Mitch Weholt /

PRACTICE: Grinch rolls out shemes to shut down Arizona dual threat quarterbacks

PULLMAN – Washington State took to Rogers Field on Wednesday to fine tune their schemes for their upcoming game against Arizona (Oct. 5, 1pm, Pac-12 Network). Mike Leach gave his offense a much needed wake up call that pumped up their energy and shifted practice into another gear.

Here are my three takeaways from Wednesday’s practice:

1.     Defense extremely physical against typical Arizona option schemes

-       The Cougar defense showed all the signs that it shouldn’t have much trouble with Arizona’s zone-read option offense this week. Wednesday’s performance displayed that the defensive line and linebackers had a clear understanding of their responsibilities against the zone-read. On each play, the front seven accounted for both attacks when it comes to the option – meaning that the quarterback had a man in his face to force the handoff while the rest of the defense focused on plugging the gaps for the running back. I didn’t see many mistakes on the day, but assuming that there were some, there couldn’t have been many. Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch looked very pleased with how his team was fitting up against almost every look they saw.  

2.     Johnson-Mack has a big day

-       Freshman Isaiah Johnson-Mack hasn’t received the amount of attention this year that I had expected. After watching Wednesday’s practice, it's clear that he still has a lot of trust from his starting quarterback. Luke Falk and Johnson-Mack connected on about a dozen completions, many going for long touchdown throws. Johnson-Mack could be a player to watch out for this week because most teams haven’t put much focus on him when he comes in for Gabe Marks. It was good to see him have a big day this late into the season because it just shows how many weapons this offense still has that have yet to be unleashed.

3.     Offense started slow, finished strong

-       The beginning of practice looked a little sluggish with receivers dropping some balls and the offensive lineman jumping once against a simuation of the ‘Cats front seven shifts. But after a quick Mike Leach dressing down, the offense immediately picked things up and had a perfect day from that moment on. Falk hit his targets right in stride and the running game looked to be more effective than it has in a long time. With Cody O’Connell firmly back at the left guard spot, fans could see another big day on the ground from the Cougs this coming Saturday afternoon.

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

-       After a muffed punt by the scout team, Jamal Morrow fielded the loose ball and made a few defenders miss before taking it back the other way for a touchdown.

-       Kirkland Parker had a really good day at the nickel spot. He made a few nice plays while in man-to-man coverage and almost had an interception while breaking up a pass.

-       Nick Begg did a great job of sealing the end when he was in with the 2’s at the defensive end spot. Begg, as well as a few other Coug defenders rotate along the D-line as coaches look to find some more depth across the board.

-       Gabe Marks made an acrobatic catch as he reached out to make a grab in tight man-to-man coverage down the field.

-       During the 1’s vs. 1’s team period, Tyler Hilinski had pressure in his face, but found Keith Harrington out of the backfield to give the offense a big gain to move the chains.

 RELATED: CFC TV: O-line helped by D-line reps

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