Cougars' spring wrap: Hicks has play of day

PULLMAN – You can rest assured that Washington State's injury situation on defense can't get any worse than it was Saturday in the final scrimmage of the spring football season. With some two dozen players out of action with injuries -- including way too many defensive linemen -- head coach Paul Wulff had to go with one tackle at times in order to keep players fresh.

Defensive end Jesse Feagin also took some reps inside to help spell the other players.

Despite the lack of bodies, the defense shined on this sunny Palouse day, holding the offense to 231 yards on 51 plays.

The play of the day belonged to senior safety Xavier Hicks who obliterated slot receiver Easton Johnson on a route across the middle. Just as a Dan Wagner pass was arriving in Johnson's hands, so did all 211 pounds of Hicks, who sent his former DB mate flying. The sound of the pads hitting could be heard throughout Martin Stadium.

The big plays on the defense didn't stop there. Three Cougar cornerbacks -- Brandon Jones, Daniel Simmons and Tyrone Justin – all turned heads. Justin made a tough interception on a poorly thrown pass by Wagner, and returned it 13 yards. Jones, the former Cal Bear and O'Dea High grad, showed the ability to close quickly, foiling a Wagner-to-Anthony Houston pass aimed at gaining yards after the catch. Simmons made a highlight-reel play on special teams, beating his guy around the end to block a field goal attempt. He also had a big shot on receiver Jared Karstetter.

At quarterback, Kevin Lopina had a good day, and despite an unimpressive stat line of 11 of 17 for 80 yards with no INTs, he was accurate. In fact, a couple of nicely thrown passes were dropped, and on a third-and-a-mile play he ran away from the rush and threw a beautiful strike to tight end Zach Tatman between four defenders. Tatman used his 6-5 frame to go high for the pass in what looked like a catch made for ESPN, but he was unable to hang on after getting hit a couple of times on the way down.

Lopina's worst passes came when he tried to throw the deep ball down the sidelines, and on one play he overthrew his receiver by more than 7 yards. Still, Wulff praised his performance. "Kevin Lopina, I thought made some really nice throws that weren't caught, but I thought Kevin did some really nice things there."

The biggest play of the day offensively came toward the end of the scrimmage, as the lack of depth in the defensive line rotation started to show. Wagner had a lot of time to throw, and saw tight end Andrei Lintz getting behind the defense. He fired the deep ball over Simmons and Lintz hauled it in for the only touchdown of the scrimmage. The play covered 38 yards.

The running highlight of the day came from Logwone Mitz, who led all backs with 34 yards on six carries. On this particular play, Mitz hurdled one defender, spun off another and broke a tackle before finally getting forced out of bounds.

Dwight Tardy also showed some nice skills as well. One one play, he made a tough run up the middle for seven yards, getting through two tackles before being brought down. On his other big gain, Tardy hurdled his first defender and was cheered on by his teammates for a great performance.

Tardy's improved health has been a big part of the improvement in the Cougar running game this spring. He blew a knee late in the 2007 season that hampered him in 2008. "My knee is a brand new knee now. Last year I was running on a peg leg, it just felt like I was running on stilts. I couldn't make those plants, I couldn't stick my foot in the ground and get vertical at all, I didn't trust my speed, I had no burst. I've been working really hard on my knee and trying to stay flexible, so it's been working out really well for me this spring...I'm strong again, smart again, trusting my legs and my feet. I really don't have any fear out there at legs are going to take me wherever I need to go."

* DEs Kevin Kooeyman and Casey Hamlett each registered sacks in the scrimmage.

* Strength and conditioning awards for offseason work were handed out by position, with Jesse Feagin and Andy Mattingly were among those receiving plaudits.

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