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Washington State football notebook: Interim coach Jake Dickert commends veteran slotback, secondary for improvements

By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN – Washington State coaches called on Calvin Jackson Jr. before the season, challenging the slotback to fulfill his potential.

“What heights can you reach?” interim coach Jake Dickert said Wednesday when asked to name a player who has stepped up as of late.

“He’s done a good job over the last few weeks of just taking his game to another level.”

Jackson, a grad student from Florida, is in the midst of by far his best season in his fourth year with the program.

He’s second in the Pac-12 in receiving yards (667), and second on the Cougars in catches (48). Jackson, who set a career high with 139 yards two weeks ago at Arizona State, has taken some pressure off fellow Floridian grad slot Travell Harris, who paces WSU with 54 catches.

“Obviously, (opponents) know about Travell,” Dickert said. “They roll coverages to Travell, and we need that one-two punch, and he’s just been really good at making plays. That’s been a fun part about watching this offense go.”

Dickert highlighted improving play from freshman outside receiver De’Zhaun Stribling and said running backs Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh have “elevated their games” over the past month.

“We’re seeing a lot of things on offense during our success of the last few weeks of guys cutting loose, making plays and just trusting themselves,” he said.

Later in his weekly news conference, Dickert was asked to identify a position group that had taken considerable strides in the past year.

The secondary came to mind.

WSU’s defensive backs were prone to coverage lapses, “busts and miscommunication” in recent seasons, Dickert noted.

The Cougars’ veteran DB group has limited four opposing quarterbacks to under 200 yards and conceded eight passing plays of 30-plus yards all season (none in the past two games).

WSU’s secondary has come up with seven interceptions in nine games this year compared to nine picks over 17 games in the 2019 and ’20 campaigns combined.

“From the moment we got here, everyone was well aware of the big, explosive plays we were giving up,” Dickert said. “Even last year, there were some lapses, but we really just shored it up and cleaned it up, and it starts with communication.

“A loud defense is a great defense. I was telling our guys, ‘You go to an NFL practice, they’re loud because their jobs are on the line.’ They’ve done a good job of accepting that and going out and making plays, and not being afraid to make a mistake. … They’ve communicated well, played fast and I’m just happy with how they’re playing as a group.”

Injury update

Dickert said he expects free safety Halid Djibril and guard Cade Beresford to be suited up and “hopefully ready to go” when the Cougars face No. 3 Oregon on Saturday.

Djibril, WSU’s starter for the first two games, went down with a leg injury in Week 2 against Portland State and hasn’t appeared since. Beresford, the Cougars’ first-stringer at right guard, sustained an injury midway through the Arizona State game two weeks ago and wore a walking boot on the sideline during the second half.

Dickert also provided an update on backup nickel Armauni Archie, who hasn’t played since Week 1. Archie is out for the season and planning for a return in the spring, Dickert said.

Dickert responds to recruiting Washington during the bye week

Dickert, along with offensive coordinator Brian Smith and special teams coordinator Kyle Krantz, spread out on the recruiting trail in WSU’s home state last weekend.

The Cougars visited several local schools and made their way to the West Side, Dickert said.

“We were received really well across our state,” he said. “We put a lot of time, effort and energy into getting into as many schools as we can with some coaches and seeing as many games as possible. It felt normal, it felt good, it felt real.”

“Just exciting to invest in our state and get across the country and hopefully shore up our board and get some other names, and see some guys live.”

WSU’s staffers had not had a chance to hit the road for recruiting trips since they were hired in early 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions and this season’s late bye week. They had to do their recruiting from afar, over Zoom calls.

“I’m a big fan of evaluating guys in person, because I think you really get a chance to see who they are, what they do when they fail, how they interact with their coaches,” Dickert said. “Being on the sideline is an important part of this evaluation process. To finally be able to do that after a couple of years was very much needed for our program.”