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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

WSU scrimmage a positive event

LEWISTON – The vacillatory nature of intersquad scrimmages – really, all practices – reduces positives or negatives to a middling equilibrium. As such, when asked to evaluate a team’s performance, coaches such as Washington State’s Mike Leach typically speak in generalities to avoid reproaching half of their team. When both sides play well and neither dominates, there really isn’t much to say at all. “A lot of times these things, since it’s a small sample, you know they end up pretty imbalanced, one side or the other. I thought this one was pretty evenly contested,” said Leach after WSU’s scrimmage on Sunday. The Cougars beat the Cougars in the scrimmage, with the offense scoring some touchdowns and the defense recording some stops. The first team offense had a predictably easy time scoring against the backups and – you’re not going to believe this – the second-team offense found it difficult to move the ball against the starting defense. The starting offense and defense faced off twice, resulting in one defensive stop and one offensive touchdown. Generally, all three quarterbacks managed the offense well, combining to complete 48 of 67 pass attempts for 496 yards and five touchdowns, a stat line pretty similar to what one would expect from WSU’s starting quarterback in a typical game this fall. Defensively, the Cougars did not force a turnover, a far cry from the interception-filled first day of WSU’s preseason camp in Lewiston and a troubling, if somewhat predictable, sign for a unit that was among the country’s worst at taking the ball away last season. Ultimately, most of what can be gleaned from such scrimmages comes from individual performances. So, here were some standouts. Erik Powell may be ready to solve the kicking troubles that plagued the Cougars last season, when the specialists made just 11 of 17 kicks, and Powell lost his starting spot after making just two of his first five attempts. Powell punctuated a productive preseason camp by making all three of his field goal attempts in the scrimmage, including a kick from 47 yards out that would have easily been good from 60. A couple freshmen that played with the third units looked good enough to be backups, at least. Tavares Martin Jr. led all wide receivers with seven catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns, outrunning his fellow first-year players and showing the size and speed that earned him scholarship offers from prominent football schools like Alabama, Florida State and West Virginia. “He’s been doing a lot of good things in camp,” Leach said. “We’ve just got to get him enough reps that he gets used to things, and doesn’t have to think about it so much. But (he is) very quick, very flashy (and has) very good hands.” The other young standout was freshman linebacker Logan Tago, who caught quarterback Tyler Hilinksi four times, including back-to-back sacks to end the scrimmage. An improved pass rush was a definite mark of the scrimmage. The first-team offense’s first crack at the starting defense ended on third-and-30, when Kache Palacio sacked Luke Falk, who was in such an untenable down-and-distance thanks to a sack by Darryl Paulo on the previous play. Because WSU’s offensive line returns all of its starters, and because the unit was not bad last season, the improved pass rush from this year’s defensive line is one of the things that can be truly extrapolated from WSU’s first nine practices. “I think those guys are one of the best fronts that we’re going to be able to face,” Falk said. “They’re just bringing it every day, they’ve got a lot more energy this year. It’s a different defense to go against.” While it may be a different defense, it’s still the same team. And so, while there were encouraging performances in Sunday’s scrimmage, little will be learned until the Cougars start playing real opponents, because each big play came with the caveat that it came at the expense of a teammate. Except for the kicks. Those were all positive, baby.