PULLMAN – The story of Saturday’s scrimmage may have been the blades of grass clinging to the jerseys of Washington State’s offensive linemen.
For the Cougars under coach Mike Leach, there’s practice, and then there’s the 15 or so minutes after practice during which players break off into their position groups and receive a little extra instruction based off their performance that day.
And after WSU’s defensive linemen racked up 12 sacks during Saturday’s 115-play scrimmage, the O-linemen were treated to some bear crawls before being collectively “rolled” – a drill for which Leach has become famous that involves a player simply rolling down the field on his side. It doesn’t look particularly fun.
“We’re trying to protect the quarterback,” Leach said afterward. “Obviously if it’s live and we’re letting them hit him, those all aren’t going to materialize into sacks. For what we need and for our work, we want to keep them off him.”
Of course, sacks aren’t really sacks during the spring, when quarterbacks are off-limits to contact and plays are blown dead anytime a defender comes within tackling distance.
But the defensive line’s dominance was still obvious during a series between the No. 1 offense and the No. 1 defense about midway through the afternoon. Quarterback Jeff Tuel was sacked on first, second and third downs – twice by defensive end Xavier Cooper – and when the third-team units took the field immediately after, Eddie Releford and Logan Mayes sacked fourth-string quarterback Jesse Brown on consecutive plays.
In between, the starting offensive line – which consisted of John Fullington, Gunnar Eklund, Elliott Bosch, Dan Spitz and Rico Forbes for much of the day – did up-downs.
Mayes finished the day with four sacks. Cooper had three.
“A lot of the sacks were from our corners,” said Cooper, crediting WSU’s secondary, which played without senior safety Tyree Toomer. “The defensive line played pretty good but we’ve got a lot of stuff to get better on.”
“Just alignment and technique, playing low,” Cooper said. “We’re going to be playing against harder, better guys, so we’ve got to get our job done here first then go out there and perform to the highest level.”
Despite all those sacks, defensive line coach Joe Salave’a called his unit “a work in progress,” saying his goal is to make Martin Stadium as tough of a venue as it was when he played for Arizona in the late ’90s.
“We want to celebrate the positives, but I’m a firm believer that those things will happen if we address the fundamentals and the mechanics and the technique part,” Salave’a said. “So we’re a ways away from where we need to be, but it’s always good to have the guys experience those kinds of things, because it affirms their hard work.”
Of course, the offense had its moments, too. Tuel completed 19 of 33 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns, including a 26-yard strike to inside receiver Bobby Ratliff, who has enjoyed a fairly consistent spring. The senior quarterback also threw an interception to cornerback Daniel Simmons.
Still, Tuel looked comfortable from the start, completing his first six passes, two of which were a pair of 40-yard gains to Marquess Wilson and Andrei Lintz.
Tuel said he was in a better rhythm with his receivers than he was one week ago, when a lack of communication and physicality drew Leach’s ire.
“You can tell we’re getting to be more on the same page,” Tuel said. “We know what each other’s going to do, which really helps out. That was the biggest thing I think today.”
David Gilbertson ran the No. 2 offense with Connor Halliday apparently still nursing his liver injury. Gilbertson completed 15 of 26 passes for 192 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown pass to senior Gino Simone on an inside seam route.
Simone led all receivers with seven catches for 101 yards. Third-string quarterback Cody Clements and receiver Isiah Myers connected for a 51-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline, the longest play from scrimmage of the afternoon.
Leach said he thought the Cougars played much more physical than they did in their first scrimmage, but that they’re still working through some execution issues as they work through the entire playbook.
“There’s nothing new about this,” Leach said. “You can go to any scrimmage in America in the course of spring and you’ll see the same stuff we’re battling. We just want to be a little more ahead of it than the other guys.”
Toomer sat out his second consecutive practice. Running back Rickey Galvin dressed but didn’t participate in the scrimmage. Offensive lineman Jake Rodgers was on crutches with a boot on his left leg. Offensive lineman Matt Goetz didn’t participate and wore a brace on his left leg.