Talking special teams on Thursday

COUGARS

FROM PULLMAN — Washington State held its standard Thursday night practice at Martin Stadium before it heads to Seattle tomorrow to take on Oregon. We have notes below, plus a conversation with special teams coordinator Eric Russell. Read on.


As usual, not a whole lot to report from the actual practice itself. Connor Halliday took all of the reps with the No.1 offense during scout work, the final indication that he remains the starting quarterback heading into this weekend's game, as Mike Leach said he probably would at the beginning of the week. Dan Spitz was absent from practice again. Wade Jacobson suited up and participated in practice, though it's not known if he'll be able to handle the rigors of game day.

Afterward, we spoke with Russell about the challenge presented by Oregon's special-teams units. Here's that conversation.

(How tough are they to deal with?) “I don’t know. We’ve got to put the emphasis on orselves and not get caught up in obviously … (De'Anthony) Thomas is a very explosive player, all year everybody’s been kicking away from him and that’s probably not a trend that’s going to change a whole lot. Last week against Arizona some of the changes in momentum, Arizona missed a lot of opportunities on teams. But it was more stuff Arizona did to themselves than necessarily what Oregon did. You drop a snap, you get blown up and they block a field goal. It’s avoiding the mistakes, playing sound and playing confident. And matching their speed. We’ve got to go play fast and have confidence and try to hem Thomas up. They’ve got more answers than just him though. It’s definitely going to be our biggest challenge of the year  so far and we’ll kind of see if we’ve made any strides or not.”

(Is Oregon kind of the gold standard in that regard?) “I’m not trying to make this game be about Oregon. It’s just the next opponent. We’ve got stuff that we need to improve on and what I’ve tried to do is show them the importance of situations that have come up and I’ve tried to give our guys some confidence. Right now Washington State in overall special teams play is second in the Pac-12. I don’t know when they’ve been there, when you combine all the rankings. So yeah, eventually would we like to be as dynamic and explosive as Oregon? Yeah, but I want our guys to be as explosive as Washington State can be and I don’t mean that to demean Oregon in any way because I think coach Osborne does a good job and they are well coached. Do we want to be looked at in that way? Yeah. Do I necessarily want to be Oregon? No, I want to be Washington State. I want people to some day look at the tape and say we’ve got to spend some time preparing for these guys and having answers, and they (Oregon) do force you to have answers.”

(Are you proud of how far this group has come so far?) “What I told them, and I was debating on recognizing them for what we’ve accomplished so far but I think they need some confidence, they need some good way to buy into hey, here’s what we’re teaching, here’s why we’re asking you to work so hard and I showed them and showed them where they were a year ago. But it is only one quarter of the way through the season, or one-thrid I guess, and we haven’t played the meat of our schedule, technically, yet. We don’t get a punt return called  back, we don’t get a kickoff return called back, we’re going to be ranked maybe No. 1 in the Pac-12 in teams play right now. We can go from there clear down to 8 or 9 real quick with one bad game. We’re continuing to get better, build confidence in yourself that you belong out there playing and you can compete with people. This is why you play the game, to get a great test. You don’t sleep much as a coordinator but you’ve got to go play them and I want a confident group to run out there, too.”

All for now. Making the drive to Seattle tonight, and will be back on the blog tomorrow morning, as usual.

Christian Caple can be reached at christianc@spokesman.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple

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