PULLMAN – It might be overshadowed by the doom and gloom surrounding Washington State’s disastrous 35-34 loss to Colorado on Saturday.
But just four games into the season, the Cougars already have nearly as many sacks as they did all of last year.
In fact, WSU is tied for 10th in the country in sacks per game with 3.5 and 14 total. The Cougars recorded just 17 sacks all of last year, and had 11 through their first four games.
Travis Long, who led WSU in sacks last season with four, already has 6.5, a number that is tied for tops in the country. And he’s tied for second in the nation in sacks per game with 1.63.
Long said his increased production is due in part to his move from defensive end to BUCK linebacker, a transition that makes it harder for defenses to gameplan for him.
“We try to get after them with different looks besides just rushing four guys,” Long said. “Moving me to some different spots and rushing me from there, I think that’s been a really big difference.”
Long had 2.5 sacks against Colorado to lead a six-sack effort by the Cougars, who also benefited from a sack and three total tackles for loss by freshman defensive lineman Xavier Cooper.
“We had high expectations,” Cooper said. “Travis, he’s been balling out, doing some crazy things. Travis makes us want to compete for the whole d-line. When we see Travis eating, we want to eat, too.”
The Cougars regained one of their most experienced offensive linemen on Sunday.
Fifth-year senior Dan Spitz, who missed two games and the last two weeks of practice with an undisclosed personal issue, returned to practice and took some reps at right tackle with the No. 2 offensive line.
“Obviously, he’s going to have a little rust on him, but he’s fine,” offensive line coach Clay McGuire said. “Scheme (doesn’t) change so he’s just got to come out here and get ready to go. Pad level and little things like that is going to be an issue for him, but he’ll be fine after a day or so.”
With Spitz out, the Cougars moved John Fullington from left tackle to left guard, moved Jake Rodgers from left guard to right guard, and started freshman Gunnar Eklund at left tackle.
Things got even more complicated on Saturday when starting right tackle Wade Jacobson left the game with an undisclosed injury. He was replaced by Matt Goetz, who played right guard with Rodgers moving to right tackle.
Jacobson didn’t participate in Sunday night’s practice, instead doing conditioning drills during the hour-long session. Jacobson is still listed as the starting right tackle on the WSU depth chart.
Marks moving inside
The most notable change to the Cougars’ depth chart is freshman receiver Gabe Marks moving from the outside “Z” spot to the inside “Y” position.
Marks, who leads the Cougars in receiving with 19 catches for 326 yards and two touchdowns, laid claim to the starting Z spot early in camp. But the emergence of outside receiver Isiah Myers caused Leach to rethink his alignment in order to get the team’s four best receivers on the field.
“Marks is a really smart guy; one of the smartest receivers we have,” Leach said. “I mean, he’s just an intelligent guy. Like certainly not all of you, but he could beat some of you in Trivial Pursuit.
“And then the other thing, just a real sense of how to play receiver and how to set up routes and set things up, and how his role related to others. So I don’t like making the transition, because I don’t like the transition part. But I do think he’s the most adaptable.”
Freshman Brett Bartolone is now listed as the starting “H” inside receiver, ahead of sophomore Bobby Ratliff.
And freshman Teondray Caldwell, who rushed for 72 yards on 10 carries last week, is now listed as the starting running back ahead of Carl Winston.