PULLMAN – If the tempo of Washington State’s defense during Saturday’s scrimmage wasn’t quite fast enough for defensive coordinator Mike Breske’s liking, there’s good news for players on that side of the ball.
The Cougars have an entire week to speed things up.
“Next Saturday will be the key,” Breske said. “We can’t have any lulls. That’s what the kids know, and we want to be at maximum capacity next week.”
Next week, of course, is WSU’s spring game at Albi Stadium in Spokane. And if yesterday’s scrimmage at Martin Stadium was any indication, the Cougars’ defense at least has a chance to fulfill Breske’s wish.
It even looked that way to quarterback Jeff Tuel, who said he played “sloppy” while completing 22 of 47 passes for 200 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions during the 110-or-so-play scrimmage.
“It looked like they were real comfortable with their assignments and they were just flying around, honestly,” Tuel said. “Not a lot of hesitation out there and they covered receivers really well.”
Especially early, when Tuel completed just one of his first seven passes against the No. 1 defense. Linebacker Eric Oertel was particularly bothersome in coverage, breaking up a throws to Andrei Lintz and Gino Simone on back-to-back plays.
The next play was a throw over the middle that was nearly intercepted by Casey Locker, who dropped the pass when he collided with safety Anthony Carpenter.
Even when Tuel broke that string of incompletions by finding Dominique Williams for a 14-yard gain, safety Deone Bucannon was right there to apply a big hit.
“We really worked on that this week,” defensive end/linebacker Travis Long said of the defense’s speed. “That’s something the coaches really forced on us Tuesday, Thursday, so I feel like that got a lot better.”
If there was one thing Breske wasn’t pleased with, it was how Tuel was able to find Lintz so often when scrambling out of the pocket. Lintz was WSU’s top receiver on Saturday, catching seven passes for 57 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown.
Coach Mike Leach said he liked the way each side responded to big plays by the opposing unit, calling the scrimmage the team’s best of the spring.
“It’s like one side would get hot and the other side would take it away, and the next side would take it away, so it would go back and forth,” Leach said. “I think it was pretty good work because both sides have something to be ticked off about, but both sides have some encouraging stuff.”
“We always talk about playing with 11 instead of eight or nine,” Leach said. “I thought the first scrimmage we played with eight or nine quite a bit and we did that some today, but played with 11 more often today.”
Injuries prevented the Cougars from having true No. 3 units on either side of the ball, so instead, quarterbacks Cody Clements and Jesse Brown led a 7-on-7 live skeleton session while the starters and second-stringers rested.
The highlights of that period were back-to-back passes from Brown to receiver Daniel McDonald of 40 and 56 yards.
The Cougars also spent quite a bit of time working on red-zone situations. Again, the defense stood out – first when Tana Pritchard forced a Lintz fumble that Cyrus Coen scooped up and could have returned for a score, and then on the next play when Pritchard snagged a Tuel pass at the goal line and took it the other way.
Carl Winston also scored on a pair of short touchdown runs.
After rallying everybody together on the field, Leach sent the first-team offense and defense out for one more series at about the 5-yard line. Two stuffed running plays sandwiched an incompletion, and the defense was the winner.
“We did some good things down there,” Breske said. “We got some takeaways down in the red zone. I think we’ve got to get more consistent down in the red zone.”
Defensive end Hamza Griffin and cornerback Travion Smith are no longer with the team. … The Cougars were without offensive linemen Wade Jacobson, Matt Goetz, Joe Dahl and Chas Sampson for the scrimmage. Jake Rodgers suited up but did not appear to take any snaps. … Receivers Kristoff Williams and Henry Eaddy remain limited. … Leach said he wants Lintz to be more aggressive with his hands, just like a grizzly bear tossing trash out of a dumpster at Yellowstone Park. “Next practice we’re going to stick a dumpster in front of him full of goodies, but he’s going to have to shred that thing, tip it over and dig into it to get at ’em, so he gets used to swinging his hands around in a violent fashion,” Leach said.