Sturdy optimistic; No. 2 O lights it up

PULLMAN – In a season where the punter has been the offense's best weapon, a pair of Cougs on Wednesday unexpectedly awoke the echoes of Gesser and Riley, Leaf and Jackson. Receiver Michael Willis and quarterback J.T. Levenseller teamed up for two head-turning plays during a short scrimmage near the day's end. Meanwhile, O-coordinator Todd Sturdy talked about where he sees the Cougs headed.

With the No. 2 D facing the No. 2 O, Willis first made a leaping, 20-yard grab over safety Tyree Toomer. He followed that up with a nice grab over the shoulder for a TD after blowing by the defense.

It wasn't all guns and roses for Levenseller, though. He fumbled on one play and he and Chantz Staden muffed a handoff on another. Still, like Kevin Lopina before him, he put good zip on most of his passes despite working under a mostly heavy rush.

STURDY SAID THE Cougars' uncharacteristic 28-point outpouring against Arizona last week was due in part to opening the playbook a bit wider. In addition, he said, Lopina "played pretty good football and did some real nice things."

"Our big thing is, we want to take another step this weekend and execute at a very high level. I'm really excited about the direction this thing is going, I think we're building depth," Sturdy said. "Our younger players are getting better and better, and we've just got to keep pressing forward. We've got a great plan and I'm very, very excited about the future."

THE NEWLY OPENED competition at guard is part of a bigger theme in the program, Sturdy said. "Here's the thing that has to happen, and it isn't across the board because of our depth. You have to perform at a high level, and if you don't, you get replaced. And that needs to be across the board, and the only way we can do that is depth. So we need to keep progressing and building as much depth as we can here, but we also have to do a great job of recruiting … Competition solves a lot of problems, it really does.

Steven Ayers and B.J. were the No.1 guards at Wednesday's practice. Andrew Roxas and Brian Danaher started last week. Vaughn Lesuma and Micah Hannam remained the No. 1 tackles.

Running back Logwone Mitz, fresh off his first collegiate start, was wearing the yellow no-contact jersey and took a limited number of reps during the practice. Staden shared most of the reps with Tardy, and Chris Ivory got into the action, but came up grabbing his long-ailing hamstring after trying to take a run to the outside.

Linebacker Myron Beck (broken hand) sat out the practice. He was replaced on the first string by Evans. DE Andy Mattingly (ankle) remained on the sidelines as well, with Kooyman taking his place. DT Adam Hineline got a fair number of reps along side DE Toby Turpin as dinged up Matt Mullennix spent part of the practice on the sidelines. Cornerback Tyrone Justin (ankle) suited up for practice, but didn't participate in the scrimmage. Fellow DB Romeo Pellum left the field for a portion of practice with an undisclosed ailment that didn't appear serious. TE Tony Thompson (concussion) remained sidelined, but Devin Frischknecht (high ankle) was back with the first unit and made a couple of grabs in practice.

• For the second time this week the Cougars on Wednesday took to the friendly confines of the large white practice bubble.

• Cougar coaches had players take extra time to stretch and focused much of the workout individual position groups.

• Staden showed off some shifty moves on a scrimmage flare pass that resulted in a first down.

• Linebacker Ken Dunn made his presence known in a big way on two successive plays during the scrimmage part of practice. Dunn first came flying around the end unblocked after defensive end Kevin Kooyman locked up two blockers to make a "sack" of Levenseller,. On the very next play, Dunn knifed through the line to blow up a running play in the backfield. Both plays were limited contact, so the senior linebacker had to run through the tackles rather than make them. Linebacker Corey Evans also came up big to stuff the run on a couple plays.

• Kickoff Saturday at Arizona State is at 2:30 pm Pacific Time. There will be no TV coverage.

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