Spring finale: Wulff, Sturdy offer insights

PULLMAN -- Michael Willis is the comeback kid. He's battled injury and academic woes, and changed positions. And Saturday at Martin Stadium, in Washington State's final scrimmage of the spring season, the former safety put an exclamation mark on his resiliency and supercharged his chances of being part of the Cougars' 2008 rotation of receivers.

With star receiver Brandon Gibson standing on the sidelines with nothing left to prove after a great spring season, Willis took center stage with the first string offense, pulling in six receptions for 129 yards and a TD from Gary Rogers. Several of those grabs were in tight coverage.

"Willis is doing really well in school and he's turned the corner academically...he's made some nice plays in traffic and we're going to need that," Cougar head coach said of the Lincoln High in Tacoma graduate.

As for Gibson being idle, Wulff said, "Brandon has had a phenomenal spring, he's made every practice, taken every rep and worked his tail off. We don't need to see Brandon take 30 live reps on the last day of spring."

WSU's top two quarterbacks –- Rogers, the starter, and backup Kevin Lopina –- had solid outings under sunny Palouse skies. Rogers completed 12 of 19 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns, one to Willis and the other to tight end Devin Frischknecht. Lopina hit 10 of 15 passes for 154 yards and ran for a score. No. 3 QB Cole Morgan had his best day of the spring, going six for eight with one touchdown to Reid McEllrath. Second-year freshman Marshall Lobbestael completed one of threes passes for 12 yards.

LOGWONE MITZ: 6 carries, 41 yards.

At running back, the biggest news wasn't the 160 yards collected by the ball haulers or walk-on junior Jace Perry's 46-yard run. It was the facts Chris Ivory, who missed part of the spring in order to focus on academics, pulled up lame on a would-be touchdown run after taking a pitch. Ivory picked up 20 yards and was about to find the end-zone, but suffered what appeared to be a hamstring injury.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Cougs look to be making steady progress. A big emphasis all spring has been on fundamentals. And Saturday, the D tackled better than it has all spring. Linebacker Kendrick Dunn and corner Alfonso Jackson looked exceptionally sharp, with Dunn shutting down several runs in the backfield. Walk on safety Myron Beck has impressed the coaching staff all spring and turned in the hit of the day when he leveled an unidentified Cougar ball carrier and force a fumble.

Three walk ons -- LB Andrew Kreutz, DE Bryce Buslach and DT Bret Lindstrom -- each registered a sack, as did sophomore safety Chima Nwachukwu. Meanwhile, DE Andy Mattingly made a nifty knock down of pass with a big-time leap at the line of scrimmage. DT Adam Hineline continued to impress and is becoming a presence up front.

"WE FINISHED GOOD," sad Wulff of the overall scrimmage. "Really all 15 practices of the spring went fairly well. I don't think the players ever came out and wasted a day. We missed some people at times but the players that were practicing got better. We've got a lot of work to do but as long as they really commit themselves and dedicate themselves to each other then they've got an opportunity to really improve and be a much better football team."

He added, "I thought the players really made a lot of strides in Week 3 and we did a nice job this week to get better…a lot of times in spring football that doesn't happen so I'm very encouraged by their attitudes. We got more consistent on defense and I was very pleased with that and offensively there were signs of really good things. We made some strides on defense in moving people around and giving opportunities to some players that maybe had not had opportunities and I think that was a real positive. We had a few players kind of come back and make a difference like Andy Roof and Markus Dawes who are really going to make a difference next fall."

ROGERS, WHO PUT an iron-grip on the starting QB job this spring, was matter-of-fact about his role. "I know I'm the leader on the team and I'm the guy so I'm just trying to prove that on and off the field."

Lopina is diplomatic about being the understudy. "Right now Gary's the guy as a senior. Hopefully I can just move ahead and keep pushing him, I want to make him better and make myself better."

"Kevin had a good spring, he got better and better.," said Wulff. "Every player has to have an opportunity to compete and we're going to give them that. If some players decide to step over and really work and develop over the summer and they come back in the fall and outplay another person at that position then its our job to make sure we do what's best for the team."

Sturdy talked at some length about the Cougars' adaptation to the no-huddle offense.

"We're pleased with where we're at, but we've got a ways to go yet. We're not crisp in all situations. I'm happy with where my quarterbacks are at right now, both Gary and Kevin have made huge strides this spring," he said.

"The offensive line has made some strides as well, in the last two weeks especially…we just need to pick up our consistency. We've got some guys playing really good football up front and we've got some guys that are still making mistakes from time to time and we've just got to get that cleaned up." The tight ends and receivers may prove to be the strength of this offense.

The rash of injuries this spring have, in a way, been a blessing in disguise. As Sturdy points out, "If you're a glass half full type of guy and that's how I am, when you have injuries it gives some of the other guys a chance to step up and that is what helps build depth. Were still a long way away from being a mature football team and having depth, but we improved it this spring and we have to just keep plugging away and we're going to get there."

Gary Rogers passes over Kevin Kooyman as offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy looks on.

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