A daily fall practice update from The Spokesman-Review’s Washington State beat writer, Theo Lawson (@TheoLawson_SR). We set the scene, list the day’s important notes, highlight one big play, pick the standouts and slip-ups, track the quarterback race and dissect one talking point from post-practice interviews.
Setting the scene
Where: Rogers Field/Martin Stadium in Pullman
Start/finish: 3:30 p.m./6 p.m.
Temperature: 84 degrees, sunny
Equipment: Helmets and shoulder pads
- As always, we go more in-depth on the quarterbacks below, but we won’t wait that long to share only two of them, Anthony Gordon and Gage Gubrud, repped during one-on-one, skeleton and team period on Tuesday. That’s significant because each of the last three practices, Mike Leach has given all three opportunities. So, if Gordon and Gubrud are splitting the snaps again Wednesday, we can safely assume this has become a two-horse race. For now, this is what Leach had to say about the status of the competition: “Well, we’ve got three really good quarterbacks, so we’re going to take a look at it and evaluate, but I thought these two played well today.
- Near the end of the team period, a small scuffle broke out between defensive tackle Will Rodgers III and offensive lineman Hunter Mayginnes. It’s unclear what sparked the feud, but the players swung at each other before being broken up by teammates. Then, one snap later, tensions boiled over again between Rodgers III and Mayginnes. The D-lineman ripped his teammate’s helmet off, but teammates intervened before the fight could go any further. “That was a little too much,” Leach said. “Got broke up pretty quick, but yeah.”
- The Cougars are still working out different groupings in the defensive secondary. At one point, with Skyler Thomas and Marcus Strong on the sideline, Armani Marsh and Derrick Langford were manning the cornerback spots while Patrick Nunn took over at nickel.
- Only two kickers, Jack Crane and Dean Janikowski, took part in the field goal period near the beginning of practice. Unlike many of the field goal periods they’ve held, the Cougars tried something different on Tuesday, simulating what would happen if the FG unit drew a 5-yard penalty before the snap. So, the long snapper would set the ball up on the 30-yard line (as an example), then a whistle would blow and the unit would quickly retreat to the 35 to snap and kick.
- The kick returners that repped during the special teams period Tuesday were Travell Harris, Max Borghi, Deon McIntosh, Skyler Thomas and Rodrick Fisher.
- The Cougars have held practices 10 of the last 12 days, so it’s no surprise the list of non-participants is growing. On Tuesday, the following players did not participate in practice: offensive lineman Jarrett Kingston, quarterback John Bledsoe, wide receiver Billy Pospisil, linebacker Dillon Sherman, kicker Blake Mazza, linebacker David Aldapa, wide receiver Jamire Calvin, defensive end Nnamdi Oguayo and cornerback Trey Davis. Safety Daniel Isom played a majority of practice, but did not complete the team period. Offensive lineman Christian Haangana was the only non-attendee.
- The media spoke with coach Mike Leach, outside linebacker/special teams coach Matt Brock, quarterback Anthony Gordon and defensive lineman Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei after practice.
Langford and Isom both had nice moments during the one-on-one period. Langford, while covering Dezmon Patmon, couldn’t prevent a catch but made a savvy play to strip the ball from the wide receiver near the sideline. Isom later jumped a pass thrown to Travell Harris and came up with the interception.
One big play
Deon McIntosh’s gradual growth in the Air Raid offense was evident when the team scrimmaged Friday and the former Notre Dame tailback continues to churn out highlight runs that indicate why he should be the clear No. 2 to Max Borghi this fall.
During Gubrud’s drive in the team series, McIntosh took an inside handoff from the quarterback, side-stepped defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs and head-faked, forcing Tyrese Ross and William Overstreet to go right as the running back sprinted left. With Overstreet still in pursuit, McIntosh confronted the cornerback by sticking a hand into his chest, stiff-arming the defender not only out bounds, but causing Overstreet to spill over as McIntosh kept his footing.
Later on in the drive, McIntosh bolted into the end zone untouched.
(The play mentioned above can be found at the :44 mark in the video below)
Standouts & slip-ups
Standout: Of the junior college defensive backs the Cougars brought in this offseason, Shahman Moore has probably received the least amount of ink. But he warranted it Tuesday. As we’ll note in the QB section below, there were only three incomplete passes thrown during the team period. One way or another, Moore had a hand in forcing all three.
The El Segundo, California, native was playing Patmon tightly when Gubrud threw to the receiver on a slant route into the end zone. Moore reached a hand across the chest of the tall wideout to knock the ball away, denying Gubrud a TD on his final pass attempt of the period.
Moore had another impressive breakup during Gordon’s series as the QB attempted a long strike to Easop Winston Jr. in the back right corner of the end zone. Even though Winston had gained a step on the defender, Moore made up for the cushion with his athleticism, leaping high to bat the ball away.
When Gordon overthrew Brandon Gray on a vertical route, it was Moore who was in coverage, guarding the receiver tightly.
(play No. 1 is at the 1:26 mark in the video below and No. 2 is at the 2:49 mark)
Slip-up: Next to Moore’s efforts in pass coverage, it was a slow and unproductive day for the defense in general. There may not have been a single culprit, necessarily, but the unit didn’t record a takeaway during the team series and conceded seven touchdowns on 36 possible plays – five of those in the air and two more on the ground.
The reward? Everyone wearing a white defensive shirt stripped off their practice jersey and met on the goal line for some post-practice cardio.
Keeping up with the QBs
Gage Gubrud was on the verge of finishing off a perfect series during Tuesday’s team period, when Moore contested his final pass, forcing the QB to finish just 11-of-12 with two touchdowns, rather than an unblemished 12-of-12 with three touchdowns. Even after what easily was his best offensive (practice) series as a WSU signal-caller, Gubrud was visibly frustrated – a sign not only of the QB’s competitive nature, but perhaps the competitive nature of the position battle itself.
Gubrud’s completion percentage was one thing, but his general command of the unit seemed stronger Tuesday than it had any other day prior. In addition to the 11 pass completions – a few of which were thrown throgh tight windows – the Eastern Washington transfer also broke out his wheels on a designed QB draw that would’ve netted him anywhere between 8-10 yards in a live game.
“He had a good team period, I thought,” Leach said. “I thought they both did. I thought they both had good one-on-one, good skell, good team. Both of them did.”
Gordon followed with a drive that was almost as efficient as his challenger’s. The QB completed his first six throws, hitting an outside receiver on each, and finally missed when a pass to Gray fell beyond the redshirt freshman’s outstretched arms. Gordon threw incomplete once more before tossing a trio of touchdowns in the red zone, to Patmon, Calvin Jackson Jr. and Brandon Arconado, who also caught one from Gubrud.
Who had the edge: Gubrud. His unit moved with just a little more tempo than Gordon’s and the completion percentage was a tad better, too.
“(Fa’avae) gets off the ball well and he plays with some violence. He’s a natural pass-rusher to a degree. He did that more in high school, that’s what I understand. Coach (Dave) Nichol recruited him and that’s what he told me. It’s been a pretty smooth transition for him overall. He’s obviously got to continue to work and develop, but I’m really happy with where he’s starting out at.”
– Outside linebackers coach Matt Brock talks (up top) about Fa’avae Fa’avae’s transition to “Rush” linebacker and (below) why he could rotate three players – Fa’avae, Willie Taylor III and Ron Stone – at the position this fall.
“I do. I do. Because the different packages we can do and third and long and things like that. I absolutely think there’s a role for all those guys.”