FROM PULLMAN -- For the second consecutive day, Connor Halliday didn't throw quite as many passes as he's used to. There are a few other notes to pass along from WSU's Wednesday practice, so read along.
Much like he did Tuesday, Halliday stood and watched as Austin Apodaca and Tyler Bruggman threw all of the passes during invididual drills (such as 1-on-1s). Halliday still ran the first-team offense during the skelly period, and then again during team session and an additional few overtime periods.
Coach Mike Leach said that "we just slowed his reps down a little bit, but he’s throwing the ball pretty good so it’s gone good."
Halliday did make a couple of bad decisions during team session -- he threw an interception to Deone Bucannon during the overtime drill, and another pass bounced off the senior safety's hands -- but he also dropped a clever throw on the run to Brett Bartolone that resulted in a long gain, threw a touchdown pass to Gabe Marks, and threw a screen pass to Jeremiah Laufasa that went for a touchdown, too.
Apodaca also connected twice with Marks for touchdowns, the second one a perfect throw over the top of cornerback Alex Jackson. The freshman quarterback hit Bobby Ratliff for a score, too.
--- After team period, Leach gathered everyone together on the sideline and discussed the rules of overtime in college football. (Donovan McNabb was not present.) He did this last year, too, and afterward, the offense and defense played a handful of overtime periods against each other.
Apodaca found Vince Mayle behind the defense for a touchdown, then Halliday threw the interception to Bucannon. Laufasa eventually scored a touchdown on yet another run in which he tried to go one direction, was rebuked, then bounced out to the left side and outran the defense to the pylon.
The redshirt sophomore is emerging as WSU's go-to short yardage back.
"He’s been a pleasant surprise. He lost some weight, got in better shape, really had a great offseason," Leach said. "Stronger than you’d think, faster than you’d think, plays behind his pads real well and catches the ball well, too. There’s a handful of guys that are significantly better than expected, and he’d be one of them -- maybe the one that’s the most improved."
Laufasa said he's just trying to fit in where he can.
"That’s all I’ve been doing since I got here is picking up small little roles here and there," Laufasa said, "and if I execute, they’ll continue to give me more and more, and if I stay the short yardage back, fine, but if he continues to give me more, that’s good too."
We're previewing WSU's running backs in Thursday's newspaper, so you can read more about Laufasa and the competition at that position.
--- The overtime period continued with the offense stalling a bit before Halliday completed a pass on third-down to River Cracraft to pick up a new set of downs. Prior to that, Halliday had thrown a pass to Rickey Galvin, but Galvin was either in the wrong spot or thought Halliday was going to throw it somewhere else because he didn't see the ball coming. The quarterback took his helmet off in frustration.
The final pass of the day was a fade to Marks, but there was also miscommunication on that play because Marks jumped inside right as Halliday was lofting the ball to the back corner of the end zone. The offense lost the period and did a few up-downs.
--- Damante Horton, who appeared to injure himself jumping for an interception yesterday, was in attendance but didn't participate in practice.
--- Linebacker Darryl Monroe limped off the field during team period favoring his right leg.
--- Didn't see Rahmel Dockery at practice today. He'd been battling injury early in camp but had returned to full participation a few days ago.
--- Daquawn Brown took the No. 1 team snaps at cornerback in place of Horton.
--- Anthony Carpenter was at strong safety alongside Deone Bucannon when the first-team defense took the field for team session.
Here are some additional quotes from running backs coach Jim Mastro:
(Impressions of the running backs so far?) "Just a year better. It’s part of the process of the offense, just everybody's a year better. Offensive line’s a year better. Running backs are a year better. They’re a year stronger. They’re a year more experienced, a year smarter. It’s just the whole process of kind of building a program. We’re light years ahead of where we were a year ago."
(What's changed, specifically?) "No hesitation. The o-line understands where they’re going. We’re doing a much better job at the point of attack up front. The running backs are doing a much better job with their eyes. There’s not a lot of hesitation. There’s not a lot of feet checking going on. They understand where they’re supposed to go and why they’re supposed to get there. So it’s just a process. It’s a drastic change from last year at this point."
(Clay McGuire mentioned something about coaching against the film too often last season ...) "When you’re struggling and you’re trying to manufacture offense, sometimes you can overcoach. We made a determination this offseason that we’re just going to coach to our strengths and what we know as coaches. Right now we’re seeing the results of that. Our run game and the backs especially are being very productive right now in the run game and the passing game."
(Is it still Teondray Caldwell and Marcus Mason on top? Has Laufasa snuck in there?) "Three-man race right now. I’ll have to go back and watch the film but you can’t argue with production. All Laufasa does when he touches the ball is produce right now. It’s a three-man race right now. We’ll probably know more in the next seven to 10 days. All five of those guys are playing well, but those three guys kind of set themselves apart a little bit."
(So neither of those guys has an edge?) "Dead even right now."
(How many do you want to play?) "You want to have four ready because we’re in two-back so much, but two have got to be primed."
(What changed in Laufasa this year?) "Experience. Just being with us now, a year in the weight room, he was really raw as a running back last year. We’ve kind of got that out of him to where he’s more refined now. Understands footwork, understands why he’s got to get where. He’s such a student of the game that it makes it easy because he picks stuff up so fast. In this offense as a running back you’ve got to be pretty smart. He’s smart. So that’s helping him right now."
(And his strength makes him a short-yardage option?) "He reminds me of Vai Taua, guy out of Nevada. Similar at this point in their careers. Very good short yardage, very good in the hole, plays with very good pad level, feet are real quick. That’s what you want in a short yardage guy."