After a rugged week of practice at Lewiston’s Sacajawea Junior High, Washington State returned to a much more comfortable and familiar setting Friday night for their first scrimmage of preseason camp. Here are five reactions from the mock game held at Martin Stadium.
1. Quarterback tracker
Numbers don’t always tell the story, but they were a pretty accurate reflection of how the three Cougar quarterbacks performed in their first scrimmage action this fall. East Carolina grad transfer Gardner Minshew completed 11 of 15 passes for two touchdowns and no interceptions, redshirt junior Trey Tinsley was 12 of 19 with two touchdowns and an interception while redshirt junior Anthony Gordon was 4 of 14 with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
“I thought (Gardner) had the best scrimmage,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “I think Gardner looked real sharp. Missed some balls down there, but other than that, he drove the group pretty well.”
Tinsley rebounded well after going 3 of 6 with a pick in his first series to go 8 of 10 with two touchdowns in his second. “He had a pretty good second series, I thought,” Leach said.
And finally, the coach’s thoughts on Gordon: “Gordon had a tough day but he’s had a really good camp.”
Leach expects to shave the QB race to two by some point next week: “We won’t (rep all three) all of next week,” he said, “we’re going to sort it out some.”
The coach didn’t indicate who’d be left out, but the numbers sure could be a hint.
2. Getting the Willies out
It was a productive night for members of the defense named Will. Rush linebacker Willie Taylor III broke up two passes during Gordon’s first series and Will Rodgers III, a Swiss Army knife on the D-line who can play four different positions for the Cougars, broke through for a sack on Gordon and was credited with another half-sack.
“All that goes back to, they had great summer workouts and it’s carried over to the field,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “So, Willie (Taylor) is an extremely talented person, just needs more and more reps, but he gets better every day.”
Claeys is unsure where exactly he’ll utilize Rodgers III and noted that “we’ll take another week to experiment, we’ve got a few more substitution packages we’ve got to get in next week and after the next scrimmage we’ll try to make those decisions.”
And if both can find their way onto the field at the same time, a nickname is imminent.
“They call him uncle Willie and I’m just Will,” Rodgers III laughed. “Willie-Willie duo, that’s what (outside linebackers) coach Roy (Manning) used to tell us – Willie-Willie duo.”
3. Under pressure
Perhaps it was a good sign for both sides of the ball: the defense totaled six sacks Friday evening, though none of them came against the first-team offensive line. Hunter Mattox led the defense with two sacks, playing primarily with the second unit, while Rodgers III (1.5), Hank Pledson (1), Karson Block (.5), Kingston Fernandez (.5) and Myles Green-Richards (.5) all pitched in.
The offensive line was penalized at least four times by my count – primarily for false start infractions – but Leach was encouraged by the play of his starters and was able to get his second unit some extended run.
“We were able to play with both groups, though, so I thought that part was good,” Leach said.
4. Mr. Consistent
It was around this time last year when inside receiver Brandon Arconado – a walk-on at the time – turned a few heads with his play in one of these fall scrimmages. Arconado then worked his way into a reserve role for the Cougars and caught a touchdown pass against Colorado. Among a deep and talented group of receivers, the newest scholarship wideout was one of the most consistent offensive players in Lewiston and he didn’t cool down when the team returned to Pullman. Arconado finished the scrimmage with three catches, 57 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s always nice to be here in the stadium, but just like any other practice it’s just another day of practice,” Arconado said. “Same routes, same catches, just trying to score.”
5. Oguayo, Moore to return soon
Leach provided an update on the situation involving defensive linemen Nnamdi Oguayo and Derek Moore, who were each absent for a good chunk of the practices in Lewiston. Oguayo, the high-motored junior defensive end, has been absent each of the last five practices – including Friday’s scrimmage – and Moore, a versatile junior who’s seen time on both the D-line and at Rush linebacker, has missed each of the last four.
“They’re doing exactly what we want them to,” Leach said, “and expect to see them shortly.”