Cougar O turns back pass rush on Day Five

PULLMAN -- The play of the day on Saturday was turned in by Robert Lewis. The senior inside receiver, seemingly trapped in double coverage in the end zone, leaped free to grab a Luke Falk pass with one hand in a play reminiscent of the NFL’s Odell Beckham Jr. But Lewis was far from the only Coug on offense turning in top plays on the fifth practice of spring ball.

A good-sized contingent of recruits were on hand to see Lewis's (pictured above) grab on junior day at Washington State. CF.C is making calls to recruits and prep sources -- look for more on in the coming days.

The offensive line stood out for the most part on Saturday and it started early.  In pass rushing exercises with quarterback Casey Brink taking snaps, senior offensive lineman Cody O’Connell (6-9, 370) looked solid, with a great block against the hard-hitting junior defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa (6-2, 255).

Sophomore RUSH Derek Moore (6-1, 246) might have been the quickest in moving past his man, and junior RUSH Logan Tago (6-3, 245) was also effective in getting to Brink.

Potential starting right guard Robert Valencia (6-6, 295) was solid in his pass protection, as was sophomore Noah Osur-Myers (6-4, 307) when snapping to Brink from the center position.  Valencia is battling with B.J. Salmonson at right gurad this spring, while Osur-Myers is facing Frederick Mauigoa at center.

D-line coach Jeff Phelps could hardly contain his excitement when sophomore DL Nnamdi Oguayo (6-3, 229) got past redshirt OL Liam Ryan (6-5, 287). When junior DL Kingston Fernandez (6-2, 262) managed to move past Valencia, however, Phelps was less complimentary.

The first-year d-line coach appeared to want better technique from Fernandez, thinking the junior should be able move past his blocker a little more quickly.

Junior linebacker Chima Onyeukwu (6-2, 255) also pleased Phelps and the defensive staff by beating second-year freshman OL Nilsson Gaisoa (6-5, 313).

But another second-year freshman o-lineman, Christian Haangana (6-4, 358), was blocking so well that he was even making cracks at the defensive players at one point, much to the delight of the rest of the O-line.

The pass rushers would have the last laugh, however, when Tago beat Gaisoa so quickly and thoroughly that Phelps and the rest of the defensive staff and players erupted in joy, which surely did not please offensive line coach Clay Maguire.

THE COUGS WENT full contact in the 11-on-11 “team portion” of practice and began with Hilinski under center. The offense didn’t have the most auspicious start. After two linemen jumped offside on the first two plays, a visibly annoyed Hilinski yelled to his offensive teammates, “Huddle up!”

Whatever he said in the huddle, however, must have worked.

Hilinski immediately got started with a quick pass to Isaiah Johnson-Mack on the sideline, followed by consecutive completions to senior outside receiver C.J. Dimry (6-5, 213). Dimry didn’t get many yards after the catch, but it didn’t matter.  Hilinski and offensive unit were now locked in.

The first touchdown came after Tago applied pressure, causing the sophomore QB to scramble towards the right sideline before connecting on a beautifully thrown 40-yard pass to Kyle Sweet.

Senior linebacker Frankie Luvu (6-3, 240) had a few big plays, at one point stuffing James Williams behind the line of scrimmage on consecutive plays. Luvu was effective in getting pressure on Hilinski, but simply causing him to scramble didn’t help contain the Cougars’ offense.

On one of Luvu’s best rushes against the quarterback, Hilinski escaped and found Kyrin Priester for a touchdown, seemingly using the chaos of the broken play as an asset rather than a liability.

On the very next play, Hilinski found slot man Renard Bell in the end zone against a sleeping secondary.

When Falk took Hilinski’s place, it didn’t get any better for the defense, as Falk almost immediately found sophomore wideout Dezmon Patmon (6-4, 211), who burned the veteran Pippins for a 10-yard touchdown.

Pippins followed up by laying a devastating hit on inside man Sweet, but not before Sweet hauled in the ball for another completion.

A particularly tough sequence for the Cougar D started on a short pass, when Tavares Martin Jr. beat both Marcus Strong (5-9, 170) and senior safety Robert Taylor (5-10, 183) for what would have been a 50-yard touchdown if the coaches didn’t stop the play to reset and try again. 

On the next play, Priester left true freshman corner Zaire Webb (5-10, 169) in the dust for 25-yard touchdown from Falk.

After Lewis' spectacular grab, Easop Winston followed with an impressive move to keep his feet in bounds to take the ball down to the 1-yard line.

IT WAS A nice change of pace for the offense to have so much success after an uneven start to the spring. The defense, while certainly enjoying a few Saturday highlights, was left far less pleased.

After most of the offense was already in the locker room, Phelps kept his pass rushers out on the field, having them sprint from the sideline to the middle of the field and back.

MEANWHILE, ON special teams, sophomore receiver Cooper Solomon (5-9, 185) played punter in a special teams drill focused on blocking punts. Fellow sophomore Johnson-Mack looked quick and athletic in getting to ball in the drill, while Solomon was more easily able to get kicks off against juniors cornerback Darrien Molton (5-10, 181) and linebacker Bridget Buckley (5-11, 215), neither of whom could match Johnson-Mack’s speed.

In a separate punting drill, Sweet and a pair of redshirt freshman — punter Tommy Park (5-10, 182) and kicker Jack Crane (6-2, 180) alternated punting into the end zone. Sweet seemed to have the most powerful leg of the bunch, often booting the ball over the head of the return man from more than 40 yards out.

Running back James Williams (5-11, 192) and defensive back Josh Emmy (5-8, 180), both sophomores, senior safety Robert Taylor (5-10, 183) redshirt freshmen receivers Riley Krenz (5-10, 180) and Renard Bell (5-8, 155), as well as true freshman wideout Hayden Harvey (6-2, 160) took turns as returners.

While Harvey and Krenz looked particularly agile escaping tackles on returns in the drill, Williams — who’s identified his lack of consistency as his biggest problem this spring — seemed a little unfocused, dropping a few balls in the drill.

RELATED: First of two reports on Day Five

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