LEWISTON – The perpetually young Washington State secondary may not be any older, but it sure looked better during the Cougars’ first practice of the 2015 season.
The defensive backs came away with at least six interceptions during Saturday’s practice, which opened WSU’s preseason camp. Half of those came courtesy of freshmen participating in their first collegiate practice, including a pair from cornerback Darrien Molton.
Cornerback Kirkland Parker and safeties Hunter Dale and Kameron Powell also saw extensive time with their older peers. Parker broke up some passes while playing with the second team and Dale intercepted a pass.
“We had a lot of young guys out there playing,” said sophomore cornerback Charleston White, who counts as old in this group.
“I’m not really surprised,” he added. “I know they can play, but I’m more excited for them. They were out here playing like they’ve been here before.”
It was an exciting day to be a Cougars defender. In just one 2015 practice, the defense more than doubled the three interceptions it totaled in the entire 2014 season. New defensive coordinator Alex Grinch gave every reason he could in one pads-less practice to think the unit will be improved this season.
On the last play of practice, safety Taylor Taliulu ripped the ball away from receiver Tyler Baker just yards short of the end zone and White dove on it.
White broke up 13 passes in 10 games last season and seems likely to start at cornerback for the Cougars.
Marcellus Pippins, similarly, appears certain to start or see significant playing time on the opposite side.
But most of WSU’s other returners are not much more experienced than the newcomers and the coaches felt they did not do enough during spring practices to assure themselves of a spot in the two-deeps. That junior-college transfer Treshon Broughton was not present also affects the Cougars’ secondary depth.
“Those guys that didn’t establish themselves as true backups, we’re going to take a look at some of those young guys coming in,” Grinch said. “A couple of those guys, for Day One of college football, they did some nice things. The moment didn’t seem too big.”
The defense established itself as the aggressor as soon as practice went from drills to competition and seemed to gain energy with each batted pass.
WSU’s offense, presumably the strength of the team because of experience and past performance, had some struggles.
Luke Falk, who finished the 2014 season as the starting quarterback, nearly had his first pass in the skeleton drill intercepted by Jeremiah Allison.
Taliulu and Darius Lemora broke up his next two attempts and Paris Taylor secured a diving interception. Peyton Bender, in competition with Falk for the starting spot, fared little better, having his second pass intercepted by Molton.
Falk said the offense was unable to match the energy of the exuberant, young defenders.
“That starts at the quarterback position,” Falk said. “If you’re not getting completions, guys are kind of lagging around.”
Leach’s assessment was different, saying that Falk is routinely too hard on himself, although acknowledging he admires the trait.
And the offense did have plenty to be excited about. Bender and Falk combined to throw seven touchdowns (eight, if you believe Falk avoided an outstretched hand on a touch sack).
Running back Jamal Morrow, receivers Dom Williams, Tyler Baker and River Cracraft and the starting offensive line all played as one would expect from players that were impactful an entire offseason ago.
But such success is nothing new for an offense that averaged 31.8 points per game last season.
But for the nation’s worst team last season in turnovers gained, Saturday’s exploits were outlandish and outstanding.