As we’ve stated year after year after year, trying to read too much into a spring game is pretty much fool’s gold. And, as is the case year after year after year, that’s not going to stop us from writing 1,000 words about what we saw and what we thought about it.
It took me a few days to get this down in virtual ink, but I wanted to watch the broadcast after seeing the game live with a couple of beverages in me. Here’s what I noticed.
Things actually looked pretty good and crisp
What impressed me most was how both teams actually looked pretty decent. Over the years, the football played in this game has been ... questionable. It’s usually pretty sloppy and disjointed, something we always said was a function of mixing up the squads to try and get “even” teams.
This one was actually a pretty attractive thing to watch. Falk and Hilinski completed 47 of 66 passes (71 percent) for 486 yards (a solid 7.4 yards per attempt) and four touchdowns with zero interceptions. There were no throws (that I remember) where the Falk or Hilinski zigged and the receiver zagged; no sloppy interceptions; no obviously blown blocking assignments due to miscommunication.
Same thing goes for defense; with the exception of newly converted CB Grant Porter getting torched by Patmon for a TD over the top in what looked like a Y-Cross concept, I didn’t see anything that resembled a major breakdown from the defense.
Maybe I’m reading too much into a silly spring intrasquad scrimmage, but I wonder if this has to do with WSU just finally getting some excellent depth up and down the roster. In the past, the substantial drop off between first and second string caused big blunders and disjointed play. There was very little of that on Saturday, and I think that might just be a commentary on how far the roster has come.
I feel a bit better about the receivers
If you’ve been around here for a bit, you might have caught me writing about my trepidation regarding the 2017 receivers. I wouldn’t say I’m completely convinced everything will be fine after Saturday, but I do feel a little less scared about what might be coming.
Tavares Martin was great, as expected. But Dezmon Patmon, who had a largely irrelevant freshman campaign in 2016, really shined (7 catches, 69 yards, 1 TD), as did fellow sophomore Isaiah Johnson-Mack, who led the receivers with 101 yards. Patmon, in particular, was a revelation: He was smooth and fast and physical and every bit looked the part of a future stud WR.
The inside receivers didn’t really do anything to wow me, per se, but we did see a little flash of what redshirt freshman Renard Bell and Easop Winston might bring to the inside receiver position, and I liked it. Bell is still awfully light, but he’s fast and quick and might actually have the ability to be what we all thought Robert Lewis was going to be when he was billed as the “Human Joystick” all those years ago. Winston was as good as advertised and he’ll give production right away.
Oh, and four star Jamire Calvin has yet to step on campus.
I must say, though, that CJ Dimry was pretty disappointing. It’s going to be interesting to see if he can hold onto his spot backing up Martin, or if he ends up getting passed by a guy such as Anthony White Jr., who didn’t play a ton on Saturday but should make big strides between now and fall as an early enrollee.
Lots of Tavares Martin targets
This is a little bit of an extension of the previous section, but it was great to see Luke Falk targeting Martin so many times. They didn’t always connect — Martin caught just five passes for 39 yards a a TD — but Falk wasn’t afraid to push the ball downfield to Martin.
I don’t think it’s in dispute that Martin is WSU’s most gifted receiver, but he just didn’t get a as many balls thrown his way last season as it seemed he could have. Perhaps with Gabe Marks and River Cracraft moving on, Falk can truly take advantage of his best weapon.
Cody O’Connell at left tackle was fun
In general, O’Connell and regular left tackle Andre Dillard played together. But when Dillard was off the field, one interesting thing I noticed was that O’Connell moved out to left tackle some of the time. I’d guess this is a preview of what we might see if anything were to happen to Dillard. Liam Ryan seemed to get the majority of the time in O’Connell’s normal left guard spot when the big fella slid outside.
Unsurprisingly, he looked great out there, too. He was a wall against pass rushers and displayed those feet that are so much lighter than they look when he got downfield on a shovel pass to pancake a defender. And then there’s that bench press video that was shown on the broadcast, in which O’Connell casually puts up 400-plus pounds:
I’m actually convinced O’Connell might be an alien.
The rest of the offensive line played well, too
With the exception of Noah Osur-Myers having a really, really tough time handling Daniel Ekuale, the offensive line was excellent. We’ve become somewhat accustomed to these exhibition games turning into a little bit of a sack fest, given that it only takes a touch to sack the QB. But both Luke Falk and Tyler Hilinski had plenty of time to throw and move around in the pocket.
It’s important to note that defensive coordinator Alex Grinch kept it pretty vanilla with the front seven, but on the rare occasion there was a blitz, there were no free runners. Additionally, none of the pass rushers (again, Ekuale excepted) were having much success winning their one-on-one battles. In the ol’ spring practice quandary, you could use that to worry about the d-line, but I choose to believe it shows something more about the offensive line, especially when Hercules Mata’afa is one of those who is nowhere to be found.
Of particular note was the performance of sophomore center Fred Mauigoa, who appeared to be nearly impenetrable. Looks like we might have a really, really good one there.
Keith Harrington will give this team something
Oh boy, did we miss you, Keith. With the all the production from the running back position last year, it actually was a little too easy to forget what Harrington is capable of. He reminded us:
That was just one of a number of big plays from the erstwhile big-play running back of 2015: He piled up 143 yards on 18 touches. Somehow, some way, Harrington will get some touches this fall. He has to.
(Oh, and by the way: The running backs had 268 total yards on 33 touches. Boobie Williams and Harrington are the presumptive 3rd and 4th running backs. Jim Mastro is a gall danged wizard.)
I don’t take a whole lot away from the defense
The reason I haven’t talked much about Grinch’s squad is because it looked to me like things were pretty vanilla. And I don’t know how much we can conclude from the defense playing all those snaps against the Air Raid, which they won’t ever do in the fall.
Did they generally keep things in front of them and rally to the ball? Yes, and that’s good. Did they generally play good coverage against the deep ball? Yep, and that’s also good.
Did they get gashed on the ground? Absolutely, and maybe that’s bad? Or maybe not, given they were generally anticipating a pass and probably not thinking too much about being stout against the run? Or maybe the offensive line is actually that good? Or maybe Ngalu Tapa, who I don’t recall playing in the game, is just that important to the run defense?
This is where you can twist yourself in knots with an intrasquad scrimmage. And I’m not real eager to do that, so I won’t make much of it at all.
Thanks to everyone who came out to the tailgate!
It was a blast getting to meet so many of you. As a bonus (or punishment, your choice), here’s a rare picture of a bunch of the authors in the same place at the same time:
Go Cougs! See you next year, Spokane. (Unless the AD finally gets wise and moves the game back to Pullman, as he should.)