PULLMAN – An announced scrimmage didn’t occur at Martin Stadium on Saturday afternoon, as Washington State’s football team instead simply went through a normal practice.
The Cougars originally planned to run 110 or so plays in a scrimmage setting. It would have been the first of the spring. But coach Mike Leach said a few factors changed his mind.
Among them: There was a bevy of high-school coaches in attendance, and quarterback Austin Apodaca was absent with a high fever and illness, according to fellow quarterback Connor Halliday.
“We had the coaches clinic, and a certain number of them wanted to see the drills and things of that nature,” Leach said. “(It) also kind of fit our schedule because we’d hit earlier in the week, so we were able to take care of things during our team period. It was kind of sudden and then also if Austin was here, then we would have had another arm out there. But it worked out good anyway.”
Leach doesn’t address injuries, but if he did, he may also have mentioned the fact that WSU is hurting for healthy bodies on the defensive line.
Ioane Gauta, a senior who is expected to start at nose tackle this season, is now on crutches and sporting a large brace on his right leg. So is Toni Pole, who injured his right knee during Thursday’s practice and showed up on crutches for Saturday’s practice.
Destiny Vaeao, a sophomore, and Robert Barber, who redshirted last season and is still recovering from injury, have both been without pads recently. And junior buck linebacker/defensive end Logan Mayes is also still using a crutch as he recovers from a leg injury.
A talented defensive line could be formed from that group alone. As it is, sophomore Darryl Paulo is impressing coaches by filling in admirably along the defensive front, Saturday sliding over to nose tackle to work with the No. 1 unit.
Paulo started the spring as a buck linebacker, then moved to defensive end. Now he’s in the middle.
“He’s done a remarkable job learning our pressures, where to go, that type of deal,” said defensive coordinator Mike Breske. “He’s going to be a great swing guy for us. He’s going to give us a lot of depth up front and be able to play some different positions for us.”
Paulo, a native of Sacramento, is listed at 6-foot-2, 270 pounds. Leach said he needs to do a better job of keeping his feet moving after he makes contact, but praised Paulo’s strength and physical nature.
“It’s exciting to be with the 1s,” Paulo said. “I’ve never played nose guard before, but I like it a lot. It’s a lot quicker and you have to react faster. For me I just like that the center’s right in front of me and I get to displace him off the ball.”
He’s not the only WSU player getting reps in place of an injured starter. Senior safety Deone Bucannon has been limited in the last couple practices by an undisclosed injury, and linebacker Justin Sagote left Thursday’s practice with a left shoulder injury and wasn’t in pads on Saturday.
“That’s the way it is. Next guys step up,” Breske said. “We’re getting quality reps, and that’s how we develop depth at our various positions, which is good – good for the D-line, good for the linebackers, good for the back end of the secondary. So we’re getting quality reps, getting good competition. That’s football.”
With Apodaca absent, Halliday took every rep at quarterback during 7-on-7 drills and team session. Leach had little to say about Apodaca’s absence, but Halliday volunteered that Apodaca has a high fever and “can’t keep anything down.”
That meant a long day for Halliday.
“It’s kind of take your positives with the negatives,” Halliday said. “My arm’s hanging from throwing so many balls. (But) it is nice to get in a rhythm and take every snap.”
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