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Plenty of touchdowns, takeaways during first Washington State scrimmage

Washington State coach Mike Leach set off a twitter storm by posting a fake video of a speech from former President Barack Obama. (Pete Caster / AP)
From staff reports

PULLMAN – Strong wind gusts and persistent rain showers accompanied, but did not deter, the Washington State football team from making plays – and more important, making progress – on both sides of the ball during the Cougars’ first mock scrimmage at Martin Stadium.

Five young WSU quarterbacks weathered the storm by combining to toss five touchdowns and complete 55 percent of their attempts for 375 yards. But their defensive counterparts jumped on every small miscue, recording four interceptions, and the defensive line perhaps had the strongest afternoon of any position group, piling up 10 quarterback sacks.

“I thought that we did a good job of coming upfield and were playing pretty fast up front,” coach Mike Leach said. “I think our front’s playing pretty fast. Obviously, we’ll go look at the film on both sides and find plenty of work to do, but I thought we had good energy and guys flying upfield.”

Because the Cougars don’t make their signal-callers “live” during spring practices, defensive players only need to tap the quarterback to notch a sack. Redshirt freshman Dallas Hobbs busted through for two of the eight sacks accumulated by the D-line. Taylor Comfort and Nnamdi Oguayo each added one to the tally.

“I thought they played awfully fast and played in the backfield quite a bit,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “And that’s where it all starts, so I’m pleased with those guys up front.”

The pass rush was effective even when it didn’t conclude with a “tap sack,” often forcing the ball out of the QB’s hand prematurely, leading to defensive takeaways.

“The faster the ball comes out, the easier it is to defend,” Claeys said. “So it throws off timing and without a doubt, if you can get there and put pressure on the quarterback, that’s the best defense for the passing game.”

WSU’s starters in the defensive backfield are relatively experienced, but as a collective, the defensive secondary is the group most in need of fine tuning, according to Claeys. So the four interceptions during Saturday’s scrimmage should be encouraging, especially considering three came from defensive backs who didn’t contribute to WSU’s interception tally last fall.

Armani Marsh, Hayden Schmidt and Skyler Thomas each had one, as did linebacker Fa’avae Fa’avae. Thomas’ pick was returned the other way for a defensive touchdown.

“Back there, if you haven’t played back there, there’s a hell of a lot of space to cover,” Claeys said. “And it’s not easy.”

Early enrollee Cammon Cooper was the only quarterback to exceed 100 yards in the air – he threw for 160 on 8-of-20 passing – accounting for two of the five touchdowns, in addition to two interceptions. Anthony Gordon was efficient, completing 12 of 17 passes for two TDs and 98 yards, while Trey Tinsley was 10 of 13 with 68 yards and one score.

“As you can imagine, balls are a little heavy, a little slippery,” Gordon said. “But Coach did a good job of getting us in some plays where we can kind of get a little good feel in the beginning, get the running backs involved, check to the run a little bit. Then getting the ball downfield was a little bit easier.”

John Bledsoe (3 of 7, 26 yards) and Connor Neville (2 of 7, 23 yards, two interceptions) also saw brief playing time.

Junior inside receiver Kyle Sweet led the WSU pass-catchers with three touchdowns, catching five for 62 yards. Freshman running back Max Borghi, another early enrollee, accumulated 73 yards on four catches, and tailback Keith Harrington added five catches for 45 yards. Spokane’s Rodrick Fisher, an East Valley graduate, scored on his only reception of the scrimmage – a 9-yarder.

James Williams led the effort on the ground, with five carries for 45 yards.