PULLMAN – After four days of preseason practice the Washington State Cougars put on all their pads.
And got after it.
The Cougars ended practice Thursday with a 51-play, 30-minute scrimmage dominated, for the most part, by the offense.
“Obviously, they moved the ball a lot,” coach Paul Wulff said after the offense finished its first five possessions with either a field goal or touchdown.
“We wanted to get out and tackle and get in a live situation as early in camp as we can,” Wulff added. “It’s nice getting this live (play) in, because it makes it a lot easier to teach moving forward.”
With that in mind, the starters on both sides of the ball put in only 14 plays and the first group of reserves added another 11.
The remainder of the time was left for the newest players, including redshirt freshman quarterback Connor Halliday, who was 7 for 9 for 104 yards and two touchdowns, and true freshman wide receiver Dominque Williams, who out-jumped defensive back Tracy Clark for a 43-yard gain, among his two catches.
“We made sure (the starters) got some pops, got the speed of it,” Wulff said. “Usually you can get great teaching off live film. … We can come back (Friday) morning and we can clean a lot of stuff up off these live reps.”
The No. 1 offense exploded from the start, with Jeff Tuel hitting Jared Karstetter for a 29-yard gain to open things up. Five plays later Tuel, who was 5 of 5 for 63 yards, connected with Marquess Wilson on a play that should have given the offense a first-and-goal. But Wulff pulled the ball back and had Andrew Furney attempt – and make – a 28-yard field goal.
The other time the ones matched up Rickey Galvin broke off a 12-yard run to open the possession and ended it by taking a Tuel screen pass down to the one. Again, Wulff called on Furney, this time from 39 yards, and again the sophomore converted.
In between those possessions, the twos squared off, with Marshall Lobbestael teaming with Kristoff Williams on a 37-yard fade down the right sideline leading to a 31-yard Tyler McNannay field goal.
“I’d like to say because we’re pretty good,” Tuel said when asked the reasons behind the offense’s success. “That’s just kind of how I feel, I mean at all levels, ones, twos and threes, we performed pretty well.
“And, as you saw yesterday, our defense isn’t really a pushover. The offense is really starting to click, to come together.”
In all, the offense had seven plays of 10 or more yards, something offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy is looking for with more consistency this season.
“We loved to be able to get those explosive plays,” Sturdy said. “We like to chart those things. We talk to our kids about that all the time about passes of 16 or more and runs of 12 or more affect a drive tremendously.”
Despite all the big plays, the largest explosion on the sideline came on a short pass in the right flat. The recipient of David Gilbertson’s throw was fullback Jared Byers, the redshirt sophomore who missed all of last season after suffering a horrific knee injury on the same sort of pass play in the opener against Oklahoma State. He took this one for a 17-yard gain.
“I love being back and I love playing with these guys,” said Byers, who wasn’t expected to return until later in the season. “It sucked being on the sideline watching them do all this work and I couldn’t do anything to help them.”
Sturdy saw a lot of elements he liked, especially up front, where the offensive line protected and also opened holes for the running game. Galvin and Logwone Mitz combined for 27 yards on four carries.
“We made some plays when we needed to,” Sturdy said. “The O-line had things figured out pretty good, as far as I.D.-ing the fronts and getting everybody going in the right direction.”
So, Sturdy was asked, is the offense where he wants it to be after five practices?
“No,” he said. “We expect more.”