Here are my three takeaways from Tuesday’s practice:
1. Defense adjusting quickly to Stanford and Christian McCaffrey
- I’m going to have some fun with this one: Alijah "McCaff" Lee. That’s right. The Cougar D is dialing in on how they will key on McCaffrey with third-year sophomore running back Alijah Lee (pictured above) doing his best imitation of the Heisman finalist from just a year ago. Lee donned a No. 5 jersey at practice, saw plenty of targets and action given how much Stanford has McCaffrey touch the ball and in various spots in different offensive formations. The defense had to make a few corrections here and there as they started to adjust to the entirely new offensive playbook that is Stanford's. But for the most part, they looked dominant against the scout team (as you might expect) and seemed to understand their assignments and gap responsibilities very well. They faced all sorts of Stanford-esque styles and packages. I can’t say they looked fully ready yet, but wouldn't be surprised if by tomorrow, they are mostly locked in.
2. Offense carrying momentum into practice
- If you’re wondering whether or not the offense has their stuff figured out yet, you can stop wondering. They proved last Saturday they can play with anyone in the conference – and that’s the attitude that they brought to the practice field on Tuesday. If it ain't broke, don’t fix it, right? Luke Falk did have some hiccups during practice (tossing an interception on a poorly thrown ball one time), but overall showed he was back to his efficient and calculated self that Cougar fans love to see. The running back corps continued to do their thing as the offensive line worked on finishing their blocks. Though we didn’t see much of it against Oregon, these Coug receivers are always dangerous deep threats every single day in practice – so there's that, too.
3. Luani the hybrid and Taylor the up-and-comer
- Senior safety Shalom Luani played nickel for most the game against Oregon and was showing more of the same in practice today. That doesn't mean we won't see fifth-year senior Parker Henry (or fourth-year junior Kirkland Parker). Whatever is best for the team is what the Cougs need to keep doing. If Luani plays there Saturday as much as he did against Oregon, it also might a result of how junior Robert Taylor has been playing at safety. Taylor had somewhat of a rough start to the season, but recently has shown serious improvement and an ability to ably manage the free safety position. This defense, to my eye, is really starting to come together. There are weapons on the field that give WSU a great chance at success.
Here are more highlights and observations from Tuesday’s practice:
- Luani picked off two passes against the scout team. One came after he cut off a route, the other coming off a tipped ball that hit off a scout receiver’s hands.
- During the offense's team period, freshman linebacker Chima Onyeukwu intercepted a pass from Falk.
- Third-year defensive end Hercules Mata'afa made an incredible tackle for loss in the backfield, stripping the ball from the running back and recovering the fumble.
- Fourth-year junior running back Jamal Morrow pulled in a fingertip catch on a throw from Falk as he stretched out to make the play.
- Hilinski hit sophomore receiver Kyle Sweet for a deep pass completion during the team period.
- Second-year freshman running back James Williams was handed the rock and moved the chains after fighting for extra yards when he was initially held up at the line of scrimmage.