Much of the hope heading for Washington State heading into the season was based on the assumption the Cougars would field a stellar offensive line.
With all five starters left, and left tackle Joe Dahl drawing the eyes of NFL scouts, it was reasonable to predict success for WSU's starting five in the offensive trenches.
Those predictions bore out on Saturday, when quarterback Luke Falk constantly had a more-than-reasonable amount of time to throw, often visibly going through his reads, seeing nothing, and then checking again and finding a receiver.
That was the result of a practice last Tuesday that offensive line coach Clay McGuire calls the unit's best of the year. Based on the offensive line's performance in today's practice, the unit is probably going to be pretty successful against Wyoming.
As an observer of WSU practices for a little less than two years now, I have always been of the opinion that certain drills are weighted toward one side of the ball or the other. A wide receiver should win a one-on-one drill with a defensive back, because there is so much space to work with, because the defender cannot force the receiver into other defenders and because the receiver simply has the advantage of knowing where the play is going.
In a similar vein, I've always though that the one-on-one drills between the offensive and defensive lines – in which the lines line up against each other and then just one defender makes a move to get to the quarterback, surprising the offensive lineman who must then block him – was a battle in which the defensive player had a definite advantage.
For the last two years my suspicions have borne out correctly: With more room to work than usual and a stationary quarterback, the defensive lineman has usually gotten the best of the offensive lineman.
But that's not the case anymore when the first team offensive and defensive lines face off. With a careful eye I watched the drill today, and I saw left guard Gunnar Eklund stonewall Destiny Vaeao and then saw Dahl lock up Hercules Mata'afa. Riley Sorenson and Eduardo Middleton kept Robert Barber and Daniel Ekuale in front of them, although the nose tackles were able to get some push.
The second unit offensive line was unable to replicate that success against the second team defense, so it appears the starters are just that good. It may also be true that the gap between the first and second unit offensive lines is much, much bigger than the gap between the starters and backups on defense. That would make some sense, because the defensive backups are a lot more likely to get game reps than the backup offensive linemen.
Still, it was interesting to see how far along the starting offensive line has come in relation to the defense.
Here's what else I saw at practice:
-- The starting cornerbacks are still Charleston White and Darrien Molton. I thought that might change after watching Marcellus Pippins seemingly get a majority of the snaps alongside Molton against Rutgers, and making the most of that opportunity with an interception.
-- Treshon Broughton got more run with the second team at cornerback this week, and he capitalized with an interception against the scout team.
-- Erik Powell made three of four field goal attempts, hitting from 43-yards but missing from 47 by hitting the right goal post.
-- The limited players today: C.J. Dimry, Suli Hameed, Matt Abramo, Cole Michael, Mack Hopkins, Frankie Luvu, T.J. Fehoko and Amosa Sakaria.
-- Had fun watching the inside linebackers go through drills with Ken Wilson today. Most of the emphasis appeared to be on getting off blocks and moving through traffic.
-- Saw more Jeremiah Mitchell with the twos than usual. While he hasn't been much of a factor yet, his strength is defending the run so he may be a good matchup player against Wyoming.
-- Freshman quarterback Tyler Hilinski has played much better for about a week now. He's throwing the ball with more authority and that's made it appear like he has a stronger arm, because he's more willing to step into a throw and zip a pass into a tighter window.
-- Taylor Taliulu had a good practice, intercepting a pass one-handed and generally being around the ball. Paris Taylor also had a pick.