Spring Finale: Cougs bring it

PULLMAN -- The snow flurries were an appropriate anecdote for the flood of players making a splash as spring football came to a close during Saturday's final scrimmage. The odd April weather didn't cool down the Cougars though, and there was something for everyone. Jason Hill found the end zone twice and Alex Brink sharply moved the offense, while the D stood tall in the red zone and even more so against the run. Heck, even a gleam of last seasons early kicking success re-emerged.

SCHEDULE CHANGE: Mark your calendars for this upcoming Wednesday, April 19, at 12 p.m. PT when Robb Akey, defensive coordinator for the Cougs, will be answering questions in the CF.C chat room during a lunchtime session. A subscription is required to access the Chat Room, which you can take out for a FREE 7-day test drive. Click here for membership options: CF.C Premium Access –- though the annual Total Access Pass is the best deal, both in terms of price and perks) The chat with Jeff McQuarrie, producer and director of an upcoming new 4-hour documentary about the colorful history of Cougar football has been rescheduled for the following Wednesday.

Squads on both sides of the ball refused to give an inch all day but in the end, the offense gained the upper hand, scoring two touchdowns and three field goals.

The offense, led by the outstanding play of All-American candidate and wide receiver Jason Hill, garnered 243 yards through the air during Saturday's scrimmage.

Hill easily had the play of the day, turning an Alex Brink desperation pass into a 55 yard touchdown play. On the play, Hill caught a short ball and proceeded to weave his way across the field, making cut after cut to elude the defense for the score.

THE SOLID PLAY of Jed Collins continued as he turned in a team high five receptions, totalling 61 yards. Coach Bill Doba said he likes what he has seen out of Collins as an offensive threat at his new position this spring -- tight end.

"Collins made some nice receptions today and has played well all spring and that is good to see to add depth to the tight end position," Doba said.

In a game dominated by the first and second lines, the third and fourth line of quarterbacks saw little action, but young gun Cole Morgan made the most of the time he had.

Morgan completed 2-of-3 passes, including an 18 yard touchdown pass to a former fellow Ballard High teammate who seems to be "the man" this spring to turn to in the end zone, Tony Thompson, who hauled in his third TD reception of the spring. Doba said he has been very impressed with the play of Thompson the last couple weeks, while special teams coach Kelly Skipper weighed in earlier this week, saying Tony T had sewn up the long snapper's job.

ON THE OTHER side of the ball, solid play continued as lineman Mkristo Bruce and cornerback Tryon Brackenridge both made strong defensive plays on the day.

Bruce, and the rest of the stop corps, brought pressure on the offense all afternoon and succeeded on numerous occasions in breaching the line, creating chaos in the backfield and racking up four sacks on the day.

Indeed, Bruce broke through the line with fiery force on one occasion, sacking Brink for a loss of six yards as the scrimmage clock was dwindling down. The other three sacks were made by defensive tackle Aaron Johnson, defensive end Lance Broadus and defensive linemen Terence Simmons for a combined loss of 18 yards on the three tackles.

Coach Doba sang the praises of Brackenridge, who among his quality defensive plays, also turned in a 34 yard kick-off return. On the heels of cutting commentary by coach Ken Greene on the play of his secondary as a whole, Brackenridge recorded multiple pass break-ups and racked up 6 tackles on the day. Doba also chatted up the play of safety Michael Willis, who has been a fixture in the hard-hitting defensive plays this spring.

The defense limited Cougar running backs Saturday to just 49 yards on 30 carries.

AND THE KICKING game showed signs of life, as Loren Langley turned in his best performance of the spring. ‘Peanut' was 3-of-4 on the afternoon, sailing the ball through the uprights from 21, 42, and 25 yards and making all the point after attempts. The only miss came on a 36 yard attempt that seemed to be a miscommunication between holder Darryl Blunt and Langley with the ball squirting out at a low line drive 15 yards short of the uprights.

Players Optimistic About Leadership, sing praises of Brink
A number of players gathered around reporters following Saturday's final scrimmage of the spring, and although the mood was fairly laid-back and even jovial, the dominant theme of discussion was one of optimism for the upcoming year.

"We had a tough season last year, there were a bunch of games we could have won" said junior-to-be tight end Jed Collins, "But this year we are gonna be a bowl team, I mean, we always want the PAC-10 championship, but we're going to take it one win at a time."

The chief reason for the heightened optimism lies in leadership the players said, and following this spring's session the Cougs have found a number of players to look to for guidance, with none more prominent in discussion than quarterback Brink.

"I think a lot of the games we could have won last year we'll be able to pull out with the play of a couple of our big guys, like Brink," said Collins. Echoing that sentiment was newly named No. 1 center Josh Duin, who said, concerning Brink: "Heading into the fall it's exciting to have the leadership that we have, and I have been really impressed with the play of Alex this spring,"

But are the shoulders of the newly appointed offensive captain broad enough to handle the expectations of his team? According to the man in question himself, the answer is yes. "The most important thing for me (this spring) was to step up in the leadership role, and I feel like I did that" said Brink. "I appreciate my teammate's confidence in me, and my coach's confidence, and being in that position is really an honor for me."

Brink's test will start early this fall, as the team opens the 2006 season in the home of powerhouse Auburn.

Defense Coming Together
Following a spring which saw a litany of defensive players go down with injuries, and an '05 season where the Cougs ranked near the bottom of the league in most defensive categories, D-coordinator Robb Akey is nonetheless optimistic about the Coug's D for this fall.

"The guys that did get to practice really showed up (this spring)" Akey said. "And I think when we have the whole crew together in the fall, keep them healthy and have a good camp, we could really have some fun with these guys."

Specifically mentioned by Akey as top performers this spring were sophomore safety Michael Willis, senior cornerback Tyron Brackenridge, and junior defensive end Matt Mullennix.

"Matt has had a-hell-of-spring," said Akey, praising the 6-6, 252 pounder from Liberty, Washington as one of the biggest performers of the spring sessions.

That performance wasn't noticed only by his coach either, as fellow defensive lineman Mkristo Bruce, a senior, also touted the play of his fellow linemen. "I'm playing next to this guy and I am so excited, he makes me want to play harder," Bruce said. "He's stepped up and it seems like he has been starting for four years. The kid is outstanding and I am excited to play with him, he makes me better."

Kicking Battle Rages On
The scales tipped once again in favor of Darryl Blunt as the battle for the punter position continued during Saturday's scrimmage. Coach Bill Doba said Blunt turned in an impressive performance on the afternoon, but added that the battle has gone back and forth all spring and although they anticipated naming a No. 1 at spring's end, no one has yet been declared the starter.

"I think they'll both compete," Doba said. "One day one looks good and the other the next one does and today Blunt won the battle, he had some really good kicks on the ball."

Blunt had five punts on the day, with the longest one going for 54 yards, but it wasn't the distance that made the impression. Blunt's kicks sailed through the air with solid hangtime and quality revolutions.

Fritz Brayton, the other punter in contention, also had 5 punts on the day, with the longest going for 51 yards.

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