PULLMAN – Alex Hoffman-Ellis is not a running back. But sometimes Washington State’s senior linebacker plays one at Martin Stadium.
Two years ago against SMU he returned an interception 52 yards for a score. Saturday, in WSU’s 64-21 hammering of overmatched Idaho State, he returned one 67 yards for a score.
Such things bring a smile to his face. But not as big a smile as talking about how the Cougars played defense against ISU.
And how was that? Aggressive, fast, coming at the offense from all angles.
“We should be on the attack,” Hoffman-Ellis said. “We should be the hammer, not the nail.”
The nails turned out to be Bengals quarterbacks Kevin Yost and Justin Arias. Though the two combined to throw for 430 yards – 320 coming in the second half, mainly against WSU reserves – they also spent much of the day sacked five times and knocked down at least twice as much more.
“We blitzed quite a bit, come to think about it,” said defensive end Travis Long.
Then Long laughed. Despite a sore knee, he could laugh. The first half was about as well as WSU has played defensively in the Paul Wulff era. And the Cougars pressured mainly using just three defensive linemen.
“It was kind of working, so we just stayed with it,” said Long of WSU playing a 3-3-5 look much of the game.
Middle linebacker C.J. Mizell had two sacks. Sekope Kaufusi had another from the outside. And linemen Long, Lenard Williams and Brandon Rankin had one apiece.
“We’ve got some linebackers who can run and blitz, so we think it can be a strength,” Wulff said. “It’s not going to necessarily be like that all the time.”
Besides the fractured clavicle Jeff Tuel suffered in the first quarter, WSU had a couple of possibly season-ending injuries.
Freshman reserve linebacker Darryl Monroe suffered a torn right Achilles’ tendon and is out for the year. Reserve defensive back Travion Smith suffered a possible torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and will be examined today. Special team player Cyrus Coen suffered a sprained foot and cornerback Spencer Waseem a sprained right knee.
Mike Kramer spent last year in Pullman working on the WSU staff. He spent Saturday afternoon trying to beat the Cougars, then spent the first 15 minutes after the game hugging everyone.
He even spent a couple postgame seconds in a Cougar huddle, his right arm raised among the players, leading them in a “Go Cougs.”
“It was good seeing Kramer,” Long said. “We were all happy to see him, we just wanted to wish him the best of luck this year. He wanted to wish us the best of luck too. ‘Win ’em all,’ he said.”
After greeting nearly every returning WSU player at midfield, Kramer had a minute to give his impression of this year’s team.
“They have a different gear this year than we ever had last year,” Kramer said walking through the Martin Stadium tunnel. “And I’m saying we. That’s really good. You can see the maturity and the calmness in their offensive front that is second to none.”
Wade Jacobson is part of that offensive front. And he thought he saw something different in the group.
“We played like an o-line out there today,” the senior right tackle said.
The offensive line, which gave up 51 sacks a year ago, kept the WSU quarterbacks upright all day. It opened holes for the running game. And it was still efficient late when the second group came in.
Which is why Jacobson feels the line can take up the slack the next few weeks as Tuel recuperates.
“We just have to do our job and the rest and will fall into place,” he said.
Mitz honors friend
Logwone Mitz usually wears No. 34. But he wore No. 6 Saturday.
He wanted to honor former teammate Cory Mackay, who was paralyzed in a one-car accident heading home to the Seattle area in May of 2009.
“It was something Logwone wanted to do,” Wulff said of the number change. “He’s good friends with him and he’s been with Cory through this whole process. He just wanted to have a tribute to Cory.
Mitz seemed to like the number, rushing for 58 yards on eight carries.
Running backs shine
The running game averaged 8 yards a carry, led by freshman Marcus Mason’s 88 on six attempts.
Rickey Galvin had 64 yards on seven carries and scored twice. But he was happy to just get back on the field after breaking his arm in his first carry as a freshman last year.
“I was really excited after my first carry,” Galvin said, “just to get up off the ground and not be injured.”