A different take on WSU’s scrimmage

PULLMAN -- While everyone seems to be salivating over the Cougar offense’s performance in Saturday’s scrimmage, I came away with a different take.

From my seat on the 50-yard line, it was the WSU defense that consistently won the day.

The speed as unit was apparent throughout the 11 spots and they brought the physicality all day long. I thought they played with more urgency and aggression than their offensive counterparts. 

Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch seemed to dial up more exotic blitzing than normal for a spring scrimmage and it led to six sacks and a number of stuffed run plays.

On a few occasions I made it a point to watch the defensive backfield, training in on safety Robert Taylor, rush linebacker Logan Tago or cornerback Marcus Strong.  But time after time, I was drawn to Peyton Pelluer being in the thick of a gang tackle (pictured above) or interrupting a receiver’s route. The senior linebacker seems to me the unquestioned leader on D and the group rallies around him. 

The defensive unit played best in the red zone, denying passes and run plays by the offense on multiple occasions. This wall continued with the 2’s, including a pass breakup on a slant route by new cornerback Grant Porter.  The second-year freshman and former receiver has long arms, quick hips and his familiarity with the receiver position allowed him to make many plays. He’s raw but my take was Porter could find his name in the 2-deeps before long if he keeps it up. 

Senior cornerback Marcellus Pippins had an electric pick of Tyler Hilinski on a crossing route intended for Isaiah Johnson-Mack. He made a great break on the ball and might have gone for six in a live game. This followed a nice break up of another slant route on the goal line.

I didn’t notice a ton of “big plays” from the defensive line but I thought they looked solid and focused in. And their play allowed the rest of the unit to consistently make the plays they needed to.  They filled the holes, got a good push on the offensive line and their pre-snap movements caused a few false starts. 

I was impressed with the beef.  Senior Daniel Ekuale held things down, while sophomores Hunter Mattox and Nnamdi Oguayo, senior Garrett McBroom and junior Hercules Mata’afa provide good size at the other D-Line spots.  I think  WSU needs to stay healthy there, but I think they have the size.

One thing I noticed was new DL coach Jeffrey Phelps watching like a hawk about 15 yards off the line of scrimmage throughout the day.  He isn’t nearly as loud as Joe Salave’a. Phelps was individually working with one or two guys on technique from time to time. But he seemed really intent to just gather more information about his guys.

Observations on offense:
Hilinski looks good.  At one point early on, Hilinski had a superb deep ball to wide receiver Dezmon Patmon on the run. After escaping some pressure by rolling out, he tossed it about 40 yards in the air and Patmon caught it in stride.   Later on, he had another great ball to junior Tavares Martin Jr. up the seam -- after looking off the entire defense to the right.         

It seems that Hilinski is getting more reps than Luke Falk throughout the spring.  It could be that the coaches know what they have in the senior and I can see that.  But at the same time, I would hope that Falk is developing chemistry with new receivers stepping in for departed seniors Gabe Marks and River Cracraft.

Senior running back Jamal Morrow had a 10-yard scamper in the red zone for a touchdown. He then drew a flag for excessive celebration, which I wish I was making up, but you know Pac-12 refs are gonna Pac-12 ref.  

Sophomore running back James Williams continues to be flashy and fun.  He scored on a touchdown pass from Falk on a screen.  It was perfectly executed by the entire offense and was capped off with some shifty moves from Williams.

As is the case in most scrimmages, there was lots of movement up and down the offensive line, mixing guys between all three levels. It's great to see a scrimmage with enough guys to field three separate units.  I remember going to practices before Leach when WSU could field about 1 1/2 units there. Those days are long gone.

The kickers were 6 of 7 from various distances and spots.  Starter Erik Powell was good from 27, 32 and 37 yards.  

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