LEWISTON – It didn’t take long for redshirting running backs Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow to show that they were ready to move beyond the lesser competition they faced in Washington State’s 2013 underclassmen scrimmages.
Facing mostly fellow first-years, away from the big crowds and bright lights of a Cougar Football Saturday, the two constantly one-upped each other with broken tackles and big runs.
The Cougars ended their fall camp with an 85-play scrimmage and the way the freshmen duo continued to excel against the best the defense had to offer, coach Mike Leach may have to acquiesce to a few more run plays this fall.
Wicks gashed the first-team defense for a 44-yard score on his first carry, shaking off one defender and juking another, outrunning the rest to the end zone.
Morrow was damaging inside the tackles and outside, as well, totaling 41 yards on 10 carries and scoring on 9- and 10-yard runs.
At the start of camp coaches thought that the 5-foot-11, 211-pound Wicks could be an effective short-yardage back, a burly ball carrier who could pick up short first downs and touchdowns against a defense geared to stop the pass.
But his sudden, violent style of running has caused the coaches to expand his role. Wicks had another long run later in the scrimmage, finishing the day with 94 yards on five carries.
“Both (runs, Wicks) bounced (outside the tackle). Once he broke it he was north-south, you want everybody to do that, heck, you want all of them to be north-south guys,” Leach said.
“I know it’s flashy to watch these guys do this (zig-zags with hand) all the time but it’s all a bunch of junk and typically that’s a guy running inefficiently,” he added. “He may be a very talented guy but he’s a very talented guy running inefficiently.”
Last season WSU running backs rushed for just 875 yards and 10 touchdowns. However, Leach has been willing to make room in his Air Raid offense for a run game in the past, and in 2008 his Texas Tech team ran for 28 touchdowns.
Quarterback Connor Halliday is responsible for checking into most run plays, and says he welcomes the opportunity to give his arm some rest. By forcing defenders to respect the run, Halliday says he can become more dangerous in the passing game.
“It’s huge,” Halliday said. “You’re not throwing into windows that are that small and the defensive line can’t pin their ears back and come upfield because if they do that we’ll hit them inside with a trap and get it right up the middle.”
Halliday took advantage of broken coverage by freshman cornerback Pat Porter to throw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Rickey Galvin on his first play.
Working against mostly backups, Halliday completed 12 of 18 passes for 185 yards in the scrimmage. He also threw four touchdown passes and didn’t throw an interception.
“That’s what we need to do,” Halliday said. “We’re going against the two defense and we took care of business like we should.”
Isiah Myers put a bow on what has been an excellent fall camp for the senior receiver, leading the team with 60 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns on four receptions.
The defense had its victories as well. Wednesday’s scrimmage and a similar scrimmage last Saturday were the only live-tackling practices and the defense took full advantage, without hitting the QBs, of course.
Darryl Monroe leveled Morrow on a short pass out of the backfield and Paris Taylor had a big knock on Galvin on an intermediate pass over the middle.
“You want to get your tackling right,” defensive tackle Xavier Cooper said. “You can never simulate game speed but in these scrimmages we try to make it as live as possible so it’s good to come out here and be confident in your tackling and your ability.”
The Cougars will take a day off before returning to practice on Friday to begin preparing for their season opener against Rutgers at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field on Thursday, Aug. 28.