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WSU’s redshirting players have a delicate balance

Today we have the second installment in our two-part series looking at Washington State's in-season strength and conditioning regimen. Yesterday, we looked at how the starters maintain their muscle throughout a season. Today we'll take a look at the redshirts.  

Let's be honest. Tavares Martin Jr. could stand to put on a few pounds. He's 6-foot-1, 165-pounds and he's going to be even lighter at the end of the season.

Martin is just going to have to eat heavy and lift heavier in the offseason, however. Because the speedy receiver is good enough to play right now, both on special teams and at Z receiver, that he doesn't have the luxury of participating in the incubation process as most of his classmates.

There are 32 true freshmen listed on WSU's official roster. Seven of them have already played but it's fair to assume, this being Week 9, that the rest are going to redshirt, preserving a year of eligibility while practicing and working out with the team.

The redshirt year allows players to get used to living away from home and juggling football obligations with a heavy class load. It also provides a buffer year before the teenagers that arrive on campus have to regularly go up against players who have been in college weightlifting programs for four or five years.

Today we take a look at how they do that.

As we detailed yesterday, the travel squad does not lift to put on strength during the season. That would take too much out of players who are expected to play on Saturday. Instead, they do maintenance lifts and try to slow the natural atrophy of the muscles as much as possible.

But the young guys, they can put on muscle. In addition to the Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday lifts the travel squad performs, they also have a hard lift on Friday. And while the Sunday workout is a recovery workout for the players who have something to recover from, the redshirts lift heavy.

"We'll add our prowler sled work, which isn't easy at all," strength coach Jason Loscalzo said. "We'll add power sled at the beginning and do an offseason-type lower body workout on Friday morning. And then on Sunday we'll bring them in and instead of doing that circuit type wok, we'll have them do an offseason-type upper body type work."

John Graves, who you may remember playing for the Seahawks from 2010-11, is Loscalzo's "muscle" in the weight room. He handles the dirty work of setting up equipment, he coaches during lifting sessions, and for the players who spend much of practice lifting weights or working on plyometric exercises, they do so under Graves' direction.

He's also the man who handles midseason walk-on tryouts and helps freshmen who enroll early for spring practice get acclimated. Loscalzo says "all my guys coach hard," but Graves is among the most energetic.

However, the redshirts can't become full-time body builders. The non-travel players compose the scout team, and the defensive line isn't going to get a very good representation of what to expect from Stanford going up against a bunch of exhausted freshmen.

"I also have to make sure they're ready to have a great practice on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, because we need a great look out of those guys," Loscalzo said. "They need to give us a great scout team look so we need to make sure we're not overdoing it to the point where they can practice."

There's another thing redshirting freshmen have to deal with, something I'm sure many SportsLink readers can relate to. Recall your first time away from home. You were choosing and preparing your meals for the first time. Now, imagine you're a college athlete who gets all their vitamins and healthy meals from the team, but you're working out so much you're sure you can eat almost anything because you'll burn it off anyways.

That is, until Marco Candido gets ahold of you. Another member of Loscalzo's staff, Candido does the day-to-day nutritional work for the team. WSU nutritionist Lindsey Brown also helps the athletes, but she's in charge of vitamin intake for every athlete at WSU, and she can only be in so many places at one.

"Marco's the every day guy who makes sure guys are drinking what they're supposed to drinking, eating the calories they're supposed to take in," Loscalzo said. "He's monitoring all their stuff on a daily basis. We're pretty complex when it comes to our nutrition stuff so when these guys come in they can get it done."

Dom Williams added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list

The Washington State receiver becomes the third member of WSU's receiving corps on the watch list for the award honoring the nation's top receiver.

No other Pac-12 team has even two players on the list and Washington State is the only team in the country with three.

Williams is currently tied for No. 4 in the Pac-12 with 41 receptions for 562 yards and six touchdowns. He is No. 2 in school history with 25 receiving touchdowns over the course of his career. He also holds the WSU record for multi-touchdown games with eight.

The Cougars ended last season with three players on the watch list: Vince Mayle, River Cracraft and Isiah Myers, and Mayle was named one of 10 semifinalists. This year Williams joins Cracraft and Gabe Marks on the watch list.

WSU Football chat (transcript)

Oct 28 2015, 2:43 AM

srchat: Submit questions now for our WSU football chat, which begins at 11 a.m.

Oct 28 2015, 11:00 AM

srchat: Thanks for joining our live chat, everybody, we're about to get started, but first there's a little business to take care of. Last week one of you recommended El Charro Cafe in Tucson. I ate there and it was fantastic, so thanks for that. Now we can begin.

Oct 28 2015, 11:00 AM

TheMartinParty (guest): While many were excited about the possibility of Gameday I heard Grippi took it the hardest because he had a cool sign. Any idea on what it was?

Oct 28 2015, 11:01 AM

srchat: Vince says he would have been front and center with a sign that says, "No, it doesn't rain here."

Oct 28 2015, 11:01 AM

Jonthecoug: Any chance Barber or Molten play this week? We could certainly use Barber's size for this one.

Oct 28 2015, 11:02 AM

srchat: It's like you're trying to get me in trouble.

Oct 28 2015, 11:02 AM

ItsMe (guest): So just what CAN you report on from your practice observations?

Oct 28 2015, 11:04 AM

srchat: Not a whole lot. Because we are no longer allowed to describe depth chart movements or position changes, as well as limited players, we have decided that it is neither useful nor ethical to cover practices, as we detail here: http://www.spokesman.com/blogs/sportslink/2015/oct/21/s-r-changing-way-it-covers-wsu-football-practice/ That said, I hope those of you have found our replacement coverage to be engaging — I think the topics have been more interesting than practice, anyways.

Oct 28 2015, 11:05 AM

srchat: And because I do still attend some practices to keep an eye on the team, I can report that not much has changed. Falk looks good, Bender still throws too many interceptions and the defense appears to be practicing with more energy every day.

Oct 28 2015, 11:05 AM

Guest6260 (guest): How many tickets do you expect to be sold for the Stanford game this weekend?

Oct 28 2015, 11:06 AM

srchat: I think there are under 2,000 remaining. So I expect a sellout, or close enough to it for all intents and purposes.

Oct 28 2015, 11:06 AM

ski1stoney: Jacob, great job in covering the team. I really enjoying reading your insights.

Oct 28 2015, 11:06 AM

srchat: Thanks, Stoney. Appreciate you reading our work and dropping by chat.

Oct 28 2015, 11:07 AM

wsucougarbill: OK try this, how do you feel about the Federal Reserve decision to leave interest rates unchanged?

Oct 28 2015, 11:07 AM

srchat: I'm concerned about the potential it leaves for a December hike. December is far too cold a month for hiking.

Oct 28 2015, 11:07 AM

shurtyj (guest): Not that they're injured or anything, but what are the odds we see Tavaris Martin or Darrien Molten play on Saturday?

Oct 28 2015, 11:08 AM

srchat: Oh, well I did notice yesterday that (redacted) was (redacted) with the (redacteds). I don't expect (redacted) to (redacted) because yesterday he wasn't (redacted). But I still expect (redacted) (redacted) because (redacted) has been (redacted) very well.


Oct 28 2015, 11:09 AM

Guest666 (guest): Will you be dressing up for All Hallows Eve?

Oct 28 2015, 11:09 AM

srchat: Sportswriter isn't scary enough?

Oct 28 2015, 11:09 AM

jbim: what would it take for WSU to have a chance against the Cardinal on Saturday?

Oct 28 2015, 11:11 AM

srchat: Games against Stanford are wars of attrition. Many teams gamely go toe-to-toe with the Cardinal along the lines of scrimmage. But, it's so hard to do it for four quarters. I think a key will be how well WSU's backups on the defensive line play. They need to be able to match the Cardinal offensive line for extended periods so the starters don't get worn down.

Oct 28 2015, 11:11 AM

Guest6206 (guest): Jacob, With Stanford being such a physical team will we see more of Logan Tago in a SAM role to increase the size of our D or will we stick with Parker Henry in the nickel role. Thanks

Oct 28 2015, 11:12 AM

srchat: BASED PURELY ON GAMES and not practices, it seems like the coaches are becoming more and more willing to role with Parker Henry for the time being. And why not? He's played well, he's tackling opponents in the backfield, and while Tago may have a little more size/speed, Henry's got enough to get the job done.

Oct 28 2015, 11:12 AM

Guest5and2 (guest): Yeay…. I love that place, but at times you get a so-and-so waiter/waitress (always wearing the U of A teeshirt). Glad you enjoyed it Jacob. Hey, I get the impression that the Cougs coaches are inserting more subs than earlier in the season. Your opinion on why?

Oct 28 2015, 11:13 AM

srchat: A lot of that is because the subs are using the experience they gained in minimal time early in the season to become better players, who can now contribute more. For example, Chandler Leniu had never played before, so he was still getting his feet wet the first few games. Now he knows what to expect and it's allowing his natural talents to flourish.

Oct 28 2015, 11:13 AM

Guest4601 (guest): Where in the world is Isaac Dotson? Still with team?

Oct 28 2015, 11:13 AM

srchat: Yes, I think Dotson is getting closer to making his comeback.

Oct 28 2015, 11:14 AM

wsucougarbill: Did Broughton play at UofA?

Oct 28 2015, 11:14 AM

srchat: Broughton did play a couple snaps against the Wildcats.

Oct 28 2015, 11:14 AM

AllezLesCougs123 (guest): Is what the coaching staff 'did' to you that much different than what occurs these days in most places around the country? In other words… were your steps (holding your breath, slamming doors) really necessary? I'll take your comments off the air and wish a pleasant rest of the week.

Oct 28 2015, 11:16 AM

srchat: I'm not sure why 'did' is in quotes. Nor do I recall holding my breath or slamming any doors. It seems to me that when the coaching staff changed its policy, we changed ours to adapt to that policy and put out a very expository, Xs-and-Os statement explaining the change. We took the only option we believed was available to a journalistic organization and calmly let you know about it.

Oct 28 2015, 11:16 AM

Guest2186 (guest): I'm reading a lot of people speculating that this is Gabe Marks last year but from what I read it seems like he's a late round pick if he leaves this year. You have any inside scoop on his draft prospects?

Oct 28 2015, 11:18 AM

srchat: I don't have any inside knowledge right now about where he would be expected to be picked. But I think what the decision comes down to, from a professional standpoint is: Can he improve his stock by staying? If he's going to be, say, a 5th-round pick no matter when he leaves. Then financially it makes sense to begin his career a year earlier and have one more year collecting an NFL paycheck. Of course, other things factor into the decision, too, like WSU potentially having a really good season in 2016.

Oct 28 2015, 11:18 AM

Guest7297 (guest): The last three weeks have been awesome but I think it all comes crashing down this week.

Oct 28 2015, 11:19 AM

srchat: It's definitely a gut-check game for the Cougars. The team is on a roll but Stanford can punish the best of teams.

Oct 28 2015, 11:19 AM

TheMartinParty (guest): Stanford is a physical team who will be playing Nickel? How has Parker and Green progressed. I see they are in the two deep.

Oct 28 2015, 11:20 AM

srchat: Parker has been playing well in games, in my opinion. Green has moved back to safety. As for who will start at Nickel, we'll just have to wait and see who starts on Saturday. Unless any Stanford coaches happen to be reading this chat, in which case I fully expect Gunnar Eklund to play nickel.

Oct 28 2015, 11:20 AM

ItsMe (guest): I always enjoy your practice recaps since we can't be there and nothing much happens from Sunday to Friday for us Cougar football junkies. Sorry coaches these days are so paranoid. I do enjoy your replacement coverage, so keep up the good work!

Oct 28 2015, 11:20 AM

srchat: Appreciate that. Hopefully the replacement coverage lends more insight into the team and players than the practice reports did, anyway.

Oct 28 2015, 11:21 AM

Guest666 (guest): How devilish do you expect the DL and LBs of Stanford to be compared to years of past? Like when both Conner and Austin took corresponding hits in the Seattle game years ago.

Oct 28 2015, 11:22 AM

srchat: Really, really devilish, just like always. Every year Stanford loses some exceptional players on defense. And every year some players you've never heard of become stars for that defense. I guess the group isn't quite as monstrous as, say, the 2013 unit, but they can still beat up just about anybody on the block.

Oct 28 2015, 11:22 AM

Guest3731 (guest): What's the key to winning on Saturday?

Oct 28 2015, 11:23 AM

srchat: Just like every week, it's execution. But even more so against a disciplined Stanford team that you can be assured will execute its own stuff very well. A mental slip here, an incorrect route there, and the Cardinal will run away with it.

Oct 28 2015, 11:23 AM

Guest1352 (guest): Thank you for having the cojones to maintain your journalistic integrity. What factors do you think contributed to WSU exceeding your preseason predictions this year?

Oct 28 2015, 11:25 AM

srchat: It's an interesting question, because after the first game the Cougars were obviously playing below my expectations and then even after the Wyoming and Cal games, my five-win prediction felt pretty close. These last three games have seen Luke Falk take a tremendous leap and the defense has gotten better, faster than I expected. I guess mostly the defense, because I did expect Falk to be good. While it was apparent in camp that Grinch had the unit on the right track, I didn't see it all coming together this year.

Oct 28 2015, 11:25 AM

shurtyj (guest): Do you see the Cougs assigning one player to shadow McCaffrey, similar to what you might do with a mobile quarterback?

Oct 28 2015, 11:26 AM

srchat: I don't think they have the luxury of doing that against Stanford. They will certainly keep their eyes on McCaffrey at all times, but if you put a spy on him you're going to open up areas in your defense that Stanford will happily exploit.

Oct 28 2015, 11:26 AM

Guest137 (guest): Thanks for all your hard work covering the Cougs! Do they let you in the football building? If so, is it the best in the country?

Oct 28 2015, 11:27 AM

srchat: I've gotten to tour it a couple times and I go up to the coaches' offices every now and then for interviews. It's certainly the best I've ever been in.

Oct 28 2015, 11:27 AM

wsucougarbill: Rumor on twitter is that you are dressing up as a Crimson Girl and going to be dancing on the sidelines as a part of a feature piece you are doing, no?

Oct 28 2015, 11:27 AM

srchat: Sounds like somebody's been spending too much time on Cougfan.

Oct 28 2015, 11:27 AM

SandyDayOConnor (guest): What about the Cougs should worry Stanford?

Oct 28 2015, 11:28 AM

srchat: Endurance. The Cougars can match up with Stanford and trade blows. The issue is always being able to still trade blows with the Cardinal in the 15th round.

Oct 28 2015, 11:28 AM

Guest7297 (guest): Everyone is talking about which bowl the Cougs might go to. Isn't that premature?

Oct 28 2015, 11:29 AM

srchat: Not really. I'm of the belief that the people who need to only worry about the next game are the ones playing in it. If it's fun for the fans to speculate and look at bowls, then they absolutely should.

Oct 28 2015, 11:29 AM

Guest7248 (guest): How's the stanford pass rush? Will our line be able to give falk time to throw like in the previous games?

Oct 28 2015, 11:29 AM

srchat: Surprisingly not that great. They're one of the worst teams in the country in adjusted sack rate.

Oct 28 2015, 11:30 AM

Guest2186 (guest): You see Flak playing on Sundays?

Oct 28 2015, 11:32 AM

srchat: I don't see why not. Often the Air Raid quarterbacks don't get much consideration in the NFL because they aren't built like NFL QBs. But Falk is 6-foot-4 and looks like he can easily put on some more muscle over the next two years. I'm sure the NFL can find a spot for a tall guy with a decent arm who throws for many yards and touchdowns and almost never throws interceptions.

Oct 28 2015, 11:33 AM

jbim: how many points do you think the Cougs win by on Saturday?

Oct 28 2015, 11:34 AM

srchat: I might get fired for revealing proprietary information, but just for you guys… when my picks drop later today, you'll see I've got the Cougars winning by a sliver.

Oct 28 2015, 11:35 AM

Guest666 (guest): What do you think the most possible harbinger of doom could lead to WSUs defeat on Saturday? A: Turnovers on WSU offense. B: Stanford scoring on all offensive drives. C: WSU special teams disaster

Oct 28 2015, 11:35 AM

srchat: Well, the Cougars don't really turn it over much and I have to imagine they'll get at least one stop. So, with Christian McCaffrey returning kicks, the special teams disaster seems most likely.

Oct 28 2015, 11:35 AM

Guest7946 (guest): For those of us who suffered through the Doba/Wulff eras, should we welcome these bandwagoners with open arms ("the more the merrier!") or be bitter ("where were you in 2008??")?

Oct 28 2015, 11:36 AM

srchat: I always kind of think it's dumb for fans to segregate by levels of fandom. Of course there are going to be more fans when the team is winning. Be happy that they're there because they're a byproduct of it being fun to follow the team again.

Oct 28 2015, 11:36 AM

Jonthecoug: How this year's freshman crop of Olinemen looking in practice? Any standouts?

Oct 28 2015, 11:37 AM

srchat: They're really, really big. They're also really raw. But you can see where the coaching staff is excited because with a couple years of coaching it has the makings of an impregnable offensive line.

Oct 28 2015, 11:37 AM

CougForker (guest): Since you're now spending your time writing interesting stories for us to read, do you know if there's anywhere I can find a watered-down practice report that complies with the coaching staff's new limitations? I have three kids who always want to stay up all night, and am in search of something that will help them fall asleep.

Oct 28 2015, 11:37 AM

srchat: No, I don't know anybody who does anything like that.

Oct 28 2015, 11:38 AM

Guest4601 (guest): Biggest concern is special teams. I don't think Mele is up to the task. Even on the Arizona onside kick at the end of the game, we weren't aligned properly- AZ had 5 guys against our 3 with Dom playing behind. Oh- they also had a punt return for a TD. Makes me feel like we won't punt this game. #NeverPunt

Oct 28 2015, 11:38 AM

srchat: If it's fourth-and-long and the Cougars are on their own side of the field in this one, I think you're gonna want them to punt.

Oct 28 2015, 11:38 AM

wsucougarbill: Shit, we are doomed. The beat writer is picking us.

Oct 28 2015, 11:38 AM

srchat: Sorry everybody.

Oct 28 2015, 11:38 AM

Guest2348 (guest): A couple starters missed last week's game. Do you expect any of those players to be back this week?

Oct 28 2015, 11:39 AM

srchat: Given that Tavares Martin traveled and was on the sidelines at Arizona, I imagine he can't be too far away from being ready.

Oct 28 2015, 11:39 AM

Guest7946 (guest): Did you like the new "Force Awakens" trailer?

Oct 28 2015, 11:40 AM

srchat: I did. I also saw a trailer yesterday for an upcoming movie about the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize winning coverage that looks really good.

Oct 28 2015, 11:40 AM

Guest137 (guest): What is our weakest position group?

Oct 28 2015, 11:40 AM

srchat: It appears to still be kick/punt coverage.

Oct 28 2015, 11:40 AM

Guest5and2 (guest): Have you ever witnessed Cody O'Connell pancake a defensive player? Seriously, at 6'8", and 346 lbs, shouldn't he be able to take up some serious room, preventing rushers from even seeing the QB?

Oct 28 2015, 11:41 AM

srchat: I'm sure that I have. O'Connell has played well and he is a backup. But with all the starters from last year returning — and Gunnar Eklund being a big dude himself — there isn't much room for those guys to get playing time.

Oct 28 2015, 11:41 AM

Guest2063 (guest): Do you think the WSU defensive front get to Hogan a few times?

Oct 28 2015, 11:42 AM

srchat: That will be a determining factor in the game. The Cougars are pretty good at getting to the QB and I bet they do drag him down a couple times. But Stanford is so good on the offensive line — they've got probably two of the top five guards in the country — so it's going to be tough.

Oct 28 2015, 11:42 AM

Jonthecoug: A little off topic but will you be at the two bball exhibition games? I heard Ernie tell Matt Chazanow they are at least 10 deep.

Oct 28 2015, 11:42 AM

srchat: I will indeed. It's nice that the exhibition games match up with football home games.

Oct 28 2015, 11:42 AM

Guest3731 (guest): I went to Reno after the Rutgers win and tried to place a future bet ($20) on WSU winning the Pac-12 championship. Odds were listed at 175 to 1, however the casino said I couldn't place the bet yet because the odds hadn't been updated. Should I now be upset?

Oct 28 2015, 11:43 AM

srchat: I would've been upset then.

Oct 28 2015, 11:43 AM

Guest666 (guest): If you imagined Leach (beyond the obvious), Salvae, Yost and Grinch went out trick or treating, what would they be dressed as?

Oct 28 2015, 11:44 AM

srchat: I'm a little uncomfortable answering Halloween questions from a "Guest666," but here goes: Leach would be a viking axeman, Yost would be Kurt Cobain, Grinch would be Charlie Brown and Salave'a would be the Hamburglar.

Oct 28 2015, 11:44 AM

ItsMe (guest): Please don't pick the Cougs. They seem to always do the opposite of your pick (well, maybe not ALWAYs)

Oct 28 2015, 11:45 AM

srchat: Hey, I'm having a really good year with picks. It's Week 9 and I'm still above .500 against the spread!

Oct 28 2015, 11:45 AM

cubsfan7331: Weather at game time?

Oct 28 2015, 11:45 AM

srchat: Cold and rainy.

Oct 28 2015, 11:46 AM

CougForker (guest): hay do u tink Leech stole musics frum napster hehe git it cuz HES A PIRATE PPL!!!!!!!

Oct 28 2015, 11:46 AM

srchat: Do you people get it?

Oct 28 2015, 11:46 AM

Guest4459 (guest): Wonder if X Cooper regrets not sticking around, Earth Wind and Fire..I think I know the earth and wind..who is the fire

Oct 28 2015, 11:47 AM

srchat: I'm sure he pays attention to the team and wishes he was out there with Cougars occasionally. But I mean, playing in the NFL was his dream and he's doing it. And he was a high draft pick and he's making a lot of money playing on what looks like it could become a very good defensive line. So I bet he's comfortable with the decision to leave.

Oct 28 2015, 11:47 AM

Guest3731 (guest): What's your bowl game projection? I think Texas Tech in the Cactus Bowl would be a riot

Oct 28 2015, 11:48 AM

srchat: That would be awesome. I'd also really like a San Diego Bowl Having never been to Dallas, I'd take Heart of Dallas, too.

Oct 28 2015, 11:48 AM

Guest4459 (guest): Mele looks like he is over his head, has cost us one game, almost 2…

Oct 28 2015, 11:49 AM

srchat: But Eric Russell's special teams had the same issues and he was a very experienced, sometimes very successful special teams coach.

Oct 28 2015, 11:49 AM

Guest666 (guest): Alright no more Halloween questions. But One Obvious thing should be addressed. If it's a close loss, will WSU be unphased the rest of the season or will it be their undoing?

Oct 28 2015, 11:50 AM

srchat: Seeing how the team bounced back from the Cal loss with one of its best games in years, I think this team can handle a close loss to Stanford.

Oct 28 2015, 11:50 AM

Guest4601 (guest): my weekly, when are we getting rid of our concrete gray helmets? MATTE ANTHRACITE PEOPLE. Thoughts?

Oct 28 2015, 11:50 AM

srchat: I love the white helmets. I'm down with the crimson helmets. I think more colors are superfluous.

Oct 28 2015, 11:51 AM

Guest4459 (guest): I have never, ever see special teams this bad over the last couple of years, as much as I am not a Husky fan, Don James won games on special teams and never, ever lost the the same way

Oct 28 2015, 11:51 AM

Guest7297 (guest): Has Luke Falk's leadership been the difference in the team this year? I heard stories that he unites the whole team.

Oct 28 2015, 11:52 AM

srchat: I think the team does respect Falk because it sees the work he puts in, and that's a great quality to have in your starting QB. But I think the bigger improvement has been the team-wide buy-in. It's definitely the closest team I've covered.

Oct 28 2015, 11:52 AM

Guest666 (guest): Are you able to tell readership/site visits increasing with the wins? Hoping it's a delightfully frightful change.

Oct 28 2015, 11:53 AM

srchat: There's definitely been more action on Twitter, which is fun. I might have to check with our web folks and see how much traffic has gone up, because I'm sure it's a lot. For example, there are 83 people in chat today …

Oct 28 2015, 11:53 AM

Guest7946 (guest): I'm curious if the on-field success has translated to donations going up with CAF etc. Have you heard about any positive impacts on giving?

Oct 28 2015, 11:53 AM

srchat: I have not, but that's worth checking into.

Oct 28 2015, 11:53 AM

Guest4459 (guest): Uniforms for the game…All Red ?

Oct 28 2015, 11:54 AM

srchat: That would be far too much red. This isn't EWU.

Oct 28 2015, 11:54 AM

Guest137 (guest): How do you see the o line two deeps looking next year?

Oct 28 2015, 11:57 AM

srchat: At left tackle I think you'll see Andre Dillard take over for Dahl, and there are a few candidates to be his backup. Cedric Bigge-Duren has the body you'd want, but he's pretty raw still so he'd need to have a very productive offseason. At left guard you could definite see Cody O'Connell emerge as the starter. Riley Sorenson should continue to start at center and the hope would be that Carlos Freeman would regain his form from the spring and be able to back him up. Middleton is back at right guard and Cole

Madison will stay at right tackle. I don't want to speculate too much on the backups because all of those spots will be highly contested.

Oct 28 2015, 11:58 AM

Guest7297 (guest): Stanford red helment white unis. Cougs white helmet crimson unis.

Oct 28 2015, 11:58 AM

srchat: Love it.

Oct 28 2015, 11:58 AM

Guest666 (guest): Any chance the rest or Price's thrillingly spooky staff (Doba, Levenseller) start showing up to games or ceremonies with Price being honored?

Oct 28 2015, 11:59 AM

srchat: "Frightfully" "thrillingly spooky," and Halloween questions. What's your deal, 666? And I could see Doba stopping by if he's around, although I haven't heard from him that he is.

Oct 28 2015, 12:00 PM

Guest7702 (guest): How do you think our run game will do against the Stanford D?

Oct 28 2015, 12:00 PM

srchat: I think the Cougars are going to have to win with their passing game.

Oct 28 2015, 12:00 PM

Coug_Trouble: you talk about the "team buy in" was the Leach hire a problem in the locker room for the past years?

Oct 28 2015, 12:01 PM

srchat: Any time you hire a new staff there are going to be players that don't fit with the new coaches and it's pretty obvious that Leach and his staff rubbed a lot of the Wulff guys the wrong way. But now the team is essentially all Leach guys, so that obviously makes it easier to get them to buy in.

Oct 28 2015, 12:02 PM

Guest4459 (guest): Its pretty obvious like I stated earlier in the year that Falk will keep drives alive, win games with his feet…case closed…moving on..Brock and Salk at the Cub on Friday, should be fun, you going swing by

Oct 28 2015, 12:02 PM

srchat: The Corner Club in Moscow? I hadn't heard that but I may have to.

Oct 28 2015, 12:03 PM

Guest4459 (guest): Nope….WSU Campus

Oct 28 2015, 12:03 PM

srchat: Oh, CUB. I see.

Oct 28 2015, 12:03 PM

Guest666 (guest): I'm out of adjectives, soooo…Happy Halloween!

Oct 28 2015, 12:04 PM

srchat: Happy Halloween to all our readers and thanks to you all for joining our live chat. The transcript will be up soon.


Morning links: Cougars stay strong throughout the season

There's plenty of Washington State football news today and none of it's bigger than our weekly WSU football chat, which is going to happen right here on SportsLink at 11 a.m.

 In less important news, we've got a Pac-12 notebook to pass long, my weekly Power Rankings (the Cougars are higher than I've ever placed them before) and the first installment of my two-part series of blog posts about WSU's strength training during the season. Also, we've got post-practice video of Mike Leach speaking to the media.

Brian Anderson at CougCenter examined the running backs' role in this season's Air Raid offense. … Coug-a-Sutra weighed in on GameDayGate. … Mike Leach compared Martin Stadium on game day to Woodstock yesterday. … The Seattle Times staff also has the Cougars moving up their Power Rankings. … Stanford is expecting a lot of passes from the Cougars. That's wise of them. … Myles Jack and Scooby Wright III may be done, but the Pac-12 will have at least one more star linebacker for years to come. … Arizona State loves to blitz and it has its sights set on Vernon Adams.

Bonus link: This New Yorker story by Malcom Gladwell that explains how underdogs overcome long odds is both thorough and interesting.

A look inside WSU’s in-season weight training

Regular blog readers know that we at the Spokesman-Review are changing our daily WSU football coverage. More specifically, we're going to deemphasize practice coverage and instead have daily posts examining various aspects of the football program. Last week we looked at how the WSU defense prepares for tempo offenses.

Going forward, we will try to have similar posts on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, while continuing our usual practice of covering the Thursday Night Football underclassmen scrimmage on Thursdays. These posts will often be built around a certain theme for the week. With the upcoming game against the always-gritty Stanford Cardinal coming up, the theme for this week is Strength. So today we have a story about WSU's in-season strength training for the regular players and tomorrow we'll take a look at how the redshirting freshmen put on muscle.

There's a dirty little secret about college football players: they shrink.

Players and coaches constantly talk about how they're getting better throughout the season, and it's true. But they're also getting weaker. After an offseason spent packing on muscle, it's essentially impossible to maintain the same level of strength while spending their energy on practice and in games.

"There's a myth that people are going to be just as strong at the end of the season," said WSU strength coach Jason Loscalzo. "That's not going to happen with anybody. All the people that say they're going to do that, it's all fluff. In reality it's about getting your guys to be able to handle the stresses of the season."

To that end, the WSU travel team – the guys who go to away games and likely the only ones going to play meaningful snaps during home games – work out with the strength coaches three times a week.

The primary concern, of course, is keeping the players fresh for games and practices. To that end, WSU's in-season strength training is mostly about maintenance and trying to minimize the amount of strength that will be lost over the season.

On Sunday, the Cougars focus primarily on regeneration and recovery. Because the team likely played a game the day before, Loscalzo and his staff have the players spend about 15 minutes doing mobility stretches prior to a high-tempo, lightweight workout that lasts about 30 minutes.

"Sunday is a lot of single-leg stuff," Loscalzo said. "We might put a bar on your back, but it's going to be single leg stuff with lighter weight."

Tuesday is the only "heavy" day where the players do the kinds of muscle-building workouts that they did all offseason. While the travel squad players essentially all have the same goals and do similar in-season workouts, the workouts are also tailored to fit the individual. Players who start and get the majority of the reps at their position can't be lifting in quite the same manner as the backups.

Tuesday's workout takes exactly 32 minutes. Does that number seem specific? It should. The Cougars have timers going throughout the lifting session so that everything is synchronized down to the last second.

That's important, because speed is a big emphasis for the Cougars do when they lift, as well. Thursday's workout is a speed workout, consisting of 35 minutes of lifts such as a front squat in which the Cougars actually measure the bar speed to ensure the players are lifting at the appropriate pace.

"Everything we do is based off percentages, it's based off scales, it's based off scientific research," Loscalzo said. "So, most of what we do in-season is like I said, high-tempo. We're usually always a high-tempo work program."

All of that has gotten a lot easier since the Cougars moved into the Football Operations Building, complete with its football-only 11,000 square foot weight room that takes up most of the buildings first floor.

The entire travel squad, in the ballpark of 70 players, can easily work out at the same time on Sundays when in the past the strength coaches had to spend half their days scheduling around other sports who shared a smaller weight room in Bohler. On Tuesdays and Thursdays the Cougars have four shifts players can sign up for to accommodate their class schedules.

"The room we have here has really helped us, we finally can do the things we want to do now with the equipment," Loscalzo said. "That's allowed us to be a lot more versatile in season."

Morning links: Marks making his mark

Washington State wide receiver Gabe Marks is on the Biletnikoff Award watch list and his play of late is giving the committee members plenty to consider.

With 717 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in seven games, Marks is putting up receiving statistics that compare favorably to some of the best receivers in the country. Today's WSU notebook leads with an item about Marks, who grew up idolizing another prolific Air Raid receiver. We also have our weekly First Look at WSU's upcoming opponent, Stanford.

On the blog today we have the news that Luke Falk won Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week (again), the kick time being set for next week's game against Arizona State and the video and transcript of Mike Leach's Monday press conference. ESPN College GameDay isn't coming to Pullman, but it's not for lack of effort from the WSU fan base. Jim Moore weighs in on WSU's resurgent ways. Luke Falk has climbed all the way to the top of the Pac-12 QB Power Rankings.

Mike Leach Monday press conference


Question: Can Gabe Marks have the same kind of impact as Michael Crabtree? Their statistics are similar.

Mike Leach: I don't know, he does a good job catching the ball. I think he's still improving. I think he's still steadily improving as player. Michael Crabtree, you're talking about a guy that won two Biletnikoff awards so that's pretty tough company.

Q: Does Stanford's reputation give it a psychological edge?
ML: I don't know, I guess that depends on the other team. It only does if you let it but they are a physical team. They're very physical, especially in the o-line and the d-line.

Q: What do you see in their quarterback, Kevin Hogan?
ML: Good player, does a good job running the unit, which I've always thought its the most important job that a quarterback has, within the scheme that they do. I think he runs the unit real well and it seems like he's probably a pretty good leader. They're going to run first, run it, run it, run it and then they'll take a shot at you and he does a good job of that.

Q: What makes running back Christian McCaffrey so effective?
ML: He's a real versatile guy. I think his versatility is kind of the biggest thing. He can catch it. He can run with it. He's really good with the ball in his hands. Just a complete, overall player, you know.

Q: Have you seen their offensive set with seven offensive linemen and two tight ends?
ML: Yeah, they've been doing that for awhile. Yeah that's just playing to their strengths. They have big people and they get them all out there on the field and they hand it to that guy.

Q: Was the jumbo set you guys used last year cribbed from Stanford?
ML: No. No, we certainly didn't. I prefer it if you have quality receivers, guys that can catch it, when you do your tight set but we were just limited in who we had so we put linemen out there.

Q: How impressive was receiver blocking this week?
ML: I think it was better than average. It wasn't great, it was better than average. It was better than it had been the week before. Maybe not as good as against Oregon.

Q: How important is that for your offense?
ML: Well, it's really important. We'll flat-out not play people if they don't block. Receivers expect people to block for them while quarterbacks are throwing them the ball, so when running backs have the ball or other receivers, they better block.

Q: Is physicality what stands out most about Stanford?
ML: Yeah, they're consistent and they're patient.

Q: The 43-yard screen to Gabe Marks was an example of good downfield blocking, which the offensive line struggled with earlier in the season?
ML: I thought our line did good, I also thought our receivers did good but I thought our offensive line did good. It was a pretty synchronized play and then of course Gabe just followed them. Yeah, I thought that was really a well-executed play.

Q: How do you think Kyrin Priester played?
ML: I thought it was the best game he's had. I think he steadily improves and emerges and yeah, he's getting better and better. We haven't seen his best yet, we haven't seen his best but he's getting closer.

Q: Is the defense doing better at game planning to the opponent?
ML: Well, I think we're better defensively than we've been in the past. I think coaching-wise, I think they're a real committed group that's in the trenches and emphasizes and is more demanding about their scheme. I think we're also more versatile about what we'll do. We have more speed on the field and we'll bring more pressure, and I thought defensively it was real instrumental early in that game to stop Arizona, which gave us the upper hand and of course we never trailed. But then as Arizona rallied we'd rise up either offensively or defensively. But I do think they're playing together well, but I think they can play together better. I think we're improving defensively but defensively we need to work toward that mentality that they can flat-out take away games from people. And I think our defensive players and coaches are working well that direction. We're not there yet, though.

Q: Does Alex Grinch spend more time tweaking scheme and adjusting to opponents than most?
ML: I think the biggest thing he does best is he's committed to the fundamentals and doesn't let them off the hook. The fundamentals, he insists that they're run to precision. It's not like a bunch of elaborate schemes as much as it is good technique, good fundamentals, and emphasis over and over, where your eyes are and where your body is on a particular play. It's not just some big elaborate bag of tricks. It's precision executing what the call is.

Q: What do you think makes the team so good on third or fourth and short?
ML: I think highly-motivated, playing hard. I think guys like Destiny lead that mentality but also just working toward that and being committed to things like that have been an emphasis since camp.

Q: Why do you think the team has been outscored in the third quarter?
ML: I don't know. Don't know for sure. I think, especially the Oregon State game, we just relaxed, which is inexcusable on our part but the biggest thing we need to do is just play complete from start to finish.

Q: Do they play differently when you have a big lead?
ML: Well, I think you should play the same the whole time. You should maximize your performance and your effort the whole time. In the big picture it helps you improve overall, as a player, and then I think it's you want to play at as high a level, as consistently as you possibly can and I think that's very important.

Q: Did you think Gabe Marks' redshirt year helped him and have you ever redshirted a non-freshman before?
ML: I redshirted a lot of guys a lot of different years. At the time Gabe was behind Isiah Myers and I think the redshirt year helped him. I thought he had a great offseason and is steadily improving this season.

Q: Is there a difference between Graham Harrell as a coach and a player?
ML: Well, I don't have a great answer for that. He's the same guy, he's a very steady person. As a player he's playing and as a coach he's coaching so there are definitely some differences but he's just a clear, sharp student of the game type of guy and he does a good job with those receivers. Receivers can kind of be up and down people and I think he does a good job leveling them up and keeping them focused, positive and the rest.

Q: What stats would you like to see included in the postgame books that are not there now?
ML: Well, the most wasted one, the biggest waste of time is time of possession. And what's interesting to me is that was a national obsession for decades and now it's viewed as more of a waste of time. But it probably took 50 years for that to happen.

I don't know how you could blitz stats on there. That would be kind of interesting if you could manage that. It's not like there's a shortage of stats and numbers, if anything there are probably too many. I can't think of anything we're really missing on it. They'll come up with something, though. Well the passing efficiency rating, that's a wasted stat. I don't know any coaches even, with rare exception, that knows how that's tabulated.

And I mean, seriously, NFL, college, they're both different. All over the business, nobody knows how that's added up. Nobody knows what that means. I mean there will be some guy that has a handful of attempts or something like that and they'll say, "Oh, jeez, he's got a great passing efficiency rating.' Well a team's not worried about him. They're worried about a guy that throws for a bunch of touchdowns and a ton of yards, that's what they're worried about.

What's the other stat I was thinking of? Oh, yeah. One thing I think, I think that sacks should be counted against quarterbacks and offensive linemen. In other words, they shouldn't be on the rushing total. I think rushing total should be a running back stat. Not one that's contaminated by the quarterback, if it's the quarterback's fault, or the offensive line's fault. I think sacks should be in a separate category as far as tabulating it and I think tabulating yards, that's a running back stat and I wouldn't mess with sacks in it.

Because you look at it and a quarterback gets sacked, or botches something or even some punter's running in a circle back there or something like that and it doesn't look like the running backs are getting their job done so you have to go back and split it all up to see exactly what the running backs actually did do. I think rushing should be carries where they're trying to run the ball, you know? So like if a quarterback runs forward, fine, that's on the rushing total. But this notion that some guy getting sacked, it doesn't tell me much and then I have to go back and break it down.

Q: Were you following the College GameDay saga this weekend?
ML: I'd like to see them and of course, our flag's in the background of College GameDay all the time, so nobody's been a more loyal supporter of College GameDay than the Cougs. I've had College GameDay a couple times and it's fun, it's exciting for everybody. I don't have a lot of time to enjoy it myself, personally, because I'm kind of preoccupied with the game.

It's a good experience and I know that it's memorable to the schools and fans where they have it.

Q: Can use that as motivation for your team?
ML: Probably won't be on my list of things I run across them. I try to narrow it down to a few, I try not to have too many things going. Our biggest thing is going to be focus on ourselves, be the best team we can be and continue to improve.

Q: Is losing in the past motivation for this team?
ML: Well, the biggest thing is the hard work continues and all these games are going to be hard wards that go to the finish because of the nature of this conference. So we have to be willing to battle and play the entire game. Because there's no easy path and then some of it's just the self-motivation of improving and getting the most out of yourself. That's what's going to be required. Especially here and especially the rest of the way.

Q: Something to be said for some of the older players knowing what it's like to lose a lot?
ML: We'll find out because we haven't really accomplished anything yet. We've just got to go out there and win this game this week.

Q: Do you feel like they're handling the winning well?
ML: We just need to take each one of them separate, just do each one of them separate. Worry about one play at a time.

Q:  Do you worry about building up this game?
ML: Well they need to handle it but I have handled it as little as possible. There's nothing special about this game, we've just got to go out and play the best we can. There aren't special games and there aren't special plays, either. You make the most out of them and then do the next one, and then do it one more time. That's what we've got to focus on.

Q: You said you were going to deliver a message on special teams last week. Do you think it got across?
ML: Well, it was a bad punt and we missed four tackles, so I think only a portion of it got across. So, yeah, I mean they can't miss four tackles and he can't have almost a non-hangtime line drive.

WSU kick time against Arizona State set

Washington State hosts Arizona State at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7 in Pullman. The game will be televised on FOX Sports 1. The Sun Devils first face Oregon this weekend, while the Cougars will host Stanford at 7:30 p.m. in a Halloween game that will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.

Luke Falk named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week

Washington State quarterback Luke Falk was named the Offensive Player of the Week by the Pac-12 Monday morning. It is the second time Falk has won the award this season, and the third time in his career, meaning he has won it after 30 percent of the games he's started.

Falk hit 47 of 62 passes for 514 yards and five touchdowns in WSU's 45-42 win at Arizona. For his performance, he was also named the Walter Camp Offensive Player of the Week. 

Morning links: Looking back at Arizona

Our belated day-after post looks at Washington State's win over Arizona. And we've got some links to pass along.

Gabe Marks was directly responsible for 28 points in Washington State's 45-42 win at Arizona on Saturday. It was just the latest in a series of productive games for the wide receiver that places him in some pretty rarefied company. Just check out this tweet from CougCenter contributor Britton Ransford.

And while Marks had a dominant game, the kind of game that Biletnikoff Award voters will have to take notice of, there were plenty of performances by his teammates that are worth diving into as we look back at WSU's third consecutive win.

— Earlier this season, the offensive line's issue was that it wasn't getting to the second level to seal off linebackers and defensive backs well enough. Lately, it's been struggling against good pass rushes, allowing seven sacks each by California and Oregon. WSU's front five performed well at both on Saturday.

Marks' first two touchdowns came on screen passes, the second of which was a 43-yarder in which the entire offensive line rumbled downfield ahead of the receiver, clearing an eight-lane highway for the receiver to travel upon. I mean, look at this:

That rumbling phalanx would give pause to a Persian prince. The offensive line also kept Falk relatively clean, giving up just two sacks. I'll let Vince handle the pass-rush praise.

— The UA backsups' backups the Wildcats trotted out at linebacker never really did get a handle on River Cracraft, who had his best game since Rutgers by finding holes in the middle of the defense where he could sit with no defenders anywhere around him. "He's good at finding the zone, finding the weak spot in the defense," Luke Falk said after the game. And a breakout game from receiver Kyrin Priester, who we spent all preseason camp touting the abilities of but had yet to really show off his skills in a game. Priester is strong and fast, and he can do things like this.

Now that he appears to be getting used to game speed, expect Priester to continue making the WSU offense even more potent.

— But perhaps the most impressive aspect of WSU's win, and certainly the most unexpected, was the way the WSU defensive line took Nick Wilson, the Pac-12's No. 4 rusher, out of the game. Wilson was stuffed repeatedly during the first two UA drives, which went nowhere, severely hampering the UA offense until backup quarterback Jerrard Randall entered the game in the third quarter.

Now for some links.

— A lot of people will be watching Washington State's game against No. 8 Stanford, for better or worse.

— Quarterback Luke Falk was named the Walter Camp Offensive Player of the Week.

— Here are the highlights from the game.

— Just one win away from a bowl game, the Cougars are in all the bowl projections. There are people projection the Cougars to the Las Vegas Bowl, Poinsettia Bowl, Sun Bowl and the Las Vegas Bowl again.

Luke Falk named Walter Camp Offensive Player of the Week

The Washington State quarterback threw five touchdown passes in a 45-42 win at Arizona.

The Walter Camp Football Foundation has announced that Washington State quarterback Luke Falk is the organization's Offensive Player of the Week after the quarterback led the Cougars to a 45-42 win at Arizona on Saturday.

Falk completed 47 of 62 passes for 514 yards and five touchdowns. He becomes the Cougar player to win the honor since 2004. The redshirt sophomore is third in the NCAA in both passing yards (2,885) and touchdowns (26) and has thrown just four interceptions.

Georgia Tech defensive back Jamal Golden was named the Defensive Player of the Week after recording nine tackles and an interception in a win over No. 9 Florida State.

Pac-12 links: WSU improves to 5-2

A 4 a.m. wakeup call threatens and the nearby pillow beckons, but I'll get the important stuff down now. The Cougars picked up their fifth win, on the road at Arizona. Here is our story from the game. The Cougars are getting close to bowl eligibility and there were bowl reps on hand for WSU's win. Here are my keys to the game.

On the blog we've got postgame notes, stats, and videos of Mike Leach, Gabe Marks, Luke Falk, Gunnar Eklund, Jeremiah Allison and Parker Henry. We also have a video of Darryl Paulo but technical difficulties are preventing me from uploading it. I'll try to get it on the blog today.

Over at CougCenter, Jeff Nusser has a game recap. Elsewhere in the Pac-12, Stanford was never in danger against Washington, USC demolished No. 3 Utah and Colorado beat Oregon State in the Basement Bowl.

WSU 45, Arizona 42: Game notes

Courtesy of WSU Athletics. 

Pac-12 morning links: The Air Raid heads to the desert

We've written this week about the potent Arizona rushing attack. But the Cougars have a matchup advantage, too.

That's the passing game. The Cougars excel in it and the Wildcats aren't very good at stopping it. I explain why in today's article. On the blog I issued my midseason grades for the Cougars. Speaking of grades, Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus put together his midseason dream team and there's a Cougar on the list. Stefanie Loh wrote about Arizona's injury-ravaged defense. Our 2-minute drill covers what WSU needs to do in order to win today's game.

Right as WSU's game is winding down, USC and Utah will get things started. It's a curious game in that the No. 3 team in the country is an underdog to an unranked team.

In the nightcaps, Stanford will host Washington and then Oregon State and Colorado will fight in a battle of teams who have yet to win a Pac-12 game.

WSU football midseason grades

I'm not going to do midseason grades, but don't cancel your subscription just yet. Bear with me. During Washington State's bye week I assigned quarter-season grades for each position group. If I assigned grades today that incorporated all six of WSU's games to date, they would necessarily incorporate those early grades, which weigh down or pull up the final midseason grades. That wouldn't be particularly useful in my opinion.

Rather than assign a grade that includes those games for which I'm already on the record, I'm going to just grade the position groups' performances over the second quarter of the season. The three games we're looking at, then, are a close loss at California, a win at Oregon and a blowout home win over Oregon State. So I don't want to hear any accusations of grade inflation if the Cougars bring home a suspiciously good report card.

Quarterback: Over the last three games, Luke Falk has thrown 173 passes and completed 124 of them, a 72 percent clip. Even more impressively, he's thrown 13 touchdown passes in that stretch and just three interceptions, while averaging 434 passing yards per game. He's also led a game-tying drive at Oregon in the final seconds and led the offense to touchdowns in both overtimes. Sure, Falk still needs to be more decisive with the ball – he took 16 sacks during those three conference games – and that keeps him from being perfect. But Falk has put the Cougars in position to win every Pac-12 game they've played. Grade: A-

Running backs: The WSU running backs have been as effective during the last three games as any stretch of the Mike Leach era. Consider: The team's 136 rushing yards against the Ducks were the most since 2011, and that was with 49 yards lost due to sacks (sacks counting against rushing totals is the worst). And at the same time, the running backs have accounted for 67.3 receiving yards per game (90.5 over the last two games). The running backs haven't taken much blame for the sack issues and seem to be blocking OK when they're asked to. Grade: A-

Wide receivers: This group has been productive, to be sure, but the receivers have such potential that they have further to go than most groups before hitting their ceiling. Gabe Marks has been as good as you could want, and Dom Williams has been very good, albeit with some drops issues. It still seems like the inside guys could be making bigger impacts, however, and there are certainly times when Falk holds onto the ball too long because the receivers aren't getting separation. Kyrin Priester and Tavares Martin are starting to get more touches. They're two of the team's best athletes, so if those underclassmen can start making big plays than this unit's efficiency should increase significantly. Grade: B-

Offensive line: The offensive line is doing a better job getting to the second level and beyond, and that's sprung some big plays for the offense. Certainly, the guys upfront deserve a lot of credit for the increased productivity in the run game. But, 16 sacks is 16 sacks. This group's most important job is keeping the quarterback safe and right now Falk is as about as safe as a piñata at a birthday party for Edward Scissorhands. Grade: C+

Defensive line: The emergence of Darryl Paulo at defensive end has been a blessing for the defensive line. He's made 4.5 tackles for loss in the last three games and has proven to be an effective pass rusher who can also hold up OK against the run. Hercules Mata'afa and Destiny Vaeao are also pretty good at collapsing the pocket. However, the defensive line isn't doing a good enough job occupying blockers in the run game or forcing ball carriers to delay their cuts, which led to a number of big runs by the Oregon schools. Grade: B-

Linebackers: Parker Henry really stepped up at nickel in Isaac Dotson's absence with a few big plays, notably two tackles for loss, and that was huge for the linebackers. Replacing an established starter with a walk-on is never ideal, and Henry being able to hold his own prevents an enormous hole from emerging in WSU's defense. Peyton Pelluer and Jeremiah Allison have been solid, and their respective backups, Chandler Leniu and Frankie Luvu, are getting a lot of reps, keeping the whole group fresh.  While that group of inside backers is largely solid, and has made some big stops, it also still has some big whiffs and there are still some issues with missed tackles, bad angles or players trying to do one another's jobs, leading to two players being in the same gap. They've improved in each of those areas since the first three games, however. Grade: B

Secondary: Well, the three-game stretch started with Marcellus Pippins owning Jared Goff's soul on consecutive series and it ended with consecutive interceptions for Shalom Luani, who returned one for a touchdown. It wasn't always so pretty for the defensive backs against Goff, and Jeff Lockie and Seth Collins aren't exactly fearsome passers. But, the secondary doesn't get to choose which quarterbacks it goes up against, and has acquitted itself well against the ones it has faced. Grade: B+

Special teams: On the one hand, the coverage units seem much improved, with one 100-yard exception against Oregon State. Most opposing returns are uneventful in good way these days. But, Erik Powell went just 2 of 4 and had a kick blocked during the games in question and punter Zach Charme's average has dipped slightly. WSU's return teams have been solid, however, and the unit overall is light years ahead of where it was last year. Grade: C

The beat writer is a crass, foul-mouthed graduate of a commuter school that's not worth mentioning. His hair is in the middle of a migration from his head to his back and he has personal hygiene befitting his profession. But at least he's not Vince Grippi. Grade: A+

Morning links: Dual quarterbacks and no-huddle offenses

I wrote about Arizona's two dangerous quarterbacks in the paper today and on the blog I have a post about the WSU defense's efforts to keep up with up-tempo offenses like the Wildcats'.  We also have post-practice videos of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and offensive line coach Clay McGuire. Over at CougCenter, Brian Anderson has a detailed but digestible look at the Arizona running game. Stefanie Loh wrote about the inroads WSU has made recruiting American Samoa. Luke Falk had better keep an eye out for the "sack master" tomorrow. Rich Rodriguez isn't a fan of the Pac-12's scheduling practices. It's Homecoming weekend in Tucson.

Phenomenal freshman quarterback Josh Rosen was in fine form as UCLA stormed past California. Kevin Gemmell has 10 things you should keep an eye on this weekend.

Cougars prepare for tempo every week

In past articles and practice recaps, I've referred to the "scout team offense." Maybe that was a mistake, because these days it would be more accurate to call them "offenses." Why plural? Because the Cougars defense spends portions of each practices going against scouts who set up new plays with nearly wholesale substitutions before the previous play is even finished, forcing the defense to set up immediately after every tackle.

Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch would prefer to have two complete scout offenses going side by side so that there was no transition time whatsoever, but WSU's depth isn't ready for that yet.

But the Cougars are still able to manufacture the illusion of an offense moving from snap to snap faster than one ever could in a game, when they have to wait for an official's whistle and for markers to be moved following first downs. That’s important because nowadays practically every team is liable to speed up its pace occasionally.

"Oh jeez, it seems like every week we talk about it quite honestly," Grinch said. "You talk about it more when the team doesn't (run tempo), the script has been flipped. I mean you'll see it on film where … the chains are in full-on sprint mode before the next play. That's reality and we've got to adjust to it."

While lots of teams have a tempo component to their offensive game plan, few teams can match the speed of Arizona, who host the Cougars on Saturday. In fact, only Baylor had less time between snaps than the 18.3 seconds the Wildcats averaged in 2014. This year UA is ranked No. 10 in adjusted pace by Football Outsiders, one spot ahead of No. 11 Oregon, who the Cougars beat earlier this year.

A team has to have good depth to rely so heavily on tempo – the Wildcats have five players with 26 or more rushes this season. But if you've got the personnel, and your offensive line can handle it, the rewards for going tempo are such that it's strange that any teams forego the advantage.

The Cougars keep a quick tempo anyways (they're ranked No. 32 in adjusted pace) and they'll go even faster if they sense that an opponent's defense is tired. The offense is not required to give the defense time to get fresh players on the field if it does not itself substitute, and a series quick snaps can kill a weary defense, which is why some teams with plodding coaching styles tried to change the substitution rules last season.

And that's only one of the ways a quick tempo hurts a defense. Allow Grinch to list some of the headaches:

"To prevent you from subbing, to try to get you into a situation where you're not as disciplined as you otherwise would be. They're trying to prevent, as best they can, eye control, which is so critical. The lack of delay between plays doesn't give you time to process what happened the play before and what the call is on the sideline, what you might say. It limits the amount of tendencies you can talk to your players about because they don't have time to see all those things. And I could probably list 20 more (ways it hurts the defense)."


Teams like Oregon made hay by discovering the benefits of tempo offense before anybody else and recruited fast players to fit their fast-moving offenses, making it even tougher for defensive linemen to run past the line of scrimmage and get into position after a big play before the next snap.

The average number of plays run per minute of possession consistently rose in college football from 2008-12, which Football Study Hall chronicled here. Such tempo, in addition to combatting the fast skill players inherent to spread offenses, is one reason defenses are getting smaller and faster.

Football Study Hall has done a nice job chronicling how nose tackles are getting smaller and inside linebackers are getting more athletic. This year, in games you've seen the Cougars get speedier by moving faster defensive linemen toward closer to the quarterback on the line of scrimmage, as well as employ a nickelback in lieu of a third linebacker.

Barring a bowl game against Bowling Green or Baylor, the Cougars will face the fastest-snapping team they'll play all year on Saturday. How they combat the Wildcats tempo will be fascinating to watch, and will play a key role in determining the game's outcome.

The Cougars held their Thursday Night Football practice today. Here are some notes:

— The offense did not score a touchdown and did up-downs after the practice. Tyler Hilinksi led what appeared to be a touchdown drive but threw a pass that was intercepted in the end zone by Skyler Cracraft.

— Nnamdi Oguayo had a good day for the defense, picking up a pair of sacks.

— Another player who has performed well for a few consecutive TNF sessions is cornerback Deion Singleton. At 6-foot-2, 190-pounds, Singleton has great size for a freshman cornerback and is learning how to use it to knock receivers off their routes. Singleton is ineligible to play this season but Grinch said after practice that he would otherwise be "right in the mix" at corner.