PULLMAN – The two unknowns heading into Washington State’s first scrimmage of the spring were how the defense would look under new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and how the quarterbacks would look playing against it.
After 111 live plays on Saturday, the answer to the first mystery is that eight practices in, it is still very much a work in progress – although the pass rush looked good – and because of that, the answer to the latter is that all four quarterbacks on WSU’s roster had successful days.
Because of his experience last season, as well as his seemingly superior command of the offense and huddle, sophomore Luke Falk is still the favorite to start at quarterback in the season-opener against Portland State.
But freshman Peyton Bender has gotten equal reps in spring practice and played well enough to make it a legitimate competition. Neither did anything to hurt themselves on Saturday, as Bender completed 23 of 30 passes for 241 yards and four touchdowns, while Falk was 20 of 29 for 209 and three passing scores, while also running one in from 13 yards out.
Bender began the scrimmage, running the second-string offense against the backup defenders, but both quarterbacks had opportunities against the first-string defense.
“I thought they were pretty similar,” head coach Mike Leach said. “That’s the thing, they’re both real quality players out there and both throw the ball well and the most impressive thing with both of them is, well just their ability to run the offense.”
While the offense, in its fourth year with the Air Raid, is able to spend its time training in the minutiae of success in a system the players already know, the defense has had to focus mostly on big-picture stuff, and the difference in time spent drilling technique was evident.
“Like most things, it’s highly correctable but we’ve got to get it corrected,” Grinch said. “And make plays, I don’t think we made enough of our opportunities on the back end. Some good, some bad, but we obviously have a long way to go to be a good Pac-12 defense.”
The scrimmage served as somewhat of a showcase for two players the offensive coaches have been lauding all spring.
Running back Keith Harrington, who was recruited as a receiver and redshirted his first season, ripped off runs of 27 and 32 yards, and added 53 yards receiving. His most impressive play was a 7-yard scamper through traffic to the end zone.
Leach says that outside receiver Daniel Lilienthal is one of the strongest and fastest at his position. Though he has yet to make a catch in his two seasons at WSU, he led the team with 100 yards and two touchdowns on six catches on Saturday.
Third-string quarterback Tyler Hilinski was the first to discover where the defense was successful on Saturday: rushing the quarterback.
Hilinski was sacked three consecutive times on his first drive and the defense finished the day with nine. It’s evident that Grinch plans to rush defenders at a high rate.
“That’s what Coach Grinch says, we’ve got to get after the quarterback and that’s exactly what we did,” said linebacker Jeremiah Allison.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.