PULLMAN – Saturday’s practice, the first scrimmage of spring, may have been “just kind of another day” for Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday, whose easy efficiency was reminiscent of the team’s previous 10 practices.
But it was another kind of day entirely for WSU’s backups and reserves who showed why the talent at hand makes Halliday say this is “head and shoulders above any spring that I’ve been a part of since I’ve been here.”
The NCAA allows teams 15 practices over the course of 34 days. Of those practices, only eight may include tackling and only three of those, including the spring game, may be devoted primarily to 11-on-11 scrimmages.
So Saturday’s 115 live plays were WSU’s closest approximation to a game yet, and the Cougars had gamers throughout their offensive and defensive depth.
“We’ve just got guys that can play out here,” Halliday said. “We’ve got guys that should be at this level and compete at this level.”
Halliday played like a fifth-year senior starter, completing 24 of 31 attempts for 222 yards and three touchdowns, against the first-string defense. Starting receivers Vince Mayle and River Cracraft were beneficiaries, combining for 13 catches, 153 yards and three touchdowns.
But that barely outpaced reserve receiver Daniel Lilienthal, who had seven catches for 114 yards and two scores.
Nor did those starters show the game-breaking verve of Robert Lewis, who may not be among the 10 receivers on the depth chart but scored on receptions of 50 and 44 yards, doing most of his damage after the catch.
There was little drop-off in the passing game when redshirt freshmen backups Luke Falk and Tyler Bruggman took over.
The two have splits reps all spring in the quest to become Halliday’s backup and both put up starter’s numbers. Falk completed 24 of 32 passes for 253 yards and three scores while Bruggman went 15 for 28 for 250 yards and another touchdown trio. He also threw a pass that was batted down by Moritz Christ and intercepted by Peyton Pelluer.
A backup linebacker, Pelluer also forced and recovered a fumble.
“I thought the offense did a good job putting it in but the defense got some turnovers and some three-and-outs,” coach Mike Leach said.
Those defensive victories came courtesy of an impressive effort by another pair of backups: defensive end Emmitt Su’a-Kalio and free safety Beau Glover.
Su’a-Kalio spearheaded a pass rush that picked up seven sacks, including three by the redshirt freshman, who also forced an errant throw with his pressure.
“The defensive line had good push, did a good job in the run game, held their gaps and had some big sacks,” defensive coordinator Mike Breske said.
Glover tied with backup linebacker Mitchell Peterson for six tackles, trailing only Pelluer’s seven and displaying physical traits rarely seen from a 5-foot-9, 170-pound defender.
It’s true that whenever a team plays itself any positive is contradicted by a negative. But the coaches said the successes were systemic while the failures were of the individual variety and not from unit-wide malfunction.
“I thought there was pretty good enthusiasm on both sides,” Leach said. “An occasional bust by either one, but it wasn’t really the whole group in any case. It would be a guy here or a guy there.”
If they aren’t satisfactorily corrected those singular breakdowns could spell trouble in the fall, when not every explosive play will be made by a teammate.
But if the Cougars can find players to fill those holes like the ones that stepped up on Sunday then the team could reap the benefits of some big playmakers.