Washington State's secondary played well during Monday's team session, so Luke Falk turned to the ground game.
A couple plays into Falk's time running the first team offense during the "team" portion of practice, he dropped back and fired a quick pass to the left side of the field. Cornerback Marcellus Pippins read the pass, abandoned his backpedal and jumped the receiver's route to intercept the pass. He would likely have scored on the play in a regular game.
Falk was flushed out of the pocket on the next play. He rolled out to the right and saw nobody, flipped around, avoided a would-be sacker and found Gabe Marks alone on the left side of the field, salvaging the broken play. Marks made a couple defenders miss, and surely got the first down, but he couldn't make junior college transfer Shalom Luani miss, absorbing a punishing blow from the safety.
The quarterback then turned to the ground game, calling Gerard Wicks' number on three of the next four plays. Wicks weaved through defenders and stiff-armed them, frequently blending elusiveness and physicality on the same run to mark the Cougars down the field. While the coaches would like to have a running back-by-committee this year with three talented players in Jamal Morrow, Keith Harrington and Wicks, it's hard to see how Wicks doesn't get an extra generous share of touches.
With the defense suitably softened, the passing game opened back up. First, Falk found Robert Lewis in the flat, who used one hand to fend off safety Isaac Dotson and the other to secure the football before jogging into the end zone. Falk then threw a touchdown pass to River Cracraft, giving the offense the win.
Or so it seemed. But coach Mike Leach offered the defense a way out of up-downs if they could get one goal line stop.
Wicks got the handoff. The defense got up-downs.
Here's what else I saw at day three of WSU's preseason camp:
-- I believe I saw T.J. Fehoko walking around in street clothes – the incoming freshman had not been previously spotted at camp. Barry Ware, Calvin Green, Treshon Broughton and Thomas Toki were also not present, but recent social media posts made by Broughton and Green make me believe they'll be with the Cougars shortly. I did not see Sulaiman Hameed, either, but he has been at camp.
-- Erik Powell and Brett Schafer each took four or five kicks to start practice. Schafer missed once, from 40-yards, while Powell made all of his attempts. Special teams coach Eric Mele told the kickers on their final attempt, from 44-yards out, that if they missed that 6-foot-4, 298-pound defensive end Destiny Vaeao would have to carry their pads on Tuesday. Not an exciting proposition for two players that are each well shy of 200-pounds themselves. Mercifully, they both made their kicks.
-- Rather than watch the receivers and defensive backs grapple for the third consecutive practice, I spent today watching a drill in which the defensive line and linebackers defend the run against the offensive line and running backs.
The defensive players were instructed not to take the running backs to the ground, which meant that they could only be so effective against the larger running backs like Wicks. Still, one player that jumped out early was linebacker (for now) Logan Tago, who has a knack for finding the key offensive blocker and leveling him, giving a teammate an easy path to the ball carrier.
The first team offensive line moves in concert well and looked pretty solid in the drill. The backups struggled initially but opened some nice holes later on in the drill for Harrington to dart through. From left to right the backups were Andre Dillard, Cody O'Connell, Carlos Freeman, Moritz Christ and Jacob Seydel. The third team offensive line, again from left to right, was Cedric Bigge-Duren, Noah Osur-Myers, B.J. Salmonson, Mack Hopkins and Brandon Evers. This group struggled to stop Ngalu Tapa, which is to be expected in their third collegiate practice and their first with any sorts of pads (shoulder pads only).
-- I did glance over at the WR vs. DB drills a bit and saw Kyle Sweet and C.J. Dimry make some nice catches. Dimry made another one-handed catch (he had two yesterday) and after practice Leach acknowledged that maybe it's time for the receiver to try it with two hands.
-- Luani looked very good in coverage during the drill and after practice Alex Grinch said he's pretty pleased with how the junior college transfer is playing in camp.
-- Another player that was impressive on Monday was Parker Henry. The walk-on nickelback had a couple pass breakups and ended the skeleton drill by out-leaping Gabe Marks on a jump ball for an interception.
-- Freshman safety Hunter Dale had an interception during team period off Peyton Bender after Henry batted the pass up and Pippins broke up the next pass. The sequence seemed to jostle Bender, who fumbled a handoff on the next play and completed just two of his next seven passes and was sacked by Ivan McLennan. Bender did follow that sequence with a touchdown pass to John Thompson on a slant, however.