PRACTICE: Washington State's Isaac Dotson is becoming a leader on defense for the Cougars

PULLMAN – Wednesday’s practice wrapped up Washington State’s last full padded day of preparation for Saturday’s Pac-12 game in Palo Alto against Stanford (7:30pm, ESPN).

WSU ironed out some game plan adjustments today. Now it’s up to executing on both sides and playing sound football against the Cardinal.

Typically each in-season Thursday practice will allow one more period for fine tuning the game plan before the usual scrimmage which gives younger players important reps toward their development.

Here are my three takeaways from Wednesday’s practice:

1.     Dotson wreaking havoc

-       As always during practice, the starting defense reps the first few plays of the team period against either the first or second team offense. On Wednesday, it was the second team offense facing the defense's dime package look that has been shown many times in games this season. In this look, fourth-year junior linebacker Isaac Dotson plays at the MIKE spot. On the second play of the day, he shot through the line to sack second-year quarterback Tyler Hilinski in the backfield. Later during the defense's team period, Dotson (pictured above) stopped another play behind the line as he sacked the scout team QB. Dotson is starting to become one of the leaders on this defense, and showed that last week as he led Wazzu linebackers in tackles with 5 total and 3 solo. He also recorded an interception against the Ducks.

2.     Coug O-line having their way on the ground

-       Whenever one of Wazzu's three-headed monster group of running backs (James Williams, Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks) break free into the open field it’s a fun sight to see. It wouldn’t be a sight at all if it weren’t for the big boys up front on the offensive line doing all the dirty work. Wednesday’s practice showed that the O-line is really taking this run game to another level. They continue to open up massive holes allowing the trio of backs to work out in space against defenders in the open field. Their confidence could very well play a role in the way they are preparing this week. Oregon’s defense wasn’t the greatest challenge for these guys, but they have Pac-12 size and are loaded with talent to say the least. And that was last week. History. This week against Stanford, the Cougar O-line will face what will be their biggest challenge of the season so far.

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3.     Penetration key for defense this week

-       Outside linebackers coach Roy Manning pointed out after Wednesday’s session, “You have to be sound, you have to play in your gaps, you have to play with great pad level and be low.” They’ve obviously been coaching the guys on these three elements because they were vividly clear at practice. Not only did the defense look sound, but they were in the backfield and bringing it against the scout team offensive linemen. What’s good to see is that the defense doesn’t look like they're second guessing anything that their eyes are telling them. Even against play action, guys aren’t confused or caught off guard. Again, it’s going to come down to execution on both sides this week.

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

-       Third-year Rush Dylan Hanser sacked Hilinski just two plays after Dotson’s sack.

-       Offensive line coach Clay McGuire and head coach Mike Leach had the second team offensive line doing up-downs after they gave up the two sacks to Dotson and Hanser.

-       Luke Falk fit a tight throw in between coverage to hit fourth-year receiver Robert Lewis for long pass completion.

-       Third-year sophomore defensive end Hercules Mata'afa and second-year RUSH Logan Tago each had a sack against the scout team.

-       Second-year safety Hunter Dale forced a fumble against the scouts and recovered the loose ball.

-       Senior River Cracraft caught a tough throw from Hilinski who recognized man-to-man coverage against freshman safety Jalen Thompson.

-       Falk was sacked after miscommunication created a broken play. He looked for a receiver short but there was no one to be found. Third-year sophomore outside linebacker Greg Hoyd was there to record the sack.

-       Williams ripped off two huge runs during the team period. He looks very aggressive when he hits the hole and has the balance to keep his feet after contact.

-       Junior cornerback Marcellus Pippins broke up a pass attempt from Hilinski directed at sophomore WR Tavares Martin.

RELATED: CFC TV: Manning looking to build on pass rush

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