Cougar football: Day 12 of fall camp sees Gabe Marks back in fine form, position battle updates, Washington State D battles back

PULLMAN – Gabe Marks is back. He was never really gone, he just wasn't, well, you know what I mean. In any event, Marks wasted little time on Thursday, as Luke Falk’s first throw of the day went straight to him. He made the catch-and-run just like he’s been doing for the past four years at Washington State.

Even without Marks, the offense has been lighting it up in practice, so you can only imagine how much better this team can be with one of the nation’s best receivers back at wideout.

In recent days of camp, the offense for the most part has really taken off and outplayed the defense. They’ve made moving the ball look easy and perhaps caused a lot of headaches for the defensive coaches. Thursday’s session, however, saw more of a back-and-forth effort from both sides.

The offense didn’t push the ball like they had, and the defense tightened up to limit their gains.

I got the chance Thursday to watch OL vs DL 1-on-1’s due to the practice field set up in Martin Stadium. With what I saw, I can easily say that the Cougs’ best pass rushers behind d-end Hercules Mata’afa are his fellow projected starters up front -- nose guard Robert Barber and tackle Daniel Ekuale (pictured above, with Ekuale No. 90, Barber No. 92).

Those two guys can really push linemen around. On one rep, Barber (6-3, 305) faced center Riley Sorenson (6-4, 330). Barber was blocked up pretty well at the beginning.  But as Barber started to lean one way, he then forcefully grabbed Sorenson’s shoulder pads and shoved him out of the way – and then proceeded to get the sack.  Impressive.

Ekuale has similar power and even when he doesn’t get to the quarterback, he’s putting linemen on skates by driving them straight back.

After those three, I would have to go with end Nnamdi Oguayo as the next best pass rusher. He’s really quick off the ball and when he does beat offensive linemen with his speed, he’s in the backfield in no time.

Dylan Hanser is solidifying his spot at rush right now in my view.

He has been running with the 1’s for the past several practices and he's been making good use of those reps. The third-year junior had another sack in Thursday's practice and for the moment, looks to be strengthening his hold on the starting job, though it should be pointed out Logan Tago is still getting a lot of reps.  And based on the whole of what I've seen over a dozen practice sessions, it seems highly likely to me that the two will rotate this season.

On the offensive line, the pass protection right now is arguably better than I’ve ever seen from the Cougs. Yes, they gave up a few sacks today, but that has been unusual this fall camp and especially over the past week-plus.

Falk and a handful of WSU assistant coaches have commented on the offensive line’s quickness off the ball in regard to run plays. After practice Cole Madison weighed in on the offensive line’s run blocking.

“We just want to run the ball more. We want to give the backs the ability to run for 100 yards a game and I think we can do that – I think we took that to heart – to get us 100 yards a game,” said Madison.

From what I’ve seen on offense through 12 days, Jamal Morrow looks to be the No. 1 running back right now.

He and Gerard Wicks are splitting the most reps with the starters, but if the season started tomorrow I think Morrow is likely the guy carrying the rock most. Things could still change but the crimson three-headed monster that includes James Williams is starting to look like a normal running back rotation.

Morrow has been demonstrating the total package: running the ball, catching passes, and blocking up front. He has been very dangerous in the red zone lately. With Keith Harrington now lining up in the slot for the second straight day, Morrow and Gerard Wicks are making a strong bid to earn the lion's share of the reps headed into the game vs. Easter Washington on Sept. 3. 

At this point in fall camp, most of the players and coaches have a good understanding of what the team is trying to do and what the coaches are trying to get out of their schemes. But each day is often a repeat of the last (with a few exceptions).

Right now, there’s a certain vibe out on the practice field and I can’t quite say for certain what it is. It’s either that A) the offense is really, really good and the defense can’t figure out how to stop them or B) the defense is not as good as we thought and the offense is at about the same level as last year or C) this team is sick of facing each other day in and day out and just wants to get on to game week.

Whatever it is, I think that it’s about time this team gets put to the test. Eastern Washington will be no walk in the park, and the Cougs have to come out strong in Martin Stadium if they want to make a statement with a convincing win in the opener. These next two weeks will be it as far as fine tuning some things with depth and rotation. After that, there’s no turning back.

After the first three non-conference games, the Cougs enter Pac-12 play against Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, and Arizona State. There is nothing easy about WSU’s schedule this year.

They will need to stay healthy and put everything on the line to have a shot at another successful season. WSU doesn’t want to look ahead these last two weeks of camp. But they do want to do everything possible to prepare for what’s ahead.

The Cougs will hold their second official scrimmage this Saturday before getting into “mock game week” prior to the real thing. It will be another good indicator of which guys can go out and make things happen on the field as starters and key contributors.

More of the highlights from Day 12:

-       Falk threw back-to-back touchdowns during 7-on-7 to slot men River Cracraft and Kyle Sweet.

-       Outside wide receiver Isaiah Johnson caught a screen pass from Tyler Hilinski and took it up the field for about 40 yards. Sorenson, from his center position. was in on the play with a big block about 15 yards downfield.

-       Wideout Tavares Martin caught a 13-yard touchdown on a fade from Hilinski.

-       Morrow took a handoff and bounced the run outside, then cut back on a defender and strolled into the end zone. Pretty.

-       Williams out of the backfield had a nice catch-and-run touchdown pass from Hilinski in the red zone.

-       Safety Jalen Thompson made a nice tackle-for-loss near the goal line on a screen pass to Martin.

-       Middle ‘backer Peyton Pelluer shot through a gap on a run to Wicks to stop the play behind the line of scrimmage.

-       Defensive back Darrius Lemora broke up a pass from Hilinski in the end zone to save a touchdown.


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