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LB shortage leads to short practice

Cougars focus on passing game

PULLMAN – Even as spring football scrimmages go, Washington State’s second of this spring was short, lasting less than 40 minutes.

The main reason was simple. The list of Cougars out of action is long and growing longer.

“Today was a little more pass emphasis than the previous scrimmages, probably that’s because we’re missing seven linebackers,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said after the Cougars had run 44 offensive plays Saturday before a small sun-drenched gathering in the Martin Stadium stands and dozens of recruits and their parents on the south sideline.

The latest linebacker to join the injured list is Louis Bland, who sprained a knee in practice Thursday. He was in a brace and on crutches Saturday and Wulff said he’ll miss the rest of spring and the early part of the summer.

“He’s expected to back by fall, though,” Wulff said.

With the defense thinned, the passing game took center stage in the scrimmage, especially in the final 10 minutes during a 2-minute drill.

The No. 1 offense, under Kevin Lopina’s direction, drove from its 35 to score in 1:45, overcoming a holding call in the process.

Lopina, who was 7 of 9 on the drive and 12 of 17 for 162 yards overall, put the ball in Johnny Forzani’s hands in the end zone as time ran out – the only touchdown by either unit.

“I thought it went well with the ones, I thought we moved the ball well,” Lopina said. “We got two field goals – we could have had a touchdown there – but other than that, we finished drives with points.”

The senior quarterback, who has been getting a majority of the snaps as Marshall Lobbestael rehabs from knee surgery, then talked about a couple of sophomore receivers.

“If I have (Jared) Karstetter man up on a corner, I’m going to take it,” Lopina said. “And (Kevin Norrell) has great hands. He caught everything today. He’s had a great spring and we expect great things from him in the fall.”

Karstetter had four catches for 66 yards and Norrell five for 50.

The defense did have its moments, despite playing without any of its top linebackers. Besides Bland, senior Andy Mattingly is out with an arm injury, sophomore Alex Hoffman-Ellis is nursing a leg injury and junior Myron Beck is coming off back surgery.

“Hopefully, we’ll get them back and healthy,” Wulff said. “The players who are playing are doing a good job of just executing and they’re being more consistent with their execution of their assignments and technique.”

Redshirt freshman defensive end Cory Mackay tipped a Dan Wagner pass early and Dan Spitz grabbed the ball for an interception. As Wagner guided the No. 2 offense down the field in the 2-minute drill, senior safety Xavier Hicks stepped in front of Tyler Thompson and ended the scrimmage with a pick.

“It was a big play,” Hicks said of the interception in the end-of-game situation. “Our goal is to keep the offense inbounds and not allow any big plays. If we get a turnover, take a knee, that just seals the ballgame.”

Another defender missing was Hicks’ running mate at safety, Chima Nwachukwu, but the junior wasn’t hurt.

Nwachukwu was in San Francisco representing WSU at the Pac-10 meeting of student-athlete advisory committee members.

“I missed Chima, that’s my right-hand man,” Hicks said. “It was rough not having him here, but he’ll back on Tuesday.”

Notes

The Cougars have two practices next week (Tuesday and Thursday) and then end spring drills with another short Martin Stadium scrimmage 10 a.m. Saturday. … James Montgomery skipped the scrimmage, giving his sore shoulder a rest, and Dwight Tardy carried just once for minus-1 yard before shutting it down with ice on his left leg. Wulff said he expects Montgomery back next week and wasn’t aware of Tardy’s departure. … With the emphasis on passing, the Cougars had just 18 rushing plays. Logwone Mitz led the way with 25 yards on seven carries. … Nico Grasu connected on two field goals – 35 and 33 yards – but missed a 35-yarder as well. Reid Forrest punted once for 40 yards. … The best hit of the day came from defensive back Daniel Simmons, who met Kevin Richmond in the flat a second after Lopina’s pass arrived. The 5-yard loss was negated by an accepted offensive holding penalty. … The tight ends found some room in the middle with Skylar Stormo catching a 31-yard pass and Tony Thompson a 22-yarder.



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