PULLMAN – It’s in Washington State’s best interest to play as much football under floodlights as possible before the month of September rolls around.
The Cougars open the season at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 2 against Montana State. They host Boise State at the same time a week later. USC is in town for a 7:30 kickoff on Sept. 29 and the Cougars travel to Cal for a supper-time start on Oct. 13. Presumably, a few of those conference games that still read “TBD” will begin after dark.
With that in mind, WSU held another open-to-the-public scrimmage under the Martin Stadium lights Saturday evening. The start time? 7:30 of course.
Below are five takeaways from the mock game.
The final numbers indicate a decent night from the Cougars’ passers, rushers and receivers. The energy on the offensive sideline told a different story.
“The defense was just more hyped than us today,” running back James Williams said. “Last week, the offense was ballin’ and this week (the defense) was on top, so we’ve got a lot to work on.”
Williams was a bright spot with three carries for 55 yards, including two touchdown runs. One of those was a 25-yarder that saw the redshirt sophomore break around the left edge and hit the turbo button, allowing him to effortlessly glide through the WSU secondary on his way to the end zone.
But things didn’t start so well. Six of Tyler Hilinski’s first seven pass attempts fell incomplete. One week after Hilinski and Luke Falk combined to go 32 for 39 with 348 yards and eight touchdowns, the Cougars quarterbacks were just 23 of 42 for 225 yards and four touchdowns.
Falk completed passes to Jamal Morrow and Isaiah Johnson-Mack to start his first drive, but Kirkland Parker stripped Morrow inside the red zone and Logan Tago pounced on the ball, bringing the defensive sideline to life again. Williams was easily the best tailback for the second week straight, running for all but 11 of the 66 rushing yards.
A night for Oguayo
Defensive end Nnamdi Oguayo was on the field as a full participant for the first time in a few weeks. He did much more than merely participate. A redshirt sophomore, Oguayo was disruptive from the get-go, breaking through the second-team offensive line for a tap sack on Hilinski during the opening drive. The 6-foot-3 Oguayo also gives the Cougars great length on field goal unit and he got his right hand on Jack Crane’s 35-yard attempt after the fourth drive.
“It feels amazing, I thought I lost it at first,” Oguayo said of returning to the field. “Coming out here, I was like, ‘Nah, I didn’t lose it, I just needed a little jumpstart to get going.’”
Isaac Dotson, Will Rodgers II and Damion Lee accounted for the other three QB sacks.
Erik Powell made it look as easy.
The WSU senior drilled all three of his field goals, connecting first on a 28-yarder before hitting a 35-yarder and a 40-yarder.
Backup Jack Crane made a 35-yard field goal, but had another attempt blocked by Oguayo. It wasn’t the only block. Later on, Nick Begg got a paw on Ryan Henderson’s 35-yard attempt. But on attempts that weren’t stuffed, the WSU kickers were 4-for-4. Best of all, Powell didn’t miss.
Get to know ’em
It was a slow night for many of the top wideouts, so a few of the lesser-known receivers saw an opportunity in front of them and made the most of it. Renard Bell and Brandon Arconado, especially. On the fourth offensive drive, Bell caught a screen from Hilinski, absorbed a big hit from corner Marcellus Pippins then turned on the jets. Bell made safety Rob Taylor miss on a sideline tackle, cutting inside then bouncing back out, and ran into the end zone untouched for a 45-yard score.
“When I catch a ball, I like to think the first person’s not going to tackle me,” Bell said. “But as soon as I broke out, I saw him coming, so I knew either I was going to have to fight for extra yards or break the tackle and try to get some more yards after the catch.”
Bell was on the end of a 5-yard touchdown from Hilinski later on. He’d finish with two catches for 50 yards – both grabs going for TDs. Arconado, a redshirt sophomore, made five catches for 108 yards during the scrimmage. Each of his receptions moved the chains.
The No. 2 offensive line has been in a state of constant flux since camp opened and the Cougars, more than two weeks in, are still undecided on who the five backups will be. Robert Valencia had one of those spots locked down and seemed to the starting group’s “sixth man” – or the next guy up – in the event one of the first-teamers went down with injury.
But Valencia’s been absent from practice this week and starting right tackle Cole Madison didn’t particpate in the scrimmage. With those two out, the first and second team looked like such: starters – Josh Watson (right tackle), B.J. Salmonson (right guard), Frederick Mauigoa (center), Cody O’Connell (left guard) and Andre Dillard (left tackle); backups – Abraham Lucas (right tackle), Alec Kuzmack (right guard), Noah Osur-Myers (center), Liam Ryan (right guard), Dillard/O’Connell (left tackle).