5 takeaways from WSU spring scrimmage

PULLMAN — Luke Falk's numbers in the first spring scrimmage don't look impressive on paper -- 9-of-21 for 97 yards without a touchdown pass. By comparison, backup Tyler Hilinski was 16-for-24 for 203 yards and 4 touchdowns. I think there’s a simple explanation for this. Here are the five biggest things I saw from the first scrimmage of the spring.

1. Mike Leach knows all he needs to know about Luke Falk
Hilinski both started the day, and ended up with lots of snaps with WSU’s top receivers, because Leach doesn’t need to see much more of Falk. Luke’s the starter and everyone knows that.

Hilinski so far in spring ball has looked fantastic in making quick reads and scrambling when necessary. But game-like reps are hard to come by for the most protected position in football — and even today the defense of course wasn’t allowed to hit the quarterback.

But it only makes sense that Leach want Hilinski to get as much work in as possible this spring before (assumedly) taking the reins of the Cougar offense in the fall of 2018.

2. The nine sacks says more about the d-line than the o-line.
It’s true that the starters at right guard and center are not yet set for the Cougars — today we saw B.J. Salmonson (6-4, 300) and junior Robert Valencia (6-6, 295) both get reps with the first and second team at right guard.

The picture at the center position, however, was supposed to be a little less murky by now. It’s not.

Starting with the first team, projected starter sophomore Frederick Mauigoa (6-3, 205) let off with two bad snaps in a row. After the mishaps, fellow sophomore Noah Osur-Myers (6-4, 307) snapped for the first team the rest of the day.

Whatever happened on the field, however, wasn’t enough to satisfy Leach, who stayed after practice to have Salmonson, Mauigoa, and Osur-Myers all work on snapping the ball to each of the roster’s five quarterbacks.

Therein lies the problem with the centers — they simply don’t have the kind of experience they need in snapping the ball before an oncoming rush. Leach and Falk both know this, and are confident one of sophomore lineman will emerge as the reliable option next to veteran o-line leaders Cody O’Connell, Cole Madison and Andre Dillard.

So while the defensive line snuck by the pass protection on nine sacks — and a few more hurries — with more practice the Cougars are confident Falk (or anyone else) will have all the time they need to make the throws so important to Leach’s Air Raid.

3. It might be time to worry about the field goal unit.
Going 3-for-7 is not good. After starting senior Erik Powell (6-1, 201) missed his first two attempts from short distance, he made his next two from 38 and 42 yards out. If Powell can’t prove himself reliable, however, the Cougars might be in trouble, as second-year freshman walk on Jack Crane (6-2, 190) didn’t look much better, making only one of his three attempts during the day.

Should Leach consider having sometime rugby punter and full-time slot receiver Kyle Sweet add to his responsibilities by drop-kicking field goals in the style of Doug Flutie? Probably not, but the placekicker position is not a deep one for Washington State.

But nobody wants a repeat of last season, when Powell started off 0 of 5 before finishing on a 9 of 10 streak. Unless Powell starts connecting, expect Leach to keep Falk on the field for fourth downs within striking distance of the goal line.

4. James Williams wasn’t lying when he told us he needs to be more consistent.
Although he did have a great-looking 30-yard touchdown run (and one of the O-line’s best plays), the sophomore running back had a really bad day. He dropped multiple passes, often trying to turn his body towards the goal before having safely caught the ball. Leach was visibly upset with Williams’ performance.

The frustration makes sense, of course — Williams has shown flashed of brilliance all spring, only to follow them up with basic mental mistakes that should be below a premier Pac-12 running back. 

5. Linebackers look as good as ever.
Leading the with two sacks apiece — almost half of the day’s total for the Cougar defense — were Isaac Dotson (6-1, 224) and further down the depth chart, Nick Begg (6-5, 260).  The entire linebackers crew looked spot-on for the most part.

At times they had trouble with explosive run plays, but they were active in disrupting passes in coverage and rushing the quarterback to force hurried decisions.

I would say look for Begg to make a move up the depth chart -- if the two-deeps ahead of him weren’t already so good.

RELATED: CF.C scrimmage report

Cougfan Top Stories