Washington State’s quarterbacks weren’t quite as sharp Thursday afternoon as they were in last Saturday’s annual Crimson and Gray Game.
The defenses stepped it a up a little, though. And the kicking game seemed much improved from last weekend.
About the only thing that didn’t change for the Cougars as they dropped the curtain on spring football drills with a 90-minute controlled scrimmage was the running game - which remained horrible.
Numbers? They were almost too ugly to mention.
The leading rusher for the winning team gained 10 yards on 12 carries. That was redshirt freshman Kwame Stewart, whose longest gain in the Gray’s 12-7 win Thursday was 6 yards.
Junior Derek Sparks carried 11 times for the Crimson and gained 20 yards. And sophomore walk-on Tim Springs added 5 yards on two carries.
The lack of progress with a running game that produced just 2.1 yards per play last fall and ranked dead last in the Pacific-10 Conference might seem like cause for concern, but neither Cougar coach Mike Price nor offensive coordinator John McDonell acted like the obvious problems were insurmountable.
“We just have to continue to improve and work on it, and I think we have,” said McDonell, who took over the coordinator’s title last season when Ted Williams left for Arizona. “The problem, I think, is a combination of youth, inexperience, defensive schemes - there’s a lot of factors you can put into it.
“But we still have to be able to run the ball. You want to be a two dimensional as you can be. I think everybody would consider us a passing team, but you’d still like to have the running game to complement the pass. It would sure make us a lot tougher to defend.”
Price said part of the problems this spring resulted from injuries to Sparks and Jason Clayton, who missed Thursday’s scrimmage with a groin pull. Junior Frank Madu was unavailable because of the track season.
He also noted projected starters in his young offensive line did not get the chance to work together in either scrimmage.
“We just have to put the whole thing together,” he said. “We had some mismatches out there today - offensive and defensive lines - in certain places. We just have to keep working hard to improve.”
Price said the Cougars have dabbled in some two-back sets all spring, although both teams went strictly with one-back looks Thursday. His latest recruiting class includes eight potential running backs.
“Maybe one of them will be able to come in and help us out a little bit,” he said.
The most obvious candidate would be Major Norton, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound transfer from San Francisco City College. Norton averaged 7.1 yards per carry as a freshman and scored 15 touchdowns. Two JC transfers who have already made big impressions are defensive end Da’vid Evans, a 6-5, 250-pound defensive end, and defensive back Shad Hinchen. Hinchen, who had an interception and a key strip in last Saturday’s Spring Game, picked off another pass Thursday and returned it 57 yards for the Gray’s first touchdown. The interception was one of four thrown by WSU quarterbacks.
Redshirt freshman Ryan Leaf, who quarterbacked the Crimson, threw three of those and was a modest 7 for 20 for 81 yards. He was victimized by several drops and did connect with Jay Dumas on a 17-yard scoring drive.
Sophomore starter Chad Davis completed 12 of 24 passes for 227 yards.
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