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Cougars coaches return for a quick scrimmage

WSU's coaches have fanned out across the country to recruit during the bye week.

But all were back in Pullman on Thursday to lead a quick practice that consisted primarily of a Thursday Night Football scrimmage.

Our practice report is after the jump.

Young defenders impress during Thursday Night Football

There were impressive performances on both sides of the ball during WSU's weekly underclassmen scrimmage.

Peyton Bender showed some initial promise before the offense bogged down, and Gabe Marks and Keith Harrington were steady as always. But it was individual standouts on the defensive side of the ball that stole the show on Saturday, particularly a pair of emerging linebackers and a defensive lineman that has dominated all year long.

More on Thursday's practice and scrimmage after the jump.

WSU practice just a little too chippy

By and large, the Washington State football coaches don't worry about the normal practice scuffles that inevitably occur.

Over the course of a season, 100 adrenaline-fueled football players compete and are bound to get on each other's nerves, occasionally, and the skirmishes are typically over in seconds.

But on Saturday, three major fights broke out between the scout team offense and the regular defense with more animus and far more players than usual getting involved.

Gabe Marks and Sulaiman Hameed began the first brouhaha, with their teammates quickly converging on the pair. The conflicts were large enough and long enough to detract from practice as coaches spent more time than they'd like pulling frustrated players away from each other.

Still, defensive line coach Joe Salave'a is glad his team still has some fighting spirit.

"Yeah, you never want to lose reps," Salave'a said. "That's what you can't have. But part of that, I'd rather have guys flying around and have that competitive spirit than not and we'll make (the reps) up tomorrow as we get going."

We have more from Wednesday's practice after the jump.

Practice report: a new receiver and a reemerging running back

After Tuesday's practice Mike Leach spoke about Washington State's newest football player, receiver Kyrin Priester.

He said that the 6-foot-1 receiver, who will enroll in the spring after transferring from Clemson, is big, physical and has good hands. Priester will sit out next season and then have three years to play at WSU.

Leach said that he knows several Clemson coaches and that Priester liked the idea of playing in WSU's high-volume passing offense.

Our report from tonight's practice is after the jump.

Video: Mike Leach press conference

Mike Leach answered questions from the media for about 20 minutes on Monday about Connor Halliday, Luke Falk, punts and lots of other topics.

The video of his press conference, courtesy of WSU Athletics, is below and a transcription of his remarks is after the jump.


Halliday’s ankle broken at fibula and tibia

During Monday's press conference Washington State coach Mike Leach clarified what exactly the injury suffered by quarterback Connor Halliday is, a break of his fibula and tibia low enough to be considered part of the ankle. Halliday is still in the hospital, where he is greeting a steady stream of teammates. Here's our story on that. The photo above is from mdguidelines.com.

Thursday Night Football and other practice notes

The Cougars held their weekly underclassmen scrimmage but first had one final practice to prepare for USC.

Our practice report is after the jump.

Preparing for USC’s defense

Three WSU coaches were asked about USC's defense and all three uttered the word "athletic" shortly thereafter.

The Cougars hope that the work they put in during Wednesday's practice can combat all that athleticism. How did it go? Our practice report is after the jump.

Mike Price and Jeremiah Allison fire up the Cougars

Before today's practice former Washington State football coach Mike Price addressed the team.

We weren't close enough to hear what he was saying, but judging from how animated he became during his speech, we're guessing it was something inspiring.

Price coached the Cougars from 1989-2002, taking WSU to a pair of Rose Bowls and three 10-win seasons.

"A good guy, I've know him for years," current coach Mike Leach said. "A great guy, actually the first time I ever came out here was to speak at a clinic he put on."

One Price finished up and exited with his former QB, Jason Gesser, as escort the Cougars took the practice field and linebacker Jeremiah Allison did his best to fill the motivational void.

We have more on practice, after the jump.

Video: Mike Leach at WSU press conference

Washington State football coach Mike Leach addressed the media during WSU's weekly Monday press conference. The video is courtesy of WSU athletics and a transcription is after the jump.

WSU defense prepares for Arizona’s race car offense

After practice Mike Leach said that turnovers weren't any particular point of emphasis on Tuesday, but the defensive ones and twos seemed to make it a priority forcing three consecutive fumbles at one point in practice.

Taylor Taliulu got things started with a big hit on a wide receiver, then the next two were forced by group of defenders all converging on the ball carrier.

"(Upcoming opponent Arizona is) the Indy 500 of offenses," defensive line coach Joe Salave'a said. "Tempo never slows down one bit so I think our tempo in our practices is going to be critical and our work this week is going to be critical. We don't half-step anything and we're trying to keep up with the pace of the offense."

Lineman Darryl Paulo capped a solid day for the defense with a pair of consecutive sacks and Darryl Monroe, who was recently passed on the depth chart by Peyton Pelluer, had the hit of the day on running back Austin Hall as the ball carrier tried to bounce a run outside only to be met by Monroe in the backfield.

We have more from practice after the jump.

Mike Leach Monday press conference


Washington State football coach Mike Leach addressed the media during his Monday press conference. The video above is courtesy of WSU Athletics and the highlights are transcribed after the jump.


Back to game preparations with a Sunday night practice

The Cougars returned to game preparations with their weekly 8 p.m. practice on Sunday night. Washington State only practiced for about 45 minutes or so but we've still got a practice report, and some quotes from defensive coordinator Mike Breske, after the jump.

Keith Harrington, running back

Freshman running back Squally Canada was one of the players absent during today's football practice. So during the Cougars' third and final Thursday Night Football scrimmage of the week, Keith Harrington got all the work between the tackles.

He's doing so well that running backs coach Jim Mastro won't give him back to the receivers. Mike Leach wouldn't go so far as to make the switch permanent for the receiver, who did play running back in high school, but admitted that "we're heading in that direction."

More on today's practice is after the jump.

All sorts of shuffling at WSU’s practice

By my count there were 11 limited players at WSU's practice on Thursday and a few more appeared to be absent. That led to a number of players getting reps at new positions or with new units. Afterwards, the Cougars held a Thursday Night Football scrimmage for the second week in a row.

Our practice report is after the jump.

The Cougars return with an intense practice

Washington State hadn't taken the field since Friday and has no opponent coming up this weekend so the Cougars had a spirited practice on Wednesday with the ones on offense going against the ones on defense and capped it off with a Thursday Night Football scrimmage.

The Cougars had a team meeting before practice where coach Mike Leach spoke to the importance of not letting a lackadaisical attitude set in with no immediate opponent upcoming.

"You've got to maintain the intensity and make sure that guys come in focused to get better every day," Leach said. "Just push them hard. But they did a good job today I thought."

More on practice after the jump.

Video: Mike Leach after Stanford

Washington State coach Mike Leach addresses the media after the Stanford game. Sorry for the fireworks. The video is courtesy of WSU Athletics.

Cougars finish final practice before Stanford

It's only Wednesday but the Cougars have already finished the week's practices save for tomorrow's walk-through. The short week also means that today was Thursday Night Football for the young players who mostly won't be making the trip to the Bay Area.

Our report on practice is after the jump.

Cougars prep for Stanford

The Cougars just have one more day of practice before they'll fly down to the Bay Area for a matchup with Stanford. That's always a tough, physical game and the players and coaches are getting ready for a fight.

"I like these kind of games," said defensive line coach Joe Salave'a. It's like back in the playing days, Pittsburgh weekend or NFC East matchup with Philly when I was a Redskin. It's a throwback type of mentality and we've got to make sure our guys are ready for those."

After practice Mike Leach clarified the role of new assistant Eric Mele who is taking over for the recently dismissed Eric Russell, saying that he is considered the interim special teams coach.

He also gave his own thoughts on special teams. Unlike some coaches Leach plays a number of starters on special teams.

"I've really never had (a player) that ever went on and played past college that didn't embrace (special teams) because it's part of the game," Leach said. "If you're a good player you're a competitive guy. The best players I've had campaigned to be on special teams …  If you're the right kind of player you want to be out there. If you look at a 53-man roster, they're all playing special teams. If you don't want to play special teams you're playing in the wrong place."

More on today's practice after the jump.

Kristoff Williams returns to practice

The Cougars wrapped up practice at about 10:45 p.m. today, a combination of Sunday's late practice time and Tuesday's practice length as team tries to get as much good work in as possible before Friday's game. After practice we spoke with defensive coordinator Mike Breske, who talked about the defense's struggles in the second half on Saturday and what he expects from Stanford.

​The practice report is after the jump.


Highlights from Mike Leach’s media availability

The biggest news to come out of today's Washington State press conference is the coaching staff changes that we wrote about here. Mike Leach also voiced his disagreement with the officials that ruled Gerard Wicks down short of the goal line near the end of the California game. 

"The second to the last run play on the goal line," Leach said. "I mean he was clearly across the line, I mean there's no question about that … I think the process, without commenting on it, if a guy crosses the line he should be awarded a touchdown. That's what I think."

You can watch a slow-motion replay of that play and decide for yourself here. In my opinion Wicks did get the nose of the ball over the line before his knee touches, but I think it's close enough that the initial ruling would not have changed after a review. It's the second time in three games a controversial call has gone against the Cougars. Against Oregon WSU's final drive ended on fourth down when the officials didn't whistle the Ducks despite obvious pass interference.

Highlights from the rest of Leach's press conference are after the jump.


Eric Russell dismissed as special teams coach

Mike Leach announced at his Monday press conference that he has dismissed special teams coordinator and assistant head coach Eric Russell. The dismissal comes on the heals of Saturday's 60-59 loss to California in which WSU gave up back-to-back kickoff returns for touchdowns.

The Cougars also missed a potentially game-winning 19-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining in the game.

The previous week, at Utah, the Cougars gave up another special teams touchdown on a punt return.

"We made a change at special teams and well I think a great deal of coach Russell but we wanted to split the special teams up among the assistants and the way he's most effective is with him running the whole thing," Leach said. "He's a great coach. Yeah, I decided to make a change at special teams."

The Cougars will still have nine assistant coaches on staff because offensive quality control assistant Eric Mele will take over as one of the regular assistants. When asked what Mele's duties will be he said:

"Really a lot of the same administrative stuff he was doing before and he'll head up the special teams but deal it out among the assistants and just kind of keep it organized."

Coach Mele was the subject of a profile earlier this month by ESPN.com.

Russell came to WSU from the University of Tennessee in 2012 and the Cougars saw immediate improvement in special teams. Last season the Cougars ranked No. 1 in the conference in kickoff coverage and No. 4 in punt return yardage. The Cougars also blocked three kicks last season, including a critical field goal attempt during the 10-7 upset at USC.

Offensive line backups impress

Throughout most practices this fall offensive line coach Clay McGuire has had to endure the excitement of Joe Salave'a, his coaching counterpart on the defensive line, yelling encouragement to his players after winning yet another drill against WSU's less experienced offensive linemen.

This week, however, it's been Salave'a having to make stoic corrections and chide his players while McGuire has all the fun.

"It always feels good. That's a good thing when your guys are playing well with high energy and high tempo, there's a lot of stuff you can build on," McGuire said. "The guys actually came out pretty excited about practice this week and haven't played with any hesitation and have played pretty fast. It's been pretty decent practices."

More from practice after the jump.

Defense rebounds from a slow start

The Washington State defense faces an explosive offense this week in California, and one that presents a different challenge given that the Cougars have faced exclusively running quarterbacks since the season opener.

The Cougars spent Tuesday implementing this week's defensive game plan and there were some struggles.

"We're short on time to get ready for this game and the next one so we've got to get these guys going fast," said linebackers coach Ken Wilson.

More on practice after the jump.

Monday press conference: Mike Leach

Today's was not your typical Monday press conference at Washington State. Coach Mike Leach talked about the win at Utah and the challenge presented by Saturday's game against California, but he also gave quotes like this:

"I'm not really good with technology. All this button pushing and whatnot. I mean, you can just imagine based on what's happened in the last 15 years. Conversations won't happen 10 years from now. There aren't going to be people to talk to, it's going to be this (mimics pushing buttons). 'Do you want to go out on a date with me?' 'I don't know, what do you look like?' 'Well I look kind of like this.' 'OK, what are your interests?' 'Well, what do you think my interests are? Looking into this thing and typing into this just like yours are.' 'Yeah, no kidding, that's what everybody's doing.' 'Well, where do you want to go?' 'Well, what  difference does it make? Because all we're going to be doing is looking into machines anyways.' Well, that's true and in the end it's going to be tough to perpetuate the species. There's no question about that. So we're all going to look in this box and eventually be extinct. That's how it ends."

More highlights from Leach's press conference are available after the jump.

Sunday practice and the sack that wasn’t

(Photo Credit: Rick Bowmer/WSU Athletics)

The Cougars "only" managed one sack on Saturday after piling up seven against Oregon's Marcus Mariota, but as the above photo indicates they should have been credited with at least one more.

The play pictured was ruled an incomplete pass when Utah quarterback Travis Wilson chucked the ball away, but the photo clearly shows that his knee was on the ground.

The sack should have gone to Ivan McLennan, a WSU defender who has really started to make an impact lately. McLennan was officially credited with two tackles against Utah and against the Ducks he had five tackles, 1.5 sacks and forced a fumble.

He's also played well in practice, and the Cougars have expanded his role, giving him looks at Buck linebacker and defensive end.

"He's a kid that needs to play and find a way to get on the field and I think part of that is earning his play," defensive line coach Joe Salave'a said. "He's earned the reps and he's going to continue to play and that's something that we've always strived to get that air of competition and let the kids know that they'll be rewarded if those things show up in the practice field."

We have more from WSU's Sunday night practice after the jump.