This weekend the Cougs will be looking to do something yet to happen since head coach Mike Leach arrived in Pullman. It may surprise, but Leach has yet to chalk up a win in a WSU season opener. As he mentioned after practice today, Eastern Washington is not a team to be taken lightly.
“They win – go deep in the playoffs or win the whole thing quite a bit”, Leach said. “They’re a good quality team. And certainly – they don’t have as many guys on scholarship, but their first level guys, I think, are as good as ours.”
The team focus throughout the entire offseason has been directed at players improving and getting better day by day. Now the focus has shifted to EWU.
On Mondays of each game week, the coaches usually spend the entire day putting together a full game plan to be implemented in meetings Tuesday morning. What that means is that today’s practice was the first time that the team consistently saw looks based on EWU’s playbook.
Though coaches are constantly watching film on their opponents year-round, they only have a week to prepare their players for each game. That means players need to learn fast and be efficient in every single rep they take on the practice field.
Today’s practice was very solid on both sides. The defense looks more than ready to take on guys wearing a jersey colored something other than crimson and gray. The offense is firing even better than they ever have all fall camp.
On offense it was more of the same today from Luke Falk (pictured above) and the plethora of talent he has at his disposal.
Right now, Falk looks sharper than he did at any point last season. He has much more command of the offense and very strong chemistry with his receivers.
Falk has tons of weapons on offense right now – almost too many to be on the field at once.
How do you make sure that Gabe Marks, River Cracraft, Robert Lewis, Tavares Martin, Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow, Kyle Sweet, James Williams, Isaiah Johnson-Mack, John Thompson and Dezmon Patmon all get touches in a single game, or even in a single practice?
It’s too bad there aren’t multiple footballs on the field at once – if there were, the Cougs would probably have multiple scores each time they’re on offense. Imagine that.
With so many reliable targets and playmakers on the offense this season, there’s no reason why WSU won't put up at least 35 points a game.
The defensive backs held tight coverage today and came away with a handful of interceptions against the second team offense and the scout team.
Broughton was lined up by himself on an island several times today and made great plays. He is a tall, long corner that uses his hands and feet very well to get in front of receivers routes. He had an exceptional performance in 1-on-1 drills today including a play where Tavares Martin tried to run one of the Cougs go-to fade routes in the end zone but Broughton was all over it and intercepted the pass.
It’s likely that Broughton will need to translate his performance from today into this weekend’s matchup when he faces EWU’s standout receiver, Cooper Kupp.
There are few teams in the Pac-12 that can shed some light on how to stop Kupp. The guy put up a record setting performance in Autzen stadium last year as he gashed the Ducks for 246 yards on 15 catches (both Autzen stadium records). He also caught three touchdowns against the Huskies two years ago, and caught five catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns when Eastern beat the number 25th ranked Oregon State Beavers in 2013.
“He’s a big, physical wide receiver”, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said after practice. “He runs by people, he runs away from people – so you can't put him in a category that way and just say he’s big. He makes the tough catch – he finds ways to make plays with his feet after the catch – and he seems to always be open… He’s one of the best I’ve seen.”
One of the question marks that had been surrounding Washington State during the offseason is the depth behind the starting defensive line. From what I've seen in practice, a couple players may be slightly undersized, but they play their gaps extremely well and rarely make mistakes. Though guys along WSU's D-line might not be stereotypical size, they make up for it with a lot of speed and strength.
Hercules Mata'afa (6-2, 252) will no doubt hold his own against any offensive linemen in the Pac-12. The way he plays with leverage and gets low on blocks is unlike most players at this level. Nnamdi Oguayo (6-3, 227) definitely has a lot of room to grow, but he’s possibly the fastest D-lineman on the team and is remarkably strong. This weekend’s game will give Coug fans a pretty good idea of how well each of them can actually compete against bigger men.
Behind the defensive line, Isaac Dotson, Peyton Pelluer, Frankie Luvu, and Paris Taylor are each a component of the front seven that has looked great throughout the offseason. Linebackers coach Ken Wilson has these guys all over the field making tackles, filling gaps, and creating a lot of turnovers.
All that being said, Saturday’s matchup will be quite the challenge for the Cougs, who are coming off a 9-4 season after losing their home opener last year against a another FCS opponent, Portland State. If this team has improved as much as I've seen throughout fall camp and in practice today, the sky is the limit.