As Washington State prepares for its first fall scrimmage Friday evening, we look at 10 questions/storylines the Cougars could address in their mock which is slated for an 8 p.m. start at Martin Stadium.
1. Can three become two? – Mike Leach is in a hurry to whittle the quarterback race down to two, but it doesn’t mean he’ll pull the trigger before he’s able to complete a thorough examination of the candidates: Anthony Gordon, Gardner Minshew and Trey Tinsley. The audition will continue for all three under the Martin Stadium floodlights. It’s the first true scrimmage for Minshew as a WSU quarterback and the first time Gordon and Tinsley will play under the lights in Pullman with something on the line. “I’d like to see somebody separate themself,” Leach said, “and really take control of it.”
2. Missing up front – The absence of two key defensive players, Nnamdi Oguayo and Derek Moore has become one of the more prevalent – and increasingly troublesome – storylines of this preseason. Oguayo, a defensive end and WSU’s best returning pass-rusher, missed his fourth consecutive practice Thursday. Rush linebacker/defensive lineman Moore, a four-game starter last year, was absent for the third time in as many days. Asked about their status Tuesday, Leach responded with his common line: “They’re doing great.” But will either be around Friday night?
3. Divvying up the carries – Quarterback is actually one of two intriguing position battles in the backfield. James Williams, Max Borghi and, yes, even Keith Harrington are all still in the mix to contribute to the running game. It’s probably only a matter of time before Borghi clamps down the feature back role – be it later this season or at some point when his position mates graduate – but I’d predict all three players are repped equally, just like the QBs.
4. New-look D-line – The defensive line obviously takes on a different shape without Oguayo, Moore and Logan Tago, who’s been a non-participant in each of the last two practices. Provided none of those three are dealing with anything too concerning, Friday’s scrimmage is if nothing else a good opportunity to spend reps on younger/less experienced players. Expect to see a handful of combinations up front, keep an eye on the competition at nose tackle between Taylor Comfort and Pono Lolohea and count how many positions Will Rodgers III plays throughout the scrimmage. It could be as many as four (DE, DT, NT and Rush).
5. Clarity at kicker/punter – The mock game is crucial for Tinsley, Gordon and Minshew, but equally so for a quartet of less identifiable Cougars: Jack Crane, Ryan Henderson, Oscar Draguicevich and Oliver Graybar. Crane and Henderson are gunning for Erik Powell’s kicking job, while Draguicevich and Graybar are trying to nail down the starting punter duties, which will belong to a single player this season rather than three. There won’t be much room for error for the QBs tomorrow night – same goes for the specialists.
6. Who’s blocking? – I’d still feel good placing a bet on Andre Dillard (left tackle), Josh Watson (left guard), Fred Mauigoa (center), Robert Valencia (right guard) and Abraham Lucas (right tackle) all getting week-one nods, but there’s been plenty of experimentation up front this week and Leach indicated there’d be competition at a few spots. Christian Haangana and Liam Ryan, especially, seem capable of giving Watson a run for his money at LG.
7. Brandon Arconado – Kyle Sweet’s absence has given the newly-scholarshipped receiver some extended run down here in Lewiston. Arconado isn’t expected to crack the rotation at “Y” receiver – Sweet and Jamire Calvin have cemented their jobs there – but he’s been the top inside receiver at times over the last week, hauling in three touchdowns during the team period Monday and Tuesday.
8. Newcomers – A handful of the high school signees, junior college additions and FBS transfers – err, transfer – will have to contribute in some fashion this year. A few of the fall camp standouts we’ll keep an eye on: Minshew (QB), Borghi (RB), Rodrick Fisher (WR), Drue Jackson (WR), Calvin Jackson (WR), Lolohea (NT), Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei (DL), Kendrick Nunn (nickel), Halid Djibril (nickel), Chad Davis (S) and Tyrese Ross (CB).
9. Getting deeper – One of the first things Tracy Claeys identified during his first few months as WSU’s defensive coordinator was a razor-thin secondary. The defensive backfield is deeper in the sense that it added eight more bodies during the signing period, but what’s the quality of that depth? Ross, Djibril, Nunn and Davis all made plays during the first week in Lewiston. If they can take their game back to Pullman, and maintain it over the course of the next few weeks, it’ll be one less headache for the first-year Cougar DC.
10. Cool down – Temperatures at Sacajawea Junior High began in the low-90’s at the start of the week and climaxed at 107 by Thursday afternoon. There’s a 40 percent chance of rainfall Friday night and temperatures could dip into the mid-60’s, which would make the mock game feel like a cold front after a week under the boiling sun in Lewiston.