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WSU practice notes: Lewiston ends with a scrimmage

Sunday was a chance to see how much the work the Cougars have put in during fall camp has paid off. It was also a chance to watch some impressive freshman show out.

You see, freshmen develop at different speeds. Some are also simply better than others. So when you have two units of mostly-freshmen go against each other, as was the case when the third string offense faced off against the third string defense a couple times during Sunday's scrimmage, a couple players are going to have outsized impacts.

Meet Logan Tago and Tavares Martin Jr., the players who had outsized impacts in Sunday's scrimmage.

Tago is player the coaches are still figuring out how to best use – when he signed last February, Mike Leach listed about seven positions he could potentially play. While that versatility gives the coaches options, it was pretty clear on Sunday that Tago's most valuable skill is his pass-rushing ability off the edge.

The freshman sacked quarterback Tyler Hilinski four times during the scrimmage, at least once on each of Hilinski's four drives. On the third and final drive, Tago sacked the quarterback on consecutive plays to end the scrimmage. Fighting through the left tackle on one play and blowing past him on the next.

He pushed a little too hard on that final sack, however, knocking the quarterback over and drawing the ire of coach Mike Leach. One gets the sense, however, that the coach would still rather tell his players to tone it down than need to turn them up.

It was still a good day for Hilinski, however, thanks in large part to Martin Jr. The freshman quarterback completed 15 of 18 pass attempts for 168 yards and two touchdowns. 105 of those yards and both touchdowns came thanks to Martin Jr., who reeled in seven catches, picking up many of the yards after the catch.

Martin Jr. frankly looked too good to be playing with the third-stringers and could figure to see playing time this year behind Gabe Marks at the Z spots.

Here is what else I saw during the scrimmage:

-- A tight end. That's right, a tight end in the Air Raid. No, I'm not crazy. Nick Begg checked in at tight end a couple times over the course of the scrimmage. The first time, he helped pass block. Later, he caught a pass for six yards. Remember, when Leach first came to Pullman he had Andrei Lintz at tight end and, while he wasn't used as extensively as many expected after some impressive practice performance, still showed that there can still be a role for a tight end in WSU's offense.(Note: Lintz was listed as an inside receiver and because I did not cover the team Leach's first year, I'm not sure whether or not he ever lined up on the line of scrimmage as a tight end in the classical sense.)

-- The defense stepped up, even if it didn't force any turnovers. The WSU quarterbacks combined to complete 48 of 67 attempts and threw five touchdowns. They also averaged 7.4 yards per attempt, a solid but not great number that is right around what Connor Halliday averaged while leading the Air Raid offense last season.

But the defense held when the offense got to the red zone. The first team defense chased Falk and the first team offense out of the red zone on the second drive of the day, as Darryl Paulo sacked the quarterback to force 3rd down and 30 and Kache Palacio followed with another sack. Granted, the offense's reversal initially started when an 11-yard touchdown pass to Gabe Marks was called off because of a flag for holding.

Ultimately, the first team defense was on the field for three drives and allowed a touchdown on just one of them. That came when Falk found Dom Williams on fourth-and-long for a beautiful touchdown on a really nice play that involved Williams running cornerback Marcellus Pippins into a receiver and his defender with a stick on a post route, leaving just a high safety between him and the end zone.

-- Falk appeared to have the best day of the quarterbacks, throwing a touchdown pass to Daniel Lilienthal on his next drive and generally doing a nice job of leading the offense. He also had a couple heady scrambles to pick up good chunks of yardage when nothing else was available.

Peyton Bender, however, had the day's best stretch of offense. Bender's first two drives stalled thanks to a couple sloppy throws and some drops from the receivers. His third drive was over so fast the offense had to move back to the 50 to get more reps, however.

On the first play of that drop he froze the defense by staring at a wide open Kyrin Priester who sat a few yards beyond the line of scrimmage on the left side of the field, then fired a 21-yard pass to River Cracraft. Priester still got his, however, reeling in an 18-yard catch on the next play. The next pass was an 11-yard touch pass to Gabe Marks in the end zone, ending the drive in the time it takes a reporter to flip to a new page in his or her notebook.

On the drive's second iteration, Bender got the offense down the field with a 31-yard pass to Kyle Sweet and Jamal Morrow later scored on a three-yard run.

-- If I was a WSU coach, however, the thing I'd be the happiest about from the scrimmage was the kicking game. After scores, instead of taking extra points the Cougars attempted field goals of varying difficulties.

I don't think I need to recap here how much of an issue kicks were last season, but kicking woes cost the Cougars at least one win and probably another. Erik Powell, who seems likely to start, went 3-for-3 with a long of 47 that would have been good from at least 60-yards out. One of the small joys of fall camp has been watching Powell's kicks nail the Genie lift the Cougars use to videotape practice, and he got close to nailing the cameraman a couple times in recent days.

Brett Schafer went 2-of-3 with a long of 42-yards and Matt Abramo was 1-of-3 with a long of 43-yards.

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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