork to be where he needs to be.

With Taylor now fitted at corner, Marcus Strong was moved back to the scout team. Taylor, Darrien Molton, Marcellus Pippins, and Treshon Broughton appear to be the four guys that defensive coordinator and secondary coach Alex Grinch favors right now.

White had his pads on for the first time today and looked like he was ready to come out to play. He might have had a little more energy than the other guys due to the fact that he sat out during team periods over the past few days. Regardless, White was flying around from his safety position and proving he is a guy that needs to be on the field this season. He dropped an interception and had multiple pass break-ups today . It was a good first full day for White and it should be interesting to see the competition with true-freshman Jalen Thompson for the starting spot at strong safety.

The Cougs are grinding through camp, and improving every single day. From day one to day six, my biggest takeaway so far is from the talent and depth at WR and DB. Its too bad that the Cougs can’t have all these guys on the field at once, but an eight man rotation on both sides doesn’t seem out of the question.

Notes:

-      Renard Bell,Derek Moore, andChima Onyeukwu all saw some reps with the 2’s today

-      Anthony Gordon and Trey Tinsley are battling for the 3rd string spot behind Tyler Hilinski

-      Shalom Luani was taking reps at punter with the 2nd string punt team today

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