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Observations from WSU’s scrimmage

The passing game and pass rush were dominant on Saturday and one running back had an auspicious debut for the fans.

Washington State's secondary still looks a work in progress and the offensive linemen are probably ready for a do-over. But overall, with the exception of one inauspicious drive, the Cougars were energetic and it looked like a productive first scrimmage.

The final stats from the scrimmage are available here, and my observations are below.

-- The scrimmage afforded an opportunity to clarify some positions that had seen some movement throughout the spring. The starting outside receivers were Gabe Marks and Dom Williams, as expected, with Calvin Green and Daniel Lilienthal backing them up. At inside receiver D.J. and John Thompson backed up starters Robert Lewis and Tyler Baker.

Hercules Mata'afa and Jeremiah Mitchell were the second unit defensive ends, although defensive coordinator Alex Grinch told me after practice that he's been very impressed with Reggie Coates at that spot and that the Nevada transfer is still in the mix. Reading between the lines, I wouldn't be surprised if Coates sees the field more against pass-heavy teams while Mata'afa is the backup when the Cougars are expecting run.

For now, it looks like the third string offensive line, from left to right, is Brandon Evers, Sean Krepsz, Carlos Freeman, Mack Hopkins and B.J. Salmonson.

Of course, that could all be different on Tuesdsay, depending on how those players graded out in the scrimmage.

-- Oops, I forgot to list the limited players first. That's OK. The men in yellow today were Brett Bartolone, Nick Begg, Nate DeRider, Reece Alvardo, Drew Griffin, Sulaiman Hameed, Jamal Morrow and Frankie Luvu.

-- Peyton Bender took the first series, which was second-string offense against second-string defense, and was nearly perfect. He completed his first five passes and finished 7-8, capping the drive with a four-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Green.

The freshman was just as sharp in his second series, this time leading the first team offense against the starting defense. In that series Bender went 6 of 7 with a pass broken up by Charleston White and an 18-yard touchdown to Dom Williams, who made the catch over Marcellus Pippins. Bender was also sacked by Darryl Paulo on the play prior to the touchdown.

-- Luke Falk led a nice opening drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Baker and was overall very sharp on the day. He even called his own number on the first driveBut he was a little frustrated afterwards due quarterbacking to the offense's most lethargic, one that led to some extra exercise for the first team. The drive began with a17-yard scamper by Keith Harrington (more on him later) and also included a 12-yard run by Gerard Wicks.  But Leach had a word with the offense after Falk was sacked by Peyton Pelluer, Wicks lost a yard and Falk threw an incomplete pass. Following the heart-to-heart, Falk found Dom Williams for 13-yards but was sacked by Daniel Ekuale and threw a pass to Gabe Marks that was batted by Charleston White and intercepted by Taylor Taliulu. I'll let Leach tell you what happened next:

"I issued a 'We didn't have great effort the first five plays so we'll do 30 up-downs,' and I didn't think we had great effort doing the 30 so I upped the ante to 40 and after that we played hard and played together."

-- The secondary is still learning a new defense, and they'll get better, but the defensive coaches were frustrated by how open the receivers were getting throughout the scrimmage. While Bender had a very good day throwing the ball, he left a couple touchdowns on the field by not seeing that Wicks or another receiver had found an opening with nobody near him.

-- Freshman quarterback Tyler Hilinksi had kind of a rough start, taking three consecutive sacks, including a fumble forced by Ivan McLennan and recovered by Jeremiah Mitchell, to end his opening drive. But once he got used to the speed of the game, he settled in nicely, and only missed three passes in 19 attempts.

-- Running back Keith Harrington and wide receiver Daniel Lilienthal each had impressive days on offense. Leach said afterwards that if Harrington keeps playing like he is, he might contend for a starting spot. Wicks looked pretty good, too, but Harrington's quickness and vision were on full display Saturday. He had 85 yards on just six carries, including long scampers of 32 and 27 yards, while also adding 53 yards on four receptions. His most impressive play still might have been his seven-yard touchdown, in which he appeared to hit one hole at full speed, back step, and pick a different hole to finish the play.

Lilienthal is simply big and fast, and he is really, really good at planting his foot on post routes to create separation. In fact, he had six catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns and at least four of those receptions, if not five or six, came on post routes. The route is such a specialty for him, in fact, that it's led to a new nickname…

"His name's Dan Post, that's why. That's what we called him," Leach said. "When we first got here, Lilienthal, that's a long name, that's a mouthful. And so, we said well we're going to shorten this and he'd just got a post so we called him Dan Post.  One syllabled the thing and he catches posts pretty good."

-- While it was a good day for the offense, the defense got nine sacks. That's quite a few. While WSU's defensive line had a good game, it's very apparent that Grinch intends to blitz the linebackers, a lot. Rush linebacker Ivan McLennan lived in the backfield, leading the team with three sacks. Dylan Hanser, also a linebacker, was second with 2.5 sacks.

"That's what coach Grinch says, we've got to get after the quarterback and that's exactly what we did," Jeremiah Allison said. "I mean we did pretty good there but there's always room for improvement. I'm definitely blitzing, we're all blitzing as a collective but you could say I'm blitzing more."

Jacob Thorpe
Jacob Thorpe joined The Spokesman-Review in 2013. He currently is a reporter for the Sports Desk covering Washington State University athletics.

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