On the final play of the Spring game, Jeffrey Solomon took a bubble screen, turned up field, and was met by two defensive backs, losing the ball in the process. One play couldn't more perfectly sum up the scrimmage as a whole. The first team receivers were inconsistent, with back to back drops by Daniel Blackledge and Solomon at one point during the game. The defense, both the first and second teamers, stepped up to the plate and were ball hawkers.
The mantra of the defense throughout the game, and all Spring, was "big plays". Coaches were screaming it in huddles, players were yelling it on the field, it was the buzzword of the day. The defense backed up the talk by forcing three fumbles, recovering two, and hauling in an interception. The first team defense also spent so much time in the second team offense's back field that they should've been paying rent.
The scrimmage started out quietly, with the first team offense lead by Jeff Tuel going three and out. Zack Williams came out of the game on the second play after injuring his shoulder again while pulling to make a block. He did return later but looked to be in a lot of pain following that play. The first big play of the scrimmage came from the first team defense on the following possession. In a play that drew hoots and hollers from the sidelines, Aire Justin made a brilliant play on a fade route, tipping it up in the air before diving at it to secure the interception. Justin was injured on the play,having the wind knocked out of him and perhaps bruising his ribs , but he sure made an impression in his short time.
On the ensuing possession, the offense drove 64 yards in 9 plays for the score. The drive included an illegal formation and a timeout to avoid a delay of game, mistakes that need to be cleaned up. Solomon had a nice gain from a bubble screen and Jared Karstetter followed it up with an 18 yard gain on a well timed post route. Chantz Staden took over, appearing to score from 7 yards out, only to be called down at the one. On the next play, he muscled his way in from the one yard line to put the first points on the board.
The first team defense forced a three and out, with LeAndre Daniels providing the first big pop of the game on a short run. Kevin Kooyman ended the drive with a sack, getting to Marshall Lobbestaal in a hurry and getting the defense off the field. The offense took over with Tuel looking composed and methodical as they drove the length of the field for another score. He nearly connected with Solomon on a tip-toe catch along sideline in which Solomon couldn't drag his feet. On the next play, Tuel did some connecting of his own. In a moment that made the coaches cringe and the fans holler, Tuel blew up Andre Barrington as Logwone Mitz cut back across the field. The hit echoed through the stadium and drew plenty of ooh's and aah's. He followed that up with a screen to Mitz, with Mitz gathering the ball, turning upfield, and heading into the endzone with a burst of speed. On these back to back possessions, the offense was moving at will.
The second team offense finally started moving at the hands of Carl Winston, finally getting a first down, before Brandon Rankin had enough. On second and eight, Rankin tackled Winston in the backfield for a loss of two. On the next play, Rankin and Long collapsed the pocket, causing Lobbestaal to run into his own lineman and fumble, falling on it to save possession leading to a "punt". The left side of the line, with both Long and Rankin, looked very good in this series and both were able to apply pressure at will.
The offense, led by Tuel, finally stalled on the next drive after moving in to the opponent's territory. Karstetter had a nice double move, causing the corner to hold in an effort to prevent the big play. There was also trouble with the exchange between Tuel and the running back, leading to a fumble in the backfield that the offense fell on. The drive ended with Solomon running a nice wheel route but the ball being overthrown.
The defenses took over with Myron Beck forcing a three and out coming unblocked on a blitz to sack Lobbestaal on a third and short. The second team responded by stopping the ones on the next drive in three plays. Finally, Rankin sacked Lobbestaal on a third and one to end the second team offenses drive. Rankin broke through to the backfield, left his feet on a pump fake, and recovered for the touch sack in an impressive display of athleticism.
In the fourth quarter, Tuel took a seat and Lobbestaal ran the first team offense. They didn't do him many favors to start, with Solomon and Blackledge having the aforementioned drops. Dan Wagner took over the second team and finally answered the critics doubts about his passing. On his first play, he hit Andre Lintz for a gain of 13 and a first down. The momentum was lost shortly thereafter with a high snap from center resulting in a 10 yard loss and forcing third and long. The ensuing completion put an end to the Wagner express.
The final touchdown of the day came on what I call the Chantz Staden drive. After being stuffed on first down, Staden broke off a big run, going 51 yards before being brought down by Jim Dahl at the 9. Two plays later, Staden was in to the end zone untouched. After the scimmage, Wulff said Staden was healthy, but still not at 100%. If this is Staden at less than full strength, he could pay dividends come Fall.
The scrimmage came to a close in the most fitting way possible. With the clock winding down, the defense took over again, breaking up a pass, stopping Mitz for no gain, and finally forcing a fumble. The game ended with the entire defense on the field jumping up and down hollering. This was a common theme throughout the game, with the defense being lively in the huddle and on the field. If there's one thing to take away from the game it's that our defense is deep and is loaded with talent. Although they were playing against an overmatched offense, they still exceeded expectations.
Some notes in bullet point form:
- Andre Barrington is fast and was involved in most of the plays for the second team defense. Tuel seemed to make it his mission to embarrass Barrington, lighting him up on a block and juking him on a rollout in the first half. Barrington took out his anger with a few big pops of his own on running backs.
- High snaps from the shotgun were a problem. They happened frequently and led to a few fumbles. Lobbestaal also had problems with the exchange under center, fumbling a snap early on. This is something that needs to be worked on.
- Wulff described the defensive backfield as wide open and was pleased with the high level of competition between all of his DBs. Both the first and second teamers were making plays and breaking up passes. The fumbled caused by the Rankin pressure was also the result of beautiful downfield coverage. Lobbestaal had to hold the ball because all of his receivers were blanketed.
- Brandon Rankin is the real deal. Wulff said he adds a rushing aspect that hasn't been seen at WSU since Rien Long. If you haven't seen him yet, you need to keep an eye on him this Fall.
- Wulff finally tipped his hand about the quarterback position. Tuel is running the ones and will go into the Fall as the starter. It shouldn't be a shock, but seeing his play today reinforced that fact to me.
- The Cougs survived the game with very little in the way of injuries. In addition to Justin, Arthur Burns rolled an ankle midway through the game. Gino Simone didn't play, still recovering from an ankle sprain.
- LeAndre Daniels is a big boy back at the safety spot. At 6'2 213, he's got some serious size to go with his speed. All of our safeties look like playmakers and Daniels looks like a missile at times when he gets moving.
- It was Junior Day for the football program today. About 50 high school juniors were in attendance today, watching the game from various places in the stadium.
- The final score was 21-0 in favor of the first team. The score for a Spring game doesn't matter at all. The first team was flat dominant, as it should've been. The second team consisted of Lobestaal, some new lineman, Winston, and a bunch of walk-ons I'd never seen before. Esa Johnwell was the only receiver that looked like a receiver. The other two were 5'8 and 5'11, looking like we plucked them from the street. There isn't much to take from the second teams performance.
- For me, the best sight of the day was seeing James Montgomery jog up and down the sidelines before the game, even stopping to show off his calf. The fact that he's running, let alone preparing to return to the field, is amazing. He looks good and hopefully he'll be ready to go.
The Cougs finish up on Monday, foregoing using the Spring game as the traditional end to the session. They'll be on the field at 6 AM before breaking for summer workouts, run by Tuel and Lobbestaal.