The Cougs held their second scrimmage of spring practice on Saturday as the defense simply caused nightmares in the backfield.
The WSU defense finished the scrimmage with an astounding 12 sacks on the afternoon.
However, Head Coach Mike Leach downplayed the statistic, saying if the quarterbacks could run like a normal game, the number would be much lower.
“I thought the offensive line was soft at times,” Leach said. “The sacks were a little inflated — obviously, if he’s allowed to run, some of those don’t materialize into sacks but we’re trying to err on the side of caution.”
Nonetheless, defensive end Xavier Cooper, who has been a stationary figure along the starting defensive line this spring, racked up three sacks against the first-team offensive line.
Cooper attributed the sacks to the coverage downfield but also said he is looking forward to when he can hit opposing quarterbacks rather than having coaches blow the whistle.
“It felt good, those corners help a lot but we want to get in there,” Cooper said. “We can’t take the quarterback down, but (during) game time, we’re coming down, we’re going to rip his head apart.”
The defense had a stretch where they collected five consecutive sacks. Cooper had two, and then Anthony Laurenzi, Logan Mayes and Eddie Releford each had one of their own.
After the third straight sack, the coaches had seen enough and made the offensive line do about 20 up-down drills in the middle of the scrimmage.
Defensive coordinator Mike Breske said he was impressed with his defense’s output, although he said they must work on third down conversions.
“I thought our tempo was pretty good through the first third of the practice and then we hit a lull there and then we picked it back up,” Breske said. “We were put in some tough situations in the red zone but we got after the quarterback and we had multiple sacks today, I think we had four takeaways — which is a key stat for us.”
The defense was fairly stout in the red zone as well on Saturday as they collected two interceptions in the end zone — one by Kyle McCartney intercepting Jesse Brown and another by Daniel Simmons intercepting a Jeff Tuel pass intended for Marquess Wilson.
Breske is a coach that loves big plays and he was surely enjoying the takeaways his defense was racking up on Saturday.
“That’s one of our important goals is third down and then takeaways and big plays, explosive plays,” Breske said. “There were a lot of explosive plays out there and that’s something to build on for scrimmage two next Saturday.”
The offense did show some positive glimpses at the scrimmage, as well.
The first touchdown scored was actually thrown by kicker Mike Bowlin.
As the Cougars lined up for a 28-yard field goal, the snap was botched and Bowlin picked up the ball and lobbed up a pass to Mansel Simmons, who made his way into the end zone.
After the first team offense came onto the field for the first time, Tuel threw his second pass of the afternoon 40 yards down the sideline to Wilson.
On the next possession, Andrei Lintz entered the action as he caught a pass on a short slant and went 40 yards after he broke the first tackle and evaded another defender. Lintz later capped the drive with a three-yard touchdown.
Tuel said his receivers have responded to Leach’s challenges of becoming more physical as a group.
“I feel like the receiving end we improved tremendously,” Tuel said. “Coach Leach challenged us to be more physical and I think we did that today which was good to see. We’re getting on more of the same page and we’re knowing what each other is going to do.”
After some work by the scout team, the second team offense got to work as well, as senior Gino Simone caught a 43-yard touchdown pass on a seam through the middle of the field from David Gilbertson.
Tuel’s final touchdown of the day came on a 26-yard pass where he found Bobby Ratliff in the middle of the end zone with no one around him.
After the scrimmage, Tuel said he is becoming more accustomed to the offense and everything is coming easier for him.
“I feel really comfortable and I think I’m really starting to get a grasp of the plays,” he said. “Once you get it memorized you can really start playing physically and not thinking about things. It was one of the things Coach Leach harps on is not being hesitant. You just really need to let it go and just let it fly.”
Tuel finished the day 19 of 33 for 253 yards and two touchdowns to one interception.
Simone racked up 101 yards on seven catches while hauling in one touchdown.