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PRACTICE: Washington State's Luke Falk stepping up his game and getting aggressive

PULLMAN – Tuesday marked the first official practice Washington State to prepare for Oregon this Saturday at home (Pac-12 Network, 6:30pm). With extra practices during the bye week, WSU has had the luxury to use their extra week to install a game plan and prepare for what could be the biggest game of the season.

Here are my three takeways from Tuesday’s practice:

1.     A determined Falk looks more aggressive

-       One of my biggest concerns that I’ve pointed out with Luke Falk's play so far this season is his tentativeness to pull the trigger and fire the ball to his open receivers. I can tell you that it’s something that he has clearly taken notice of and worked on throughout the bye week. In Tuesday’s practice, Falk was letting the ball fly (not in a bad way). He was taking chances by aggressively fitting the ball in between coverages and hitting open receivers. And by taking a chance, I don’t mean making high risk throws, I simply mean trusting what you’re seeing on the field and believing that you can complete a tough throw. There is no doubt that Falk is one of the hardest working players on the team – he is the type of player who notices his strengths and his flaws. Whatever area he is struggling with, he will be sure to make up for in preparation and work ethic. I expect to see a big game from him on Saturday.

2.     Taylor a natural in return game

-       I’ve always thought that sophomore Tavares Martin was going to be the Coug to finally break the kick return touchdown drought. But now I’m thinking it might be junior transfer Robert Taylor. Both guys are extremely explosive and dangerous, but they play with different styles. Taylor returned a few kickoffs in practice today that really impressed me – I honestly haven’t seen anyone on the Cougs roster look that good with the ball in their hands in a long time. As I was watching, I wrote down a few descriptions that instantly popped into my head when observing him take kicks back:

  • Extremely fluid
  • great vision
  • smooth in an out of cuts
  • explosive
  • deceptively fast
  • natural returner
  • good body control.

He has a very similar running style to second-year freshman running back James Williams. He’s just a bit lighter and a bit faster than Williams. Watch out for Taylor this season when he's out there in the kickoff return game.

3.     Defense locked in and confident

-       The Ducks come to Pullman with the No. 1 rushing attack in the Pac-12 and the No. 8 rushing attack in the country. There is no doubt that stopping Oregon’s run game will be a huge challenge for WSU, but what they have working for them right now is great team chemistry and confidence in each other and in their assignments. I truly think this defense has picked up a lot of pieces that weren’t fitting right in the first three games and has put them together to form a stronger unit. It’s one of those things that you just see when watching the Cougs practice day in and day out. You can tell when a group is lacking trust or confidence in each other, and that’s not what I see at practice right now.

Here are more highlights and observations from Tuesday’s practice:

-       WR C.J. Dimry had another really good practice. He’s flat out too big and too fast for any corner in the conference. Not only that, he has moves! What you saw from him in the Idaho game is just a glimpse of what I’ve been seeing in practice and his Thursday night football outings. I’m looking for him to have a big game as well.

-       CB Darrien Molton gave WR Gabe Marks a tough time in 1-on-1’s today. He played very tight coverage on the Cougs No. 1 receiving threat by forcing a few incomplete passes and breaking up a pass.

-       As a true freshman, RUSH Derek Moore is emerging as one of the WSU's most versatile guys. He is getting a lot of reps with the starting defense, and is playing at multiple positions on special teams. On Tuesday, Moore was the first man down on one kickoff coverage, pinning the ball inside the 10-yard line.

-       WR Kyle Sweet is becoming a go-to receiver for the Cougs. After impressive performances in the first three games, the second-year sophomore receiver has gained a lot of trust from Falk with his willingness to make tough grabs along with his reliability. It shows in practice as Falk dishes the ball to Sweet just as much as any other receiver the Cougs have.

-       On a tough 3rd-and-short conversion, backup QB Tyler Hilinski found Marks open against man-to-man coverage to complete the pass and get the yards needed to move the chains.

-       During the team period, RB Jamal Morrow ripped off a big 10-yard run on another third-and-short conversion.

-       S Jalen Thompson broke up a deep pass attempt thrown by Anthony Gordon 40-yards down field.

-       On a throw from Falk, WR Robert Lewis made an impressive catch against the sideline as he was off balance and falling backwards while keeping his feet in bounds.

-       DB Robert Taylor showed his hops when he went up and picked off a high throw over the middle from QB Trey Tinsley.

-       Tavares Martin smoked CB Marcellus Pippins on a play during 1-on-1’s. He made a double move and had Pippins tripping mid route, easily getting him wide open to catch the pass for a long touchdown.

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