Spring Ball Day 8: Running to daylight

PULLMAN --- The second scrimmage of the spring was held in ideal conditions at Martin Stadium, with early morning temperatures comfortably in the mid-60's. During the two-hour session the offense ran 99 plays and observers were treated to a day when the ground attack took center stage. Headlining that attack—<b>Allen Thompson</b>.

The running game looked solid again on Saturday. Allen Thompson lead the pack with 72 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown. Thompson showed explosive speed—going virtually untouched until breaking into the secondary as he ripped off a 26-yard gain, finally going down inside the 10-yard line.

A couple plays later Thompson found the endzone with a leaping two-yard touchdown plunge. Coach Bill Doba said Thompson is a tough back who runs hard and added, "..Knock on wood, that shoulder has been good so far all spring."

Good enough to see time as a true freshman in ‘01, Thompson started one game and played in the first five before a high ankle sprain ended his season. He missed the first half of '02 due to a left shoulder injury and in his first game back, re-injured the shoulder and was lost for the remainder of the year. Then last year, in the seventh practice of fall camp, the shoulder again was injured and he underwent surgery, ending his '03 season.

If Thompson can stay healthy, Cougar fans are going to get a chance to find out just how special a back he truly is.. and Thompson can expect to see the ball plenty more this Spring. "We need to work him hard and see if that shoulder holds up," coach Bill Doba has said.

Freshman Kevin McCall also had a stellar day showing good moves and an explosive burst with 59 yards on 15 carries. McCall looked more impressive than the numbers indicate—he turned a few plays destined to be tackles-for-loss into 1-2 yard gains.

McCall displayed some ‘escapability' on Saturday—breaking tackles on his way to double-digit gains. Chris Bruhn saw only limited action today; Doba said the senior had a slight hamstring injury—nothing serious.

Doba was also pleased with the play of his quarterbacks. They were, on balance, more efficient than last Saturday's scrimmage going a combined 24-42, a 57 percent clip, for 296 yards through the air.

Those numbers could have been even better—there were seven catchable balls dropped by receivers by one count. On this day it was not Swogger, Hurd, or Brink—but rather walk-on Mike Reilly—who was the most efficient passer for the second scrimmage in a row. The 6-2, 188-pound RS freshman finished 8-9 for 112 yards and a touchdown.

And it would have been 9-9 had not safety Hamza Abdullah flown in to take away a sure touchdown catch. Abdullah accounted for the sole interception of the scrimmage on the play.

Some of Reilly's highlights: On 3rd and 20, he was forced to roll left and delivered a tight spiral downfield to John Williams for a 51-yard gain. Later, he connected on a 34-yarder to Jeffrey Muai, putting the offense on the 5-yard line.

Reilly, originally from the Tri-Cities before moving to Kalispell, Montana halfway through his junior year of high school, played prep football with linebacker Scott Davis.

When Brink got his chance under center, he threw a 12-yard completion to wideout Scott Selby. Selby, who grayshirted last season, finished with 2 receptions for 20 yards. Brink then completed a 30-yard pass to Jeffrey Muai near the goal line. Muai was the leading receiver on the day with 86 yards on just 3 catches.

Marty Martin and Tramaine Murray were consistent targets throughout the day, (as they have been all Spring), catching a combined 12 receptions for 121 yards. Martin made a couple tough catches including a play action pass from Swogger, with Swoggs rolling to his right and connecting with Martin for the 39-yard gain.

On another play, Martin was hit hard as the ball came in, but somehow managed to hang on for a short gain. Martin finished with 6 reception for 56 yards. Offensive Coordinator Mike Levenseller mentioned Martin's vast improvement this spring and noted it's the perfect time for him to step up, "(Martin) needed to do that at this time in his career, and he has."

When the offense needed the clutch first down they looked to Murray however, who moved the sticks on a couple 3rd-and-longs with some nice catches. Murray also displayed good downfield moves, tallying some impressive YAC numbers, (yards-after-contact).

Levenseller said Martin has all the ability necessary to be in the rotation come fall, he just needs to play confidently and physically—Mental toughness is, of course, a prerequisite for all the receivers in Levy's corps.

Levenseller also took a moment to mention the wideouts who will join the Cougs later this summer. He's excited about the group of receiver recruits coming this fall, citing Michael Bumpus and JC transfer Greg Prator, who is a "tough, physical specimen that could find his way into the lineup fairly early," as two to watch for.

Levenseller is also looking forward to having Troy Bienemann and a healthy Cody Boyd in the mix, something he has yet to experience this Spring.

The tight end situation on Saturday itself was even thinner—Cody Boyd is not yet ready for full contact plus Troy Bienemann and Jessie Taylor sat out with minor injuries. Having Boyd and Bienemann and what they both bring to the offense is something Levy is looking forward to, pointing out its a tremendous advantage for the O given their speed and pass-catching ability.

Sophomore Sean O'Connor, listed as the No. 2 center on the Spring depth chart, lined up at tight end and had a reception today for six yards.

O'Connor is one to keep an eye on. He filled in exceptionally well last year at tight end, especially as a blocker. Adding to his value, he can line-up anywhere according to Doba. "He can play center, guard, and tight end," Doba said. "He could probably line-up at tackle if we wanted him to."

As much as the running game and the offense was the story, the defense shouldn't be overlooked. The defensive ends put on a good pass rush all day—forcing quarterbacks out of the pocket and on the run. Adam West had a sack on Hurd and Mkristo Bruce tallied a sack of his own, on Brink.

Also, consider the offense ran the ball 48 times on Saturday. Besides Thompson and McCall, Cougar backs carried the ball an additional 19 times. On those 19 carries, the defense gave up a total of 22 yards. Overall, the defense gave up 3.18 yards-per-carry on Saturday.

Still, everything isn't clicking on all cylinders yet—nor would you expect it to be on the eighth day of Spring Ball. The offense had a number of false start penalties, including two in a row on different possessions. The offense also was guilty of a couple of holding calls, costing them field position. The defense did not go un-penalized either, with a five-yard facemask call and later, pass interference near the goal line.

Graham Siderius slipped and hit his planting foot heal coming down some steps according to Doba and was not 100 percent for the scrimmage today. Still, Siderius was 1-2 on a pair of 47-yard field goal attempts. Punter Kyle Basler boomed three kicks, averaging 44.6 yards.

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