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Cougar Football: WSU offense shines in first scrimmage of fall camp

LEWISTON - Washington State put a ribbon on the first portion of their fall camp with a team scrimmage at Sacajawea Junior High School . It was all offense today with the defense showing spurts of great play. Robert Lewis, River Cracraft, Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks led the offense to ultimately win the day.

Today's scrimmage was 1s vs. 1s, 2s vs. 2s and 3s vs. 3s for a total of 91 plays. It was full contact play which finally allowed defenders to let loose and lay some live hits.

Fourth-year junior Robert Lewis and senior River Cracraft led the way for the talented and deep receiving corps, each getting into the end zone twice.

Lewis had one of his scores come on the ground as he took a handoff on the 14-yard line and raced up the sideline. He also made a huge third down conversion on a corner throw from Luke Falk. Lewis was running shoulder-to-shoulder with true freshman safety Jalen Thompson then out-jumped him for the ball while managing to get his feet inbounds as they came down.

Cracraft’s best play came on a 22-yard throw from Tyler Hilinski on the back line of the end zone. Leading all receivers with 5 catches, he showed his strength and size on a couple catches refusing to go down until multiple defenders converged on him.

Both Lewis and Cracraft shined today and played better than they have all camp. 

Falk showed why he’s the number one guy today as he moved the ball down the field ending each drive with a touchdown. He went 12 of 17 for 108 yards including a TD toss, Falk managed the offense with ease as you'd expect from an All-Pac 12 player of last season. He got rid of the ball quickly and found receivers on really tough throws.

When the pocket collapsed, Falk avoided being sacked and even threw the ball away a few times. He’s showing good control of the offense and continues to make smart decisions with the ball. Its quite difficult to judge Falk right now because he hardly makes any mistakes. No quarterback is perfect, but Falk just continues to prove that he’s a very consistent guy.

Hilinski was dropping dimes today and when he wasn’t, the ball was in the turf. He also used his feet to ran one in for a score. With a completion percentage just over 50 percent, that's below the standard for a Mike Leach quarterback. But when he was running the Air Raid offense they earned 5 total touchdowns and 124 yards through the air on 9 completions. There’s something to be said for that.

His best throw was on a 22-yard touchdown toss to Cracraft. The play likely happened due to blown coverage. As an offense you have to take what the defense gives you and Hilinski made the read and throw. From my view, Hilinski has good vision and accuracy with his deep passes so he likes to take those shots. But that tendency can cause him to take his eyes away from shorter routes. Nevertheless, it was an outstanding day for the backup quarterback. Each of his scores came with incredible awareness and big-time playmaking ability.

The Cougs running game has struggled to punch the ball over the end line the last few seasons. That wasn't the case Sunday.

When the quarterbacks are near the goal line with Wicks (pictured above) and Jamal Morrow standing only inches away in the backfield, it’s almost a no-brainer to just hand them the ball. Wicks is a bruiser and Morrow is as shifty as they come. They both showed today that they are “freak athletes”, as coach Jim Mastro refers to them, by punching in touchdowns at the end of two drives engineered by Falk. They carried the rock for a combined total of 53 yards and 2 scores on 12 carries.

Today Morrow had one of the best two yard runs I think I’ve ever seen. He took a handoff from Falk and got stuck right at the line. Still on his feet, he bounced it outside, outran a defender, then took off for the sideline before he put his head down and collided with Charleston White at the goal line. Morrow got the better of the hit as he reached for the pylon (or cone in this case) and scored on the play.

In just two yards, most of Morrow’s skill set was on display. He has great vision, outstanding feet, he’s slippery, and most importantly has the will and desire to not go down. Morrow had a couple of similar plays where he would take an extra step to find a small hole and fight for extra yardage.

Second-year freshman James Williams has many of the same attributes Morrow does. One thing that separates him from others is his balance. Williams got hit a lot today and just wouldn’t tip over. He runs through tackles and is explosive on contact. His best play came on a short pass. Falk completed a simple check down toss to Williams as Coug fans have seen so many times before. After he made one defender miss, he reversed field and picked up a big block from Lewis. Williams dodged a few more tackles down field before he was eventually taken down at the goal line.

If I had to decide the rotation at running back right now, I would probably have to go with Morrow, Wicks, and Williams. These are the guys who have made the most out of each play during camp in my book and proved themselves again today.

A significant contributor to the WSU running game last season, third-year sophomore Keith Harrington didn’t have a lot of opportunities today. He only recorded one catch for 9 yards and one rush for a loss of 7 yards. From my view, it’s not that Harrington isn’t playing well (because he is), it’s just that the other three are making more plays right now. The battle for reps at running back is still not over. This will continue to be a position to watch as camp continues in Pullman.

The defensive line was really the only unit on defense that had their way today. They sacked the quarterback 7 times. Nick Begg topped the charts with two, while Daniel Ekuale, Dylan Hanser, Colton Teglovic, Ngalu Tapa, and Greg Hoyd each got to the quarterback once.

Safeties Jalen Thompson and Shalom Luani had the best day out of the DB’s during the scrimmage. Thompson and Luani came down hill fast and showed their aggressiveness in their run fits. Usually safeties have a minimal responsibility when it comes to filling the run, but there always needs to be an awareness about which gaps are uncovered. Both of these guys have a good understanding of that concept which allows them to think fast and come down when needed. Luani made a play near the end-zone where he flew through the line and hit the Morrow in the backfield for a TFL.

Overall, the defense had a good practice, but simply just got outplayed. They didn’t force any turnovers and gave up way too many big plays. It wasn’t the type of performance that will make the coaches happy. Still, they forced the offense into some three-and-outs and had plenty of sacks on the day. I think it goes without saying that they can do a whole lot better.

My final assessment on the scrimmage is that this offense is extremely dangerous. I truly thought that the defense would shine today having faced this offense for eight days in a row. That wasn’t the case.

The offense looked good, efficient and very explosive.

The running backs are living up to their hype.

The receivers are doing their jobs and the quarterbacks continue to deliver.

Notes:

-       Biggest hit of the day came when Paris Taylor smacked Kaleb Fossum near the end zone and broke up the pass from Falk

-       My favorite play today came when Lewis caught a short pass from Hilinski. He made two defenders miss before walking into the end zone, spiking the ball and shouting “lets go!” Lots of energy on that play

-       Sophomore transfer Anthony Gordon tossed touchdown throws to freshman Renard Bell and sophomore transfer Brandon Arconado

RELATED: Position battles heat up for WSU in Lewiston 


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