FROM SPOKANE — This post is brought to you by a Starbucks in Shadle Park, where we've sought refuge after the gates of Joe Albi Stadium were apprently on the verge of closing. Keep reading for more notes and such from another riveting spring game, which the Gray team won, 22-21.
The most obvious takeaway today is this: everyone seemed a little hesitant in the first half, which may help explain how the offenses allowed a combined eight sacks in that time despite the fact that the defenses weren't permitted to blitz (more on that below). And then things changed for the better in the second half, with the offenses moving the ball a little better and everyone just seeming more in sync overall.
Austin Apodaca gave a pretty honest assessment of his play afterward, saying that he was battling some nerves in the early going but settled down after the halftime break.
“I thought it was very inconsistent,” the second-year freshman quarterback said. “I struggled at the beginning —nerves, just thinking too much. But I think towards the end once I kind of figured myself out a little bit and stopped thinking and played a little bit of football, I calmed down a lot and hit my reads and it’s a pretty simple offense when it comes down to it. Just hitting your reads and moving the chains, and I think I struggled doing that just because I was trying to do too much in the beginning. But I think overall it got better today and I’m going to watch film on Monday and get better from that.
“I think we were just tight overall as a group. (If) something didn’t click right away, we’d kind of just go downhill from there instead of going onto the next play.i think that’s one of the biggest things we’ve got to overcome. If something bad happens we can’t get in the fetal position and cry about it. We’ve got to play the next play. It’s what coach Leach is always preaching and the same thing goes for a good play. If we make a good play we can’t boast on it. We’ve got to play the next play and continue to make routine plays.”
Connor Halliday more or less agreed, hitting on the same point about WSU needing to avoid getting down when things go wrong.
“If we’re going to be the team that we want to be next year, we’ve got to fight through those lulls at the middle of the scrimmage,” Halliday said. “I think that’s kind of the biggest thing we’re fighting right now. We did get through that in the second half and moved the ball a little bit, so that was good.”
The second half wasn't supposed to last as long as the first. A running clock was to be used for 30 minutes. But Leach didn't like WSU's work in the first half, so he gathered the team at midfield during halftime and told them they were going to play a full second half.
“He had a few words to say for us. He just wanted us to step our game up, play like we wanted to play, like we really wanted to be out here today after all the practices,” said receiver Gabe Marks. “We should be excited to come out here and play in front of everybody, so he just wanted to focus us up a little bit and I think it helped a little in the second half. We scored a little more.”
… Both quarterbacks wound up posting pretty decent stat lines, though Halliday made a few throws he likely wishes he could have back. His two interceptions were both avoidable, especially since the second one — a pick by Taylor Taliulu at the goal line — was on a first-down play from the 14-yard line. The first, a forced throw that Jared Byers intercepted, never should have been thrown.
There was also a wide-open wheel route to Rickey Galvin that Halliday overthrew in the first half. It would have been an easy touchdown if he'd connected on it.
“When I missed that wheel route to Rickey where he was wide open, I think everybody kind of took a deep breath and was a little frustrated about that and we’ve just got to battle through that,” Halliday said.
Otherwise, he was pretty effective, completing 38 of 58 passes for 406 yards and three touchdowns. That's a 65.5 completion percentage and an average of 7 yards per attempt.
“I thought other than turnvovers, Connor played pretty decent the second half,” Leach said. “Austin, when he settled in played good. I thought he just played nervous and frantic a little bit the first half.”
Apodaca completed 27 of 45 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown.
… The running game was … not good. Official stats have WSU with minus-17 rushing yards, a number influenced by a combined 79 yards lost by the quarterbacks, almost all of it on sacks. Still, WSU's running backs combined for just 62 yards on 18 carries. Jeremiah Laufasa led the way with 31 yards on four carries.
… As mentioned above, WSU's defenses were about as vanilla as could be today. Leach said that because of his efforts to split the two teams as evenly as possible, there were players who weren't used to playing alongside each other. So he figured it would be easier, from an execution standpoint, to eliminate a chunk of the defensive playbook.
Both defensive fronts managed to get pretty good pressure — Kache Palacio and Sherman Hutcherson each had two sacks — and the defenses combined for 10 total sacks.
“We had four-man rush all day, and they did a pretty good job, but it’s hard on those kids up front with as much as what our offense throws the ball to keep getting that push, that push for 150-some snaps,” defensive coordinator Mike Breske said. “But I was real happy overall. Third down, we started off real hot on third down getting off the field and we kind of slowed down there. That’s been an emphasis, just develop more consistency getting off the field on third down.”
Darryl Monroe said the lack of blitzes made it a quarterback's game.
“I feel like it was very frustrating because the quarterback’s looking at me and I’m looking at him, and I’m trying to say a few things, shake him up a little bit to at least get him a little rattled and flustered in the pocket, but he knows we can’t blitz,” Monroe said. “So he’s just sitting back there, picking his nails, looking at the defense, picking his teeth, probably even talking to himself in his head, like, 'all right, this guy’s going to be open in two seconds.'”
Leach said he wasn't particularly concerned about the sack numbers, citing the fact that the offensive lines were also comprised of players who hadn't necessarily played together a whole lot.
… Kristoff Williams had a huge game, catching seven passes for 136 yards and an 80-yard touchdown catch and run. Marks had 11 catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns, and Isiah Myers caught seven passes for 111 yards and a touchdown.
Williams' size and strength makes him a weapon on the outside, especially when he ducks inside to catch screen passes.
This was the second consecutive scrimmage that Williams dominated.
“If Kristoff is playing the way he is, we’re a completely different team,” Halliday said. “We have Isiah that can back up Gabe over at the Z spot, and then Kristoff and Dom (Williams) can hold onto that X spot down there. So if Kristoff’s playing that way, we are a completely different team.”
… Announced attendance was 8,340, more than 2,000 fewer than last season's game.
… Taliulu and Justin Sagote led in tackles with 11 each. Anthony Carpenter had a strong day at cornerback, breaking up three passes and recording seven tackles.
… Monroe said he had wagered something on the outcome of the game — though he wouldn't say what — but that he wouldn't be paying after the game was called following Gray's final score with more than five minutes still showing on the clock.
Jess Brown connected with Marks on a 21-yard touchdown pass, then hit Theron West for a 2-point conversion to put Gray ahead 22-21. But since the game had gone about 150 plays already, it was ruled over at that point.
“It was five minutes left on the board, I’m going to just leave it that way,” Monroe said. “I don’t want to go too in-depth into it. I’m still pretty upset. But it was still five minutes left. Let us finish it out. That’s all I’ve got to say.”
… Here's a PDF with the official stats from the game: