For a second day in pads, the Cougars' defense continues to outshine the offense

PULLMAN -- While the Washington State offense might have looked to be in much better form Thursday, the Cougars’ defense probably still put on a better performance by preventing any major yardage plays and improving on its successful outing from Tuesday.

Working with his unit, defensive line coach Jeff Phelps loudly told his linemen to be “Mobile, agile, hostile,” when attacking the line of scrimmage or getting to a ball carrier.

Phelps stressed the importance of having “fast feet” to his guys, and they took it to heart. Junior Kingston Fernandez (6-2, 262) and sophomore Hunter Mattox (6-3, 286) looked very quick in all their drills, but junior Nick Begg (6-5, 260) might have been faster than either, especially when it came to moving laterally.

“I think we’re flying around, we’re progressing, we’re getting used to (Phelps’) philosophy on his part of the game, and it’s coming together well,”  junior defensive lineman Hercules Mata'afa (6-2, 255) said of the defensive effort at practice Thursday.

The day started well for defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s squad. Senior linebackers Isaac Dotson (6-1, 224), Peyton Pelluer (6-0, 228), and Nate DeRider (6-1, 226) all won praise from linebackers coach Ken Wilson in drills focused on wrapping up a ball carrier. DeRider also gained Wilson’s attention for his quick explosions off the line of scrimmage.

Redshirt freshman nickel back Justus Rogers (6-2, 225), however, kept hitting the runner lower than Wilson would have liked, while fellow redshirt linebacker Jon Baumgardner (5-11, 227) drew positive words from Wilson with his precise attention to detail. In later drills, Rogers continued to struggle in turning the body of the ball carrier, while Baumgardner kept looking better and better. (Rogers did better in the full 11-on-11 team session, most notably with a hard hit on running back James Williams after a short-yardage over-the-middle catch that had the potential to be a much bigger gain.)

In later one-on-one drills between the defensive and offensive linemen, Phelps was decidedly more pleased than offensive line coach Clay Maguire. Begg, junior RUSH Logan Tago (6-3, 245), sophomore RUSH Derek Moore (6-1, 246) all had success getting past whichever lineman Maguire put in front of them. At one point, Tago beat junior and presumptive starter at left tackle Andre Dillard (6-5, 310) and slapped the ball out of quarterback Casey Brink’s hand, causing the defensive players to erupt in cheers while Dillard got a rare (and loud) dressing down from Maguire.

Phelps could barely contain himself, yelling “I like it! I like it!” as Fernandez beat freshman offensive lineman Keen King (6-4, 324) in the one-on-one competition.

Grinch led the secondary in a drill reacting to the quarterback’s eyes. Junior transfer defensive back Sean Harper (6-2, 184) struggled at first, but quickly recovered with a few athletic catches of purposefully overthrown balls in the drill.

Later, Grinch was effusive in his encouraging words for freshman cornerback Isaiah Love (6-0, 174) and sophomore safety Jalen Thompson (6-0, 190), both of whom looked fierce and energetic when jamming receivers. However, Grinch did call out Love in a later drill for not finishing his tackles consistently, while Thompson continued to please the coach with his quickness and effective hits.

The secondary continued to look fantastic. Junior corner Darrien Molton had a great day denying passes to both T.J. Martin (6-1, 183) and sophomore receiver Dezmon Patmon (6-4, 211). Redshirt freshman defensive back Zaire Webb (5-10, 169) broke up a pass with a big hit on sophomore wideout Kainoa Wilson (5-11, 170), who was a popular target for quarterback Luke Falk all day. Harper got in on the action too, nearly picking off a Falk pass to junior slot receiver Kyle Sweet (6-0, 192), while Thompson effectively contained Sweet in the end zone in later plays.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Jahad Woods (6-0, 216) also had a great day, breaking up a few Brink passes, chasing Keith Harrington all around the secondary, and finally intercepting a Brink pass intended for the junior back.

The defense continued to shine with Tago making big plays on consecutive snaps — first by collaborating with sophomore linebacker Tristan Brock (6-0, 255) on stuffing Harrington in the backfield, and then by helping Fernandez cause a Harrington fumble on the very next play.

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