PULLMAN – If they weren’t going to catch passes during the scrimmage, they were at least going to catch them afterward.
Washington State’s receivers had a rough start to Saturday’s live, full-contact scrimmage, struggling at times amid biting winds and occasional hail to hold onto the football.
They improved as the afternoon progressed. But their afternoon wound up progressing a bit longer than expected, with all receivers, running backs and quarterbacks staying afterward to work on simple throws and catches for about 25 minutes.
In the cold. And the hail.
“We’ve got too many guys that think they’re going to allow weather to affect their performance,” coach Mike Leach said, “so we had to practice that a little bit at the end.”
The Cougars ran 130 or so plays on a chilly Saturday afternoon at Martin Stadium, the defense getting the better of the scrimmage’s first half, then the offense responding with stronger play down the stretch and a number of long plays that had defensive coordinator Mike Breske frustrated on the other sideline.
Connor Halliday, who took most of the reps at quarterback with the No. 1 offense, completed 25 of 36 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns, including a 41-yard scoring toss to receiver Gabe Marks.
Leach said Halliday would be WSU’s starter “if we were to play today,” but said he and Austin Apodaca will continue to rep evenly for the rest of spring.
Marks led WSU with 11 catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns, also catching a 3-yard fade pass in the back corner of the end zone from Apodaca.
Marks’ play was indicative of WSU’s offense as a whole: He made two uncharacteristic drops early in the scrimmage, but recovered to post the biggest stat line of the day.
“I think the biggest problem was the ball moves so much when it’s blowing that bad, I think the receivers at the start of practice were kind of struggling catching it and that kind of got Leach all pissed off,” Halliday said. “We got rolling after that, though. It was just kind of a little bit of a slow start.”
It was. Apodaca finished with three interceptions, and the offense ran about 56 plays before finally reaching the end zone, Halliday connecting with walk-on receiver Kyle Adkins on a 9-yard score.
A few series prior, Apodaca was intercepted by safety Mitchell Peterson on an inside screen route to Marks gone awry, then threw another pick two plays later to linebacker Eric Oertel on a pass intended for Brett Bartolone.
And on the series prior to Adkins’ touchdown, play was stopped and the offense was made to perform 30 or so up-downs after linebacker Darryl Monroe busted through the line and dropped Marcus Mason for a 5-yard loss.
“It just lets us know that we’re doing a great job,” Monroe said. “It’s a sense of motivation for us to keep doing what we’re doing and keep going harder, actually.”
Apodaca finished 19 for 34 for 228 yards and two touchdowns to go along with his three interceptions. His day was highlighted by a 44-yard touchdown pass to Kristoff Williams, and a 30-yard gain on a scramble that set up a 27-yard field goal by Wes Concepcion.
“I thought I was inconsistent throughout the day, but I did OK on some drives,” said Apodaca, a redshirt freshman. “I forced some throws that I’d like to get back, obviously, but I’m still learning and everything.”
Justin Sagote led with eight tackles, and Monroe finished with five tackles, including two for loss. The defense totaled five sacks, though the offense recovered well enough to score touchdowns on two of its final four possessions.
“Both sides of the ball, I’ve had groups where if they have a bad day they want to just collapse,” Leach said. “The offense did battle back and got some good work at the end. But I did think offensively we wasted about half of this scrimmage.”