PULLMAN – If Washington State University football coach Paul Wulff was looking for improvement out of his defense in its first scrimmage, he saw it.
If he was looking for consistency from his offense, he was sorely disappointed.
Such is the case of intrasquad scrimmages. The Cougars held their first of the 2010 season Saturday before about 100 people at Martin Stadium and the No. 1 defense shined from almost the first play.
“The defense really came out and stepped up,” said senior running back James Montgomery, who carried five times for 20 yards in his first game-type action since last year’s lower leg injury. “They showed us we really need to bring up our intensity level because they brought it to us, just making big plays left and right.”
Those big plays included two interceptions, another pick nullified by penalty, four sacks and four crunching hits, two from freshman C.J. Mizell.
The first-string offense gained 64 yards on 27 plays and turned the ball over twice – interceptions by redshirt freshmen Nolan Washington and Anthony Carpenter.
“I think when you are not successful as you would like to be, you can almost learn more than when you are successful,” said starting quarterback Jeff Tuel. “Sometimes these types of days give you a lot to learn with.”
If that’s the case, Tuel may be overloaded. The sophomore starter was just 3 of 9 passing for 27 yards and one interception.
Backup Marshall Lobbestael, mainly running the No. 2 offense, completed his first nine passes for 69 yards. That included a 10-yard touchdown pass to freshman Kristoff Williams, who went high in the back of the end zone to snag the ball, then got a foot down before tumbling to the ground.
But even Lobbestael misfired while running the starting offense. Carpenter intercepted Lobbestael’s 10th, and final, pass, stepping in front of tight end Skylar Stormo in the middle.
“We just didn’t string a lot of good plays together at times,” Wulff said of an offense that gained 229 yards – all but 59 of it through the air – in the hour-long scrimmage.
“We didn’t run the ball a lot today,” Wulff added, noting it was by design. “We needed to get those receivers some reps. We needed to throw the ball, because that’s a position that has to develop.”
Newcomers Williams (with the touchdown and two other catches), Marquess Wilson (six catches for 51 yards) and Isiah Barton (two for 29) filled in for top returnees Gino Simone (hamstring) and Jared Karstetter (hernia), who watched from the sideline.
The defense was without two of its inside stalwarts, tackles Brandon Rankin and Bernard Wolfgramm, but it didn’t seem to matter much.
“Right now the defensive line is playing well,” Wulff said. “We seem to be rotating a lot of guys in there and they’re all doing a great job.”
So did the linebackers, with the three main candidates – Mike Ledgerwood, who started, Hallston Higgins and Mizell – in the middle all playing well.
That was good news for co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball, who, when asked if having a dominating presence at that position was crucial, answered “really crucial,” then repeated the phrase three more times.
Mizell, who sat out last year in Florida, made the biggest impression, flying through gaps to bring down running backs Ricky Galvin and Leon Brooks short of first downs.
“He’s got a lot of ability,” Ball said. “Today we finally got to see it. He’s still rusty, he’s still got a lot of work to do, but the ability is there.”
“I’m just trying to get my skills toned back to where they used to be,” Mizell said.
The backup offense finished the day on a good note, with freshman quarterback Connor Halliday, who will probably redshirt, finding freshman Austin Ehlo down the right sideline for a 28-yard scoring strike, capping a 65-yard drive and ending the day.
A defensive day.
“I like the consistency of our defense,” Wulff said. “Everybody was in the right spot for the most part.”
“We need to come back next scrimmage and show them what’s up,” Montgomery said.