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PRACTICE: Washington State's running backs have been a major part of their Air Raid attack and stepped it up to another level Monday

PULLMAN - When Washington State hit the practice field Monday night, I was expecting to see what Mike Leach previewed in his press conference. He didn't suggest there would be a different approach at practice this week even with so much on the line - a Pac-12 North division title and Apple Cup bragging rights. What I saw at practice Monday night told a completely different tale.

There was an extremely intense, high energy atmosphere inside Martin Stadium - where two freshly painted Apple Cup logos were displayed on the turf. Competition was fierce, bodies were flying around with both players and coaches getting hyped up on the field. 

Here are my three takeaways from Monday’s practice:

1. Wazzu running backs take charge

One thing is for sure, WSU is going to need everything they can get from their trio of running backs this week in order to have a shot at victory. On the ground and through the air, James Williams, Jamal Morrow, and Gerard Wicks showed why they have been the WSU's most effective position group on offense this year. I watched Williams catch a throw out of the backfield and weave through a few defenders before sprinting toward the end zone. Then Morrow took a carry right up the gut and mowed over a scout team defender before taking off for a score of his own. Wicks added more of the same and showed flashes of his explosive speed that often goes unnoticed. If there was any position group that completely bounced back after the Colorado loss, it was the return of Wazzu's three-headed monster group of running backs. 

2. Scout team brings the energy

I was left with the impression that this week’s rivalry matchup sparked a huge sense of urgency for the scout team who gave their absolute best look of the season this week. All three sides turned on the jets and played with fire as they worked to prepare for Friday’s game. Skyler Thomas set the tone early by doing his best impression of UW's speedster John Ross III when returning kickoffs with the scout team. Once the ball reached his fingertips, Thomas took off, exploding past the 40 yard line three different times while trying to knock down every Coug on kickoff coverage in his path. A few plays later, Chima Onyeukwu flat-backed one of WSU’s starting coverage players. The message was clear. This wasn't going to be an easy week of practice for anyone. Later on during seven-on-seven, Trey Tinsley and Dezmon Patmon put the WSU secondary to work. Tinsley was throwing dimes in between coverages and Patmon went up for every grab like his job was on the line. Regardless of what Leach might think, there was definitely a heightened level of energy on the practice field.

3. O-line dominates in pass protection

During the offensive line and defensive line one-on-one pass-rush/pass-protection period, WSU's O-line stifled the Cougar defensive front. I was hoping to see some sacks, but was shocked when the O-line was seemingly immovable and could not be penetrated. Andre Dillard and Cody O’Connell didn’t lose a single rep, and most of the other 1-on-1 battles went the offense's way. On one hand, it’s encouraging to watch the offense control the line of scrimmage. At the same time, WSU needs to have a stellar pass rush this week. Hopefully the D-line can turn things around tomorrow so that they are much better prepared to rush and disrupt plays in the backfield on Friday.

RELATED: WSU's Cody O'Connell an Outland Trophy Finalist

Here are more highlights from Monday’s practice:

- The kickoff return team executed one of their full speed reps to perfection. Every block fit up exactly how it was drawn up and Kaleb Fossum didn’t flinch as he broke into the open for a TD return.

- Frankie Luvu had one of his best practice sessions yet. He was dialed into UW’s run schemes, racking up several tackles-for-loss during the defense's team period.

- Shalom Luani continues to be excellent in coverage, but dropped an interception during team period. Luani has four picks this year, but probably could have five or six if it weren’t for drops.

- Erik Powell nailed a 41-yard field goal when special teams coach Eric Mele called for a random field goal attempt during the team period.

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