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Morning links: Cougars improvement not fast enough for Leach’s liking

In the paper today we've got notes from WSU's Monday press conference and a First Look at Oregon.

Mike Leach is impatient with the rate at which the Cougars are improving. That's the thrust of the first item in today's WSU notebook. But he'll probably be satisfied if the Cougars can pull the upset at Oregon (making Portland State the best school in the state?) this weekend. Here's our First Look at Saturday's game, plus the game notes.

Thanks to whichever reader sold his or her soul to the Pac-12 Networks in exchange for early games. The Cougars have another daylight game next week against Oregon State.

Some of you visual learners might prefer to get yesterday's WSU news by watching the videos of our interviews with Mike Leach, Jeremiah Allison, Jamal Morrow and Gunnar Eklund.

CougCenter's Jeff Nusser is ready for a change at WSU. … Evan Closky has a recap from yesterday's press conference.

Ducks fans might dispute Leach's contention that WSU has the best facilities in the conference. One of my favorite books growing up as a kid was Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, an incredible telling of the incredible story of Lewis and Clark.  That said, I'm not a fan of UO's new helmets. Still no word on the Ducks QB situation.

Washington's basketball recruit out of New Zealand is going to enroll early. … Rich Rodriguez has no plans to move away from his defensive scheme. … The Sun Devils are feeling good after beating a Top-10 team. … WSU fans know how good Jared Goff is under pressure. … Is it time for UCLA to lean on its freshman quarterback?

Bonus link: The self-described "most hated man in Mingo County" is on trial after 29 people died in one of his mines after he spent millions fighting safety regulations.

Game notes for WSU at Oregon

Here are the game notes and depth chart for Washington State's game at Oregon on Saturday. Courtesy of WSU Athletics.

Video: Mike Leach Monday press conference

Video courtesy of WSU Athletics.

Question: Has the Pac-12 been more transparent and communicative about officiating?

Mike Leach: I'm not allowed to comment on officiating, as much as I'd like to. I think they ought to have a representative that you can ask those questions to.

Q: But is the process more open?
ML: I think it's very similar to before.

Q: What were your thoughts after watching film of the Cal game?
ML: We played hard, we've got to execute better. We didn't win, it's about as simple as that, you know.

Q: Were the sacks on the offensive line or Luke Falk?
ML: I think both, I think instances of both, for sure. I think both have a responsibility to not get sacked. If you're a quarterback, get rid of it. Sort something out. If you're an offensive lineman, there's a point to where, let's say the quarterback holds the ball. Well, why was it your guy that sacked him? The four other guys' guy didn't sack him, why did your guy get there first? I mean there's a point to where you've got to compete at all of that. A quarterback doesn't want to give a touchdown back or something and he holds the ball for five seconds, those offensive linemen want to have credit for a sack when then they don't do their job but he gets rid of it in a second and a half because he has to throw it real quick. Well everybody's got to take up for the other. Well, I thought he needed to not get sacked and a portion of it was him getting rid of the ball and a significant portion of it, I didn't think we played very consistently up front. I think right now, there's been some positive publicity about our offensive line that currently doesn't appear to be very justified.

Q: Was Falk passing downfield more a positive in Saturday's game?
ML: Yeah, there were a lot of positive things in the game. There were a lot of positive things in the game. We need to figure out a way to win, we didn't. We had an opportunity to win, we didn't. There were a lot of positive things in that game. We played hard, all sides of the ball contributed, all sides of the ball had opportunities we didn't fully capitalize on.

Q: Is that where this team is at? Improving but not translating to wins?
ML: I think there's some truth to that. I think we practice hard, I think we play hard. But then I think in our case we need to really pay a lot of attention to detail. All this business of somebody's only started for a year or he's a young fella. Well, forget that. You've got to step up and act like you belong there and play like you belong there. It's a blessing and a privilege to be able to play early and have the opportunity to do those things. Well, now act like you belong there. Now focus in like you belong there.

Q: Do you feel like you're seeing progress?
ML: Oh I think there's no question about that but you always want it to be faster and I'd like the progress to be faster. Any way that we see that we can speed it up, we need to do it. I think there's been movement forward and improvement but we've got to do everything we can to speed it up.

Q: How encouraging is it to see them forcing turnovers on defense and how discouraging is it on offense to not score off those turnovers?
ML: Well, defensively we're playing really hard and running to the ball. Neither side scored on the back end of heir turnovers and, obviously, we expected to be able to score. I thought, yeah, if you have the opportunity to score then you should score. There's not any more disappointment, we want to score every drive.

Q: Have you noticed improvement by the defense at reacting to sudden changes and turnovers?
ML: Well, we had three fourth down stops. Those are like turnovers. WE stopped Cal three times on fourth down. I thought that was very good defensively and that's like a turnover.

Q: But in regards to the defense's response to turnovers by the WSU offense?
ML: Yeah, I thought they did. I thought they did and I thought defensively we did a good job a lot of times. But key drives they let them off the hook, just like we did on offense. That's the biggest thing. We had our chances and let them off the hook on all sides of the ball.

Q: What do you see out of the Oregon defense?
ML: They run really well. They give you a lot of looks and they run to the ball really well.

Q: They've given up a lot of big plays. Does that give you an advantage?
ML: Well, they're very aggressive. They're very aggressive, some similarities to last year. Fast, aggressive and they'll try to disguise the looks, give you a lot of different looks.

Q: Would you be OK with Falk throwing more interceptions if it meant being more decisive and quick?
ML: Well, I can think of two, one sack I thought he held the ball and the other I thought he held up on a naked play where he's supposed to roll out. The other ones I thought we got him pressure and then the other one, and there were several times he got hit and still shouldn't have got hit. If you're going to be an offensive lineman and you're the toughest unit on the team then you've got to be the toughest. Go out there and whip the guy across from you just because you're tougher than he is. If that's not your mentality, you probably ought to play something else. Like Scrabble, maybe, or something like that.

Q: Did you see reluctance from Falk to check down to running backs?
ML: No, I didn't. He completed 70 percent, no I didn't.

Q: How impressive is Royce Freeman?
ML: Good player, explosive.

Q: Is it tough preparing for their murky quarterback situation?
ML: I don't think it really is. They're both similar. It's tough preparing because they're quality quarterbacks but they have enough similarities that it doesn’t change anything up. … They're both similar quality guys so whichever one they select, that guy's tough and can move the offense.

Q: What does Gabe Marks bring that the other receivers don't?
ML: Well, he's more experienced then some. And he's explosive, competitive, wants the ball.

Q: Do you think Marks brings a fire that you would like to see in more players?
ML: Yeah, some, but people demonstrate how they play differently than others. But yeah, excited, emotional player. Ended up with 140 yards, should have had more. Had an opportunity to get more.

Q: Do you have a preference for whether your defensive coordinator calls plays from the press box or sideline?
ML: His call, wherever he wants to be that's his call. No matter who you are, there's a similarity to how you do it, whether the coordinator's in the box or on the field. One way or the other, there's a conversation between somebody on the field and somebody up top. And then the guy on the field is going to signal and the guy up top's going to spot and evaluate and kind of word illustrate what they see. Whether you flip it from the field to the top, it really doesn't matter.

One thing, some guys like it at the top because they feel like they can see better and think in a more quiet fashion. The game's sort of like a video game up there in a way. But no matter what, you've got to keep an eye on the players and there's guys that need to be picked up or settled down. But I think the way they're handling it goes really well. And the fact that he's comfortable with it, I think is the best approach for us.

Q: Have you ever been in the box?
ML: I did for two games. I personally didn't like the box. Why I didn't like the box was I've always felt, because everybody's got their different approach, I've always felt that it's a game played by people. People's emotions go up and down and so I've always felt that. And part of it is that I first started off as an offensive line coach and the offensive line coach is always on the field, so I came by it naturally and as I evolved into a coordinator, one I wasn't used to being in the box and two, I liked being there so I can see and address the ups and downs of the team. With that said, the same thing, I talk to Graham Harrell up top and of course we have a conversation about what he sees, because he can see better than I can, because he's got a better vantage point. And there's a discussion about how to proceed through the game plan.

Q: Do you choose based on personality?
ML:  Sometimes, it's a combination of that and then the other thing would be the position or the role that they have. Because one way or the other, no matter what happens, one of the receiver coaches is going to be up top. And then in our case we currently have both. One way or the other, the offensive line coach is going to have some dialogue with the O-line (graduate assistant) and another coach, whoever you feel like has the best eyes of the field. Sometimes people have a knack or personality for it like you described and sometimes by position they're going to be up there. I think in coach Grinch's case, he's always been in the secondary. A lot of times secondary guys are box guys. I imagine, and that's a good question, I imagine he's spent more time in the box than not so his background puts him there in a similar fashion to mine puts me in the field.

Q: What has Grinch shown you through the first four games?
ML: The biggest thing is just steady improvement by our defense. We're getting faster and quicker, and getting better. The other thing is his philosophy of the game is similar to mine: You constantly focus on improving, constantly focus on what you can do better and there's not point where you talk about him relaxing or gee we played good, let's just enjoy it and all that stuff.

Q: Do you know much about Vernon Adams?
ML: Good player, but the other guy's a good player, too. And the other thing, whether he can entirely go or not, I'm not sure they're entirely sure who's ahead of who.

Q: Do the early kickoffs this year feel different?
ML: I don't know, I don't pay much attention. I don't know what time the game is this Saturday. We'll figure that all out on Thursday.

Q: What are your thoughts on the conference?
ML: I think it's like last year. Nobody knew for sure what our conference would be like because there are a couple of new faces, in particular a lot of teams had starting quarterbacks back the year before and now there're new guys. But, you know, I think what many suspected is true: That teams reloaded and they're very competitive and that type of thing. Of course Utah has always been very imposing defensively and then there were some plays that got away from Oregon and that inflated the score. Utah's a big, physical team and they're going to test you no matter what. They're going to come upfield and hit your quarterback. The idea is of course that you get rid of the ball and score real quick, but they're still planning to hit him a bunch and they will, and they did. And of course Utah had a couple big plays on special teams and offense and Oregon couldn't stop them.

Q: Can you get much from that film?
ML: Well yeah, you'll see how they address the looks. It's not like somebody watches the Utah film and all of a sudden you're guaranteed 60 points or whatever it adds up to. But you look at what you have in common with Utah and how they try to address the problems and things.

Q: What's your favorite place to eat in Pullman?
ML: Favorite place to eat in Pullman. My two favorites are Black Cypress – very good, the building and the property itself is very interesting and Nick, the owner, fantastic guy and very brilliant as far as all their stuff. Two doors down is Taqueria Chaparrito, great Mexican food and that guy there does a great job. So those would be my two favorites.

Q: Do you have time to visit in season?
Ml: Sometimes. Basically, one night a week during the season if you decide to go out to eat you know you can. Thursday night. And sometimes Chaparrito you can just hurry by and grab stuff.

Q: Still getting the green macha at Café Morro?
ML:  I have. I kind of defer to him and he decides, you know. He decides and they stir stuff up. They've got the powder. It's all very mysterious. It's a lot like the medical profession. They wear white, cloak-y stuff and then of course they have a stethoscope on that they never use and they write in illegible handwriting because they think it's not our business to see what it says and they'll stick it in Latin. And it's all just this charade of I'm the doctor and you're not, so it's very similar to that.

WSU Homecoming game against Oregon State set for 1 p.m. kickoff

Washington State will host Oregon State on Saturday, Oct. 17, at 1 p.m. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network. 

From WSU:

As part of the Homecoming Weekend festivities against the Beavers, Cougar football is going Back to the Future, as Marty McFly and Doc Brown set the DeLorean for October 2015, in the hit movie. Fans are encouraged to dress up like their favorite character, with the first 5,000 fans receiving a limited edition Back to the Future T-shirt.

This Saturday's game at Oregon will kick off at 3 p.m. and also be televised on the Pac-12 Networks. 

Morning links: Final thoughts and a Sunday practice

Kick off Week 6 of the college football season with some links.

First, I'll pass along my final thoughts from the California game, a day-after post that I'll be doing for the rest of the season. I also wrote a story for today's paper about what the Cougars must do to come away with a win at Oregon. I was at WSU's short practice last night and composed this blog post that also includes video of some assistant coaches giving interviews after practice.

CougCenter's Brian Floyd is tired of seeing the same old problems plaguing the WSU football team. … But Stefanie Loh says the Cougars looked a lot better this week. … Kevin Gemmell has WSU No. 10 in his Pac-12 power rankings. … The Cougars could face a two-quarterback rotation this weekend. 

WSU coaches speak after Sunday night practice

Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and special teams coordinator Eric Mele spoke to the media after Washington State's short practice.

As always, the team's day-after-game practice was short and largely uneventful, with the team avoiding contact and doing mostly special teams and skeleton work. It is worth noting, however, that nickel Isaac Dotson was not at practice. Dotson missed a couple weeks of practice following the Rutgers game and did not play against Wyoming. He came back for the California game, but did not look 100 percent early in the game and played sparingly.

After practice defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and special teams coordinator Eric Mele granted interviews to the media members present. We have videos below.



Final thoughts from the Cal game

Now that we're into conference play I'm going to bring back my weekly "final thoughts" posts from last season, in which I try to cover my impressions from the game that weren't necessarily evident in the game story or notebook but still warrant mentioning. However, this year I'm going to make it a day-after post because I believe it will be more thorough and accurate if I take some time to formulate my thoughts. Also, I need Sunday material for links.

One day may not be enough to digest what we saw yesterday. An old friend who helped broadcast the game and I caught up up at halftime, and we both noted how "weird" the first half felt. The Cougars were up, 21-13 at that point, but it certainly felt like they should be up more. There was a sense that both teams were making things happen, but that neither had gained any sort of foothold or momentum over the other and that the half's result was random even in the context of college athletics.

After a 21-7 third quarter in Cal's favor and a scoreless fourth, my feelings haven't really changed since halftime. It was a weird game that was more a potpourri of highlights for each team than anything resembling assertion or acquiescence on either's part. 

So, let's try to sift through the weirdness.

— For starters, let's say someone – a sort of time-traveling someone, specifically – had told you before the game that two huge special teams mishaps would go against the Cougars and almost certainly cost them the game, you would have naturally assumed that the Golden Bears had scored on either kickoff or punt returns, right?

That would be a pretty wise assumption. The last time these two teams met, Cal returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and if they hadn't WSU would have won.  Since that game, the Cougars have given up three more punt returns for touchdowns and more kickoff score, including one of each earlier this year at Rutgers. The player who returned both of the scores for the Golden Bears, Trevor Davis, was still on the team for today's game, and presumably he hadn't gotten any worse at running with a football.

But actually, the coverage teams for WSU were basically OK. Zach Charme punted three times and Davis returned one, for 16 yards, which is a decent chunk of yards and saves the offense a first down or so but isn't game changing. Davis' four kickoff returns went for 87 yards, never more than 28, and were also not the reasons WSU lost.

Instead, the Cougars were caught off-guard by an onside kick and tried a fake punt that literally, barring injury, could not have gotten worse. Let's talk about the onside kick first and let me begin by saying that, for the purposes of evaluating WSU, it doesn't matter whether or not the Cal player was able to fully secure the football before rolling out of bounds. I don't know why you brought it up.

Let's take a look at the video in the tweet below. Look at WSU's formation and how tightly bunched the first line of players is in the middle of the field. It's not very difficult for Cal's kicker to put the ball closer to his own players than WSU. Throw in the element of surprise and, well, it's easy to see why it worked.


Now compare that to this kick return from earlier in the year. The players are much more spread across the field. The space where Cal onside-kicked the ball just isn't there.

I don't know why WSU went with the different return formation. Obviously, they must have seen something in Cal's return team that made them think it would be effective. But the Golden Bears saw something they thought they could exploit, too, and they were right.

Now, let's look at the fake punt. Here it is: 

After seeing that video, I don't have particularly strong feelings one way or the other. Cal read the fake pretty well considering WSU's little maneuver to create confusion by switching the offense and the punt team at the last second. Still, it was well blocked and it looks like Charme probably gets the first down if he holds onto the ball.

Mike Leach called it a "bad call" after the game and it was probably a little too cute – the play where Gerard Wicks eats a can of spinach and then throws defenders into the stands worked pretty well on the touchdown run. But still, the worst thing about the play was that it put the ball in the hands of a young player whose skillset is not holding onto the football. WSU's coaches aren't the first to do that – fake punts exits – and they won't be the last. It was a critical part of the game, but I don't know that it was an especially illogical decision.

— This feels like a game that will be judged harshly through the lingering lens of the Portland State loss. True, it was a very winnable game and a missed opportunity, one that makes bowl eligibility a fair bit harder, it was a road game against a ranked team who was favored by nearly three touchdowns.

WSU was never going to be favored in this game and 2-2 was a reasonable prediction for the Cougars' record a third of the way through the season.

— WSU has more playmakers on defense than they've had in a long time. Isaac Dotson, who has been injured these last couple weeks, gave it a go and started the game at nickelback. For whatever reason, he wasn't able to stay in much, and Parker Henry got the bulk of the snaps. But even without Dotson the Cougars had an unreasonable bouncer in the secondary in safety Shalom Luani, who transformed Kenny Lawler from a Gazelle into Giselle with this hit:

Hercules Mata'afa in the second half looked like the player we kept writing about in our Thursday Night Football practice reports last year and Marcellus Pippins took Jared Goff's number in the first quarter, sent it to Donald Trump and told him to do with it what he will.

Pippins had one of the best quarterbacks in the country's best passing conference legitimately, rightfully, scared to throw it at him and it's been a long time since that's been true at WSU.

— After the game, quarterback Luke Falk took the blame for the seven sacks WSU gave up. He's not wrong. In some respects, this was one of Falk's best games at WSU. He felt dangerous in a way that he hadn't yet this season, taking shots downfield and throwing deep passes on the money to Gabe Marks and Dom Williams. But check out this exchange:

To expound upon what I was saying there, Falk constantly hits his running backs on check downs in practice, it appears habitual to him, almost a comfort. He seems perfectly willing to put the ball in Harrington, Morrow and Wicks' hands and take five yards with a chance at more whenever he gets an inkling that something isn't developing downfield.

That's what made it so curious today when Falk kept scanning, scanning, scanning downfield with a running back hanging out in the flats and nobody around, finding no one and eventually getting hit by a Cal defender. There were definitely opportunities for big plays missed because the running backs didn't get the ball on certain plays, and sacks that could have been avoided.

— Gabe Marks is playing out of his mind this season and it will be a waste if the only bowl game he plays in is the 2013 New Mexico Bowl.


Morning links: Cougars can’t overcome miscues at Cal

We have the usual smorgasbord of postgame links to pass long, such as our game story, notebook, scoring summary, postgame notes, and videos of Mike Leach, Luke Falk, Darryl Paulo, Gabe Marks and Peyton Pelluer. We also have this story about senior nose tackle Devonte McClain's dominant scrimmage on Thursday.

Here is the CougCenter game recap. … Stefanie Loh of the Seattle Times covered the game as well. … Catch up on yesterday's games with our Pac-12 roundup.  … Kevin Gemmell hits the highlights from the game. … Former WSU basketball star Klay Thompson was in attendance.

Here's what happened in the other Pac-12 games:

— The conference continues to cannibalize itself, with Arizona State knocking off No. 7 UCLA on the road. Maybe the Bruins can get a bye in Week 5 next year.

— Stanford had no trouble with Arizona.

— Colorado couldn't capitalize on a reeling Oregon team, although the Ducks didn’t exactly look like their old selves.

Morning links: It’s a Golden Bear game day

Washington State will don its all-white uniforms and play the Golden Bears in California Memorial Stadium at 1 p.m. today.

Before that happens, you will want to read story previewing the game.  And while you're here, check out our photos from WSU's first men's basketball practice. … CougCenter previews today's game in its Pre-Snap Read. … Stefanie Loh takes a look at the two offenses that will face off today. … So does Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.


— Expect the Sun Devils to turn up the heat on Josh Rosen.

— Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau will play through the pain against Oregon.

— The hard-to-stop force of Arizona's run game goes up against the hard-to-move object that is Stanford's rushing defense.

—BONUS LINK: Nine years after his kidnapping, Brad Pearson tracked down and confronted his kidnappers.

Cougars conclude their first practice of basketball season

I'm sitting in a well-worn chair at SeaTac airport, which means I wasn't at WSU's first practice. But the team was kind enough to pass along some photos.

So, let's see what they sent us.

First we have this picture of Valetine Izundu, who I suspect is pretty happy that the NCAA will start allowing dunks during warmups.

By analyzing the cues in this photo we can deduce that the Cougars did some conditioning on Friday.

Point guard Charles Callison, a junior college transfer, wraps a pass around sophomore Ny Redding. 

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I don't actually believe Ernie Kent is trying to poke assistant coach Greg Graham in the eye.

The Cougars think really highly of Izundu's shot-blocking ability, but I suspect he wasn't able to get a piece of this Que Johnson floater.

After practice, a few of the Cougars took to social media to celebrate the first day of basketball season.




Morning links: Harrington and Thursday Night Football

In today's paper we have a profile of Keith Harrington, the freshman running back who is racking up touchdowns for Washington State.

Read that here. Also check out our practice report from yesterday's Thursday Night Football underclassmen scrimmage. … You will be less informed about Luke Falk than your friends if you don't read Jeff Nusser and Brian Anderson's examination of the quarterback's performance to date. … Stefanie Loh at the Seattle Times wrote a profile of WSU kicker Erik Powell. … Friend of SportsLink Coug-a-Sutra wrote about tomorrow's game.

Elsewhere in the "Conference of Champions" …

— The Huskies missed 30 tackles last week. They would like to miss fewer.

— Anu Solomon is "questionable" for Arizona's game at Stanford. That's bad.

— Arizona State won't have a prayer against UCLA unless it can play mistake-free football.

— Cal running back Daniel Lasco expects to play against the Cougars tomorrow.

— Seems like a lot of people think Colorado has a pretty good shot against Oregon. I remain skeptical.

— Ken Goe's post starts with Oregon and ends with Mike Leach. How did he get from one to the other? Maybe you can help me figure it out.

— Oregon State's starting tight end (an Evergreen State native) is out for the season.

— It's not really all that shocking that Barry Sanders Jr. is good at football.

— What makes UCLA's freshman quarterback so good?

— Is USC still the Pac-12 favorite?

— Utah has a shot to be special, says Gordon Monson.

WSU practice notes: Devonte McClain leads defense to Thursday Night Football win

Devonte McClain came to Washington State to protect quarterbacks. He spent Thursday's practice assaulting them.

None of the three quarterbacks who led drives during Washington State's weekly underclassmen scrimmage were unaffected by the senior nose tackle. His first sack came at the expense of Peyton Bender, who could not find anyone open and stayed in the pocket a beat to long.

McClain got around his man after about three seconds and sized up Bender, who froze, before swinging his meaty arm like an ax down on the football, which was driven into the ground and rolled about 10 yards back from the line of scrimmage.

Once Tyler Hilinski took over, McClain made like Drake and went back-to-back with his sacks, getting to the freshmen before the receivers had any chance to get open, twice.

Christian Jorgenson stayed out of McClain's clutches, but guess who recovered Kyle Sweet's fumble after Dakota Sinchak ripped the ball away from the receiver? Yes, it was McClain.

Those big plays largely made the difference for the defense, which appeared to win the scrimmage. There were a few other plays that stood out, however. Calvin Green walloped Isaiah Davis to break up a pass and he did a good job recognizing a play and running up to the line of scrimmage to stop Davis for one yard on a quick-pass. Green still has some work learning the position to do before he sees the field, but when he knows where to go he gets there quickly.

Sinchak had the aforementioned strip but also one of the most blatant pass interferences you'll ever see.

On the offensive side, walk-on receiver Kaleb Fossum has struggled a bit this week with drops, which are pretty glaring since he's usually a very sure-handed receiver. That issue persisted today as his drop and one by Kyle Sweet were all that prevented Hilinski from completing six of seven passes. Hilinski was putting a pretty good drive together but McClain killed it with the consecutive sacks. After the second sack, Sweet dropped a third-down pass and was well short of a first down on his fourth-and-long reception.

Fossum atoned for his drop and them some during Jorgenson's session, however. After Aaron Porter sacked the QB, Fossum showed great concentration to complete a diving catch while he was being interfered with by Kyle Torres to give the offense, which was starting to stall, a 35-yard gain. He then caught a 10-yard pass on a drag route to get the offense to the goal line, where James Williams punched it in, completing what I believe was Jorgenson's first scoring drive this year. The offense got one more play and Jorgenson threw a touchdown pass to Fossum on a slant route.

We won't write so much about Williams, who is regularly the best player during these scrimmages, other than to say that the one-yard touchdown run was his only carry that went less for five yards. Running back Alijah Lee was impressive catching the ball out of the backfield, taking short passes eight and 15 yards.

The Cougars will have a short walk-through tomorrow morning that is closed to the media before flying to California for Saturday's 1 p.m. game at Cal.

Morning links: Cal offense and Pac-12 picks

From the start of our online chat to the end of practice, there's plenty of WSU news to recap from Wednesday.

Don't worry if you missed the chat, we've got the full transcript here. And there's more WSU news in our daily practice report. Last week we learned that anybody can get a hot streak every now and then as I went 4-1 in my Pac-12 picks. Think I can stay hot? In the paper I also have a story about the Air Raid offenses that are gearing up for another duel this weekend. Plus, Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle had me answer some questions about the Cougars in advance of Saturday's game. Letourneau also has a story about the link between the Cal and WSU head coaches. … USC star Adoree Jackson may start to see more time on offense. … UCLA's defense still isn't meeting Jim Mora's standards. … If Arizona can't find a way to beat Stanford, a once promising season will be on the brink. … Why are the Utes so good? Because Travis Wilson is playing his best football yet.

WSU practice notes: Cougar defense in a pilfering mood

I'm not sure I've ever seen a flurry of takeaways quite like the one that occurred early in Wednesday's practice.

The defense has looked especially active this week. The players are moving fast, their hands are everywhere and they're playing with a lot of energy.

That's a good recipe for takeaways and the turnovers came in bunches for the WSU defense on Wednesday afternoon. Shortly after warming up and doing some individual drill work, the scout team offense lined up about five yards away from the end zone so the defense could get some work near the goal line.

Charleston White and Kirkland Parker showed good instincts to intercept bullet passes within just a couple plays of each other. Marcellus Pippins picked a pass that was batted up by Peyton Pelluer and Treshon Broughton got one of his own.

Deion Singleton had one of the more athletic interceptions I've seen, gliding back to a receiver who seemed to have beaten him downfield and diving to make the interception at the offensive player's knees. Pelluer also forced a fumble when he ripped the ball away from Xavier Boone with Shalom Luani recovering the football. Singleton nearly had a second pick later in practice.

The craziest turnover, by far, came toward the end of practice when running back James Williams had the ball stripped, and Tyler Hilinski recovered it. The quarterback then tried to complete a pass but instead was intercepted by Chandler Leniu.

 — The MVP of today's practice was clearly walk-on receiver D.J. Thompson who made a crazy catch, then another one, and then a third.

The first catch was probably the most impressive. The receiver jetted down the left sideline but was matched stride-for-stride by starting cornerback Darrien Molton, who appeared to successfully run the receiver away from the ball. At the last second, however, and just inches away from being out of bounds, Thompson momentarily ducked his right shoulder into Molton to create separation and then extended his left arm upward, making a one-handed catch of about 30 yards that was a little reminiscent of Dom Williams' touchdown catch against Wyoming, except Thompson was more thoroughly covered.

He made similarly contested catches, using both hands, when seemingly well-covered by Parker and Taylor Taliulu.

— Isaac Dotson wore a yellow no-contact jersey during practice today but was otherwise a full participant. Barring a setback, I expect he will play on Saturday.

WSU football chat (transcript)

Sep 30 2015, 11:00 AM

Guest269 (guest): Over/under on how many times the Pac-12 Network mentions last year's game during Saturday's game?

Sep 30 2015, 11:01 AM

srchat: At least 45 and certainly not more than 6,545. The references will be dictated by the action. If there is a lot of scoring, then they'll refer to last year's scoring/records incessantly. If there isn't much action, then they'll refer to last year's scoring/records incessantly to fill air time.

Sep 30 2015, 11:01 AM

CougBing (guest): I keep seeing CJ Dimiry not participating. Are we going to see him in a game this year? His size would be great in the red zone where we struggle.

Sep 30 2015, 11:01 AM

srchat: I don't expect to see Dimry play this season.

Sep 30 2015, 11:02 AM

Jonthecoug: Where was Lemora vs Wyoming? I figured he would play nickel with Dotson not being able to go. Is he just behind Henry?

Sep 30 2015, 11:02 AM

srchat: Lemora has been behind Henry for awhile now. Although, I did see him get a couple opportunities with the ones yesterday, so he may be making a move back up the depth chart.

Sep 30 2015, 11:02 AM

CougBing (guest): Last couple practices have the D winning over the O. Should we be worried?

Sep 30 2015, 11:04 AM

srchat: Well, the defense looked better than the offense against Wyoming. I think it's fair to say the defense has been a little ahead of the offense recently. If that's because the offense is poor then yes, worry, but the defense being ahead is inherently worrisome.

Sep 30 2015, 11:04 AM

Guest4821 (guest): Do you think cal being favored by 19 is a good line? Seems a little high to me

Sep 30 2015, 11:05 AM

srchat: If if gets people to bet evenly on both sides so that the casinos are guaranteed to win, it's a good line. And don't forget, it has moved significantly since it opened, meaning it's a line that is informed by people's bets. That said, I certainly won't be picking Cal to win by 19+.

Sep 30 2015, 11:06 AM

GuestAbroad (guest): To what do you attribute the offensive struggles? Line play?

Sep 30 2015, 11:07 AM

srchat: I think the line has played pretty well. The offense as a whole seems to have trouble getting in sync and there still seems to be miscommunication, not necessarily pre-snap, but during plays.

Sep 30 2015, 11:07 AM

Guest4821 (guest): Thanks! About your practice notes last night, how many scholarship QBs do most schools carry on the roster?

Sep 30 2015, 11:08 AM

srchat: At least four and often five. Ideally, you want to bring in one scholarship QB per recruiting class.

Sep 30 2015, 11:09 AM

CougBing (guest): Not seeing much at all from the H so far. Is it talent?

Sep 30 2015, 11:11 AM

srchat: Not necessarily. I still expect Robert Lewis to factor in heavily this year and he had a couple key catches to extend drives against Wyoming. H was by far the least targeted receiver position last year as well, with two X receivers, the Y receiver, Z receiver and a RB all getting more receptions than Rickey Galvin.

Sep 30 2015, 11:11 AM

Guest4821 (guest): Do you expect to see any fights outside of the stadium on Saturday?

Sep 30 2015, 11:11 AM

srchat: That depends, are you making the trip?

Sep 30 2015, 11:12 AM

Guest4821 (guest): No but I wish I was

Sep 30 2015, 11:12 AM

Guest9747 (guest): Do you think WSU needs to bring in more than one qb per class to solve this issue? I always was confused by both Apodaca and Bruggman transferring?

Sep 30 2015, 11:13 AM

srchat: No, none of the QBs graduate this year. Assuming nobody transfers out, the Cougars will have four scholarship QBs on the roster next year. I expect that to help the scout team immensely.

Sep 30 2015, 11:16 AM

kylegoon: Who in the Pac-12 is the most handsome, most intelligent and most witty beat reporter you've met? Outside of Andrew Greif, though?

Sep 30 2015, 11:17 AM

srchat: There's this reporter who covers the Utes for the Salt Lake Tribune. He's funny, charming, the ultimate bon vivant. When he walks into a room, writers who are typically crusty and jaded light up. Cheerleaders want him and quarterbacks want to be him. His name is Matthew Piper.

Sep 30 2015, 11:17 AM

Guest1711 (guest): Will Broughton see some playing time this week?

Sep 30 2015, 11:18 AM

srchat: He saw some against Wyoming so I definitely expect him to play against Cal.

Sep 30 2015, 11:18 AM

GuestAbroad (guest): Barring injury, do you see Bender getting much PT this year? There isn't much garbage time left on the schedule.

Sep 30 2015, 11:19 AM

srchat: I don't he'll get much unless there is an injury for that reason. Unless the Cougars can run away from OSU or another team, I doubt Bender will play much.

Sep 30 2015, 11:19 AM

Guest9747 (guest): WSU releases uni combo voting today, what would you choose? (number reading aside)

Sep 30 2015, 11:20 AM

srchat: I think Daniel Ekuale looks pretty fresh with the white helmet, crimson jersey and gray pants. Vote No. 11!

Sep 30 2015, 11:20 AM

CougBing (guest): I like seeing Hercules on the field. He getting any time with the 1's?

Sep 30 2015, 11:21 AM

srchat: He usually gets a bit during practice. I could see him being a big factor this week because Cal seemed pretty susceptible to a good pass rush against UW and really, that's the only way to throw off Goff.

Sep 30 2015, 11:21 AM

Guest269 (guest): I seem to recall Baker Mayfield being on WSU's radar a few years ago. Do you know of any other recruits, QBs or otherwise, that went elsewhere so we can play a game of "What if?"

Sep 30 2015, 11:23 AM

srchat: Well, I think Jonathan Stewart (Oly's finest) considered WSU pretty strongly. There's the whole Bishop Sankey dealio. Austin Joyner at UW and Brett Rypien at Boise State are guys from last year's class WSU had a shot at and would love to have landed. That linebacker at Oregon from Steilacoom. It sure seems like WSU should have paid more attention to Austin Rehkow, the Idaho punter.

Sep 30 2015, 11:28 AM

Guest269 (guest): With Pullman being a small town, how often do you run into the players you cover? Any awkward moments? TMZ-style run-ins?

Sep 30 2015, 11:29 AM

srchat: It's basically impossible not to see players and coaches at the local grocery stores or opium dens. I try not to frequent the same nighttime establishments as the players so they can have their space and have fun without worrying about that snoopy reporter in the corner.

Sep 30 2015, 11:31 AM

Guest6176 (guest): What are the keys to WSU's success this weekend?

Sep 30 2015, 11:32 AM

srchat: I think they need at least two takeaways, they have to put up at least 35 points and no special teams touchdowns.

Sep 30 2015, 11:32 AM

Jonthecoug: Do you expect another shootout like we saw last year where the first team to 60 wins?

Sep 30 2015, 11:32 AM

srchat: I don't expect the game to be that high scoring. I think a combined score between 75-85 seems about right.

Sep 30 2015, 11:32 AM

Guest6176 (guest): If they count all of our touchdowns this year then we might have a shot.

Sep 30 2015, 11:33 AM

srchat: If WSU scores touchdowns and doesn't get credit for them I don't give the Cougars much of a shot.

Sep 30 2015, 11:36 AM

Guest4821 (guest): Do you know if they give the players chocolate milk after practice/workouts?

Sep 30 2015, 11:36 AM

srchat: WSU is more of a smoothie school.

Sep 30 2015, 11:36 AM

Guest3500 (guest): Will Hunter Dale's role be increasing? If so, how much how fast? As far as you can tell

Sep 30 2015, 11:37 AM

srchat: He just played in his first game so it's certainly increasing, and I expect it will continue to. He'll be a backup safety going forward and I think they'll increase his snaps steadily and see what he does with them.

Sep 30 2015, 11:37 AM

Jonthecoug: Do you think WSU completely takes Trevor Davis out of the return game by not kicking to him? I sure hope so.

Sep 30 2015, 11:37 AM

srchat: I would imagine there will be some creative ways to keep the ball away from Davis. Of course, like we saw against Rutgers, that can be easier said than done.

Sep 30 2015, 11:38 AM

Guest3500 (guest): So no starts for dale this season?

Sep 30 2015, 11:39 AM

srchat: I haven't seen that from him yet. But it's still so early in his career. At any time he could have a breakout game, show stuff we've never seen in terms of skill and ability and claim a starting spot.

Sep 30 2015, 11:39 AM

Jonthecoug: You seem to be impressed with Hilinski lately. It's early but any chance he takes the backup job next year?

Sep 30 2015, 11:40 AM

srchat: I'm starting to think there's a chance of that. Hilinski has a similar skill set to bender and I haven't felt that Bender has played particularly well the last couple weeks. If Hilinksi keeps improving at a high rate and Bender doesn't respond by similarly improving, I could see Hilinksi moving up the depth chart next year.

Sep 30 2015, 11:40 AM

Guest3500 (guest): How many rushing yards do you think cal will get?

Sep 30 2015, 11:41 AM

srchat: I imagine 150 or more. They've got a physical, strong back in Enewere and a couple speed guys who will probably get an explosive run or two.

Sep 30 2015, 11:42 AM

Guest3500 (guest): How's there o line?

Sep 30 2015, 11:42 AM

srchat: Didn't look very good at all in the UW game, at least in pass protection.

Sep 30 2015, 11:44 AM

Guest4821 (guest): What's your way too early prediction for the Pac 12 championship game?

Sep 30 2015, 11:45 AM

srchat: UCLA finally takes down Stanford. Afterward Jim Mora gripes about how the Cardinal converted on too many third downs.

Sep 30 2015, 11:46 AM

Jonthecoug: I feel like Dom is due for a breakout game. He seems a bit quiet this year.

Sep 30 2015, 11:46 AM

srchat: Does he? He's on pace for 12 touchdown catches. I guess I expected one or two more receptions and maybe 25 more yards per game, but he's been a playmaker.

Sep 30 2015, 11:46 AM

Guest6176 (guest): Was the Cal defense that good or is UW just worse than last year?

Sep 30 2015, 11:47 AM

srchat: I didn't think the Cal defense was "five turnovers" good and the UW QB, freshman Jake Browning, is still figuring a lot of things out. But I do think Cal's defense has improved since last year.

Sep 30 2015, 11:47 AM

Guest4821 (guest): Hahaha thanks

Sep 30 2015, 11:48 AM

Guest3500 (guest): I'm calling a breakout game from our d line, and a 45-35 victory! Go cougs!

Sep 30 2015, 11:48 AM

Guest6285 (guest): Do you see a need for Falk to play a little more 'fast and loose' to open up the offense?

Sep 30 2015, 11:49 AM

srchat: In my opinion that would help. However, it's important to point out that Falk has been able to throw just one interception in three games and that would probably not be true if he'd been playing less conservatively. Against PSU I think he definitely should have have been more aggressive. I'm not sure that's the right play against Rutgers, though.

Sep 30 2015, 11:50 AM

Jonthecoug: Who are some of the redshirting freshmen who are standing out in practice? Williams?

Sep 30 2015, 11:50 AM

srchat: Definitely Williams and the offensive linemen are all impressive physically, albeit still raw.

Sep 30 2015, 11:51 AM

Guest3500 (guest): Expecting a recruiting drop off?

Sep 30 2015, 11:52 AM

srchat: This year's class doesn't have the four stars that last year's did around the same time, so one could read that as a recruiting drop-off. However, so many of those kids decommitted, it may just be a shift in the staff's priorities to players they're sure will stick with their commitments.

Sep 30 2015, 11:55 AM

GuestAbroad (guest): Going back to the question from Guest6285, do you see Falk checking-down frequently in practice as opposed to taking a shot downfield to a receiver that may or may not be open?

Sep 30 2015, 11:56 AM

srchat: I'd say he takes a few more shots in practice.

Sep 30 2015, 11:59 AM

Guest3500 (guest): Which 4*'s decommitted?

Sep 30 2015, 12:00 PM

srchat: Kyahva Tezino, Austin Joyner, Dominic Davis, Deontay Burnett, Dahu Green and Taeon Mason were all highly-recruited players that committed to WSU then went elsewhere.

Sep 30 2015, 12:01 PM

Guest6 (guest): Is Marks 100%?

Sep 30 2015, 12:01 PM

srchat: I think so.

Sep 30 2015, 12:01 PM

Guest6176 (guest): Between Sonny and Michael do you think we got the wrong guy?

Sep 30 2015, 12:01 PM

srchat: I think Leach was the more impressive hire. But it's hard not to be impressed with the way Dykes has gone from 1-11 to 5-7 to 4-0.

Sep 30 2015, 12:01 PM

Guest3500 (guest): Text no academic?

Sep 30 2015, 12:02 PM

srchat: What?

Sep 30 2015, 12:02 PM

GuestAbroad (guest): Successfully?

Sep 30 2015, 12:02 PM

srchat: Yes, Falk is pretty accurate on his deep throws in practice.

Sep 30 2015, 12:03 PM

Guest6176 (guest): Maybe Dykes was the brains of the operation the whole time as the OC.

Sep 30 2015, 12:03 PM

srchat: Dykes was only an OC at TTU for two years, right in the middle of Leach's tenure, so that wouldn't really make sense.

Sep 30 2015, 12:05 PM

Guest3500 (guest): Lol, sorry, don't know what happened there. Was tezino academic fallout?

Sep 30 2015, 12:05 PM

srchat: No, he's on the roster at San Diego State so he's academically qualified.

Sep 30 2015, 12:05 PM

rg84 (guest): Or Sonny inherited way more talent

Sep 30 2015, 12:08 PM

srchat: Maybe, but with Deone Bucannon, Jake Rodgers, Jeff Tuel, Marquess Wilson, Travis Long, Xavier Cooper and John Fullington all getting NFL looks, I don't think the cupboard was quite as bare as people like to say.

Sep 30 2015, 12:10 PM

Guest2703 (guest): Do you see tapa cracking first defense?do you think he is good enough to play there?

Sep 30 2015, 12:10 PM

srchat: I think he'll be a multi-year starter in the middle of the defense. I'm not sure his conditioning is quite there yet, but they'll play him as much as they can.

Sep 30 2015, 12:12 PM

Guest3500 (guest): And is Kyle sweet not as good as thought? How's he been doing?

Sep 30 2015, 12:12 PM

srchat: He's doing fine. It's a tough group of receivers for a freshman to break into.

Sep 30 2015, 12:14 PM

srchat: Alright, that's our live chat everybody. Thanks for dropping by, the full transcript will be available shortly.


Morning links: Notes, practice and power rankings

We've got plenty to pass along in our morning links today, so dive on in.

Some days it's fun to shake things up a bit and break from the routine. Today isn't one of those days. Instead, just like most days we're going give you the stories in the paper first, then the stuff on the blog, followed by other WSU stories and then from around the Pac-12. So, let's get to it.

In today's Spokesman-Review I have our weekly Pac-12 notebook and Power Rankings. Online we've got a report from yesterday's practice and a video of Mike Leach. Stefanie Loh points out that Pac-12 teams are winning big games on the road and wonders if the Cougars could be next.

Utah may be the talk of the Pac-12, but its still second fiddle in the Beehive State. …  Oregon's loss last weekend had wide-reaching consequences. … The Heisman campaign for UCLA running back Paul Perkins has begun. … Bouncing back for the Wildcats could be tough with Stanford up next.

WSU practice notes: Isaac Dotson returns to practice

The Cougars will need their starting nickelback when they face arguably the country's top passer this weekend.

So it's a good thing for them that Isaac Dotson was at practice for the first time in almost two weeks on Tuesday. While it was a no-contact practice for Dotson, the nickelback did run with the ones against the scout team late in practice so its appears the Cougars are going to do everything they can to get him ready for Saturday's game.

It was a pretty normal Tuesday practice for Washington State, meaning it was mostly drill work. There was palpable energy from the first team defense, which seemed to move a little faster today than it usually does.  That speed showed up with takeaways against the scout team, with Darrien Molton intercepting a pass, Marcellus Pippins getting his hands on two and Parker Henry reeling in one of his own.

That said, I do think the recent transfers of scholarship quarterbacks Austin Apodaca and Tyler Bruggman has hurt the defense because the scout team simply doesn't have the quarterbacks to give them a great look in practice.

That's nothing against Matt Jimison, Christian Jorgenson and Connor Ennis, each of whom do yeomen's jobs learning new playbooks every week and coming to practice ready to compete against a starting Pac-12 defense.

But the Cougars only have three scholarship quarterbacks and none of them are upperclassmen. Tyler Hilinski is coming along well, but in terms of accuracy and arm strength he is far and away WSU's best scout team QB. If those guys don't transfer and Hilinski is just one of a couple or more QBs that the coaches thought were worth scholarship offers who are throwing passes against WSU's starting defense on a daily basis, it would make the defense a lot more honest.


The ball hangs so much on deep passes thrown by the walk-ons that the defensive backs and linebackers are almost always able to catch up to it, so they are rarely punished for missteps. That can't help them improve and it wouldn't be the case of WSU hadn't suffered an abnormal amount of QB attrition.

Anyway, that's just something I've been noticing in practice and it's almost certain to get fixed. The Cougars won't continue to carry just three scholarship QBs and, with all three presumably returning next year, the scout offense should be much more consistent in the passing game going forward.

Speaking of the scholarship guys, Peyton Bender played very well when I watched the practice field with the first and second team offense. He had struggled the last couple weeks, but was hitting his marks today, including a 50-yard touchdown pass to Dom Williams who ran a beautiful post route. Bender did throw a pass that Calvin Green should have intercepted, but the converted safety dropped it after breaking well on the ball. I think Bender underestimated Green's speed, and I think Green is playing faster as he begins to feel more settled on defense.

Luke Falk also threw the ball well on Tuesday, throwing a bomb to Gabe Marks who caught it with his fingertips in the end zone.