The Cougars seemed evenly matched on offense and defense Sunday. But that’s a good thing, says head coach Mike Leach
LEWISTON, Idaho – Washington State’s defense was on a mission to deny red zone touchdowns in the team period that concluded practice Sunday afternoon at Sacajawea Junior High School.
Backup quarterback Tyler Hilinski’s red zone series ended abruptly when defensive linemen Dan Ekuale and Hercules Mata’afa ganged up to deny tailback Gerard Wicks passage over the goal line. One play before that, Ekuale got to Hilinski in what would have been a sack if the quarterbacks were not off limits.
Later, the Cougars’ pass rush also stopped starting quarterback Luke Falk’s final series from the 5-yard-line. With the coverage tight enough that Falk was forced to roll out, the defense converged on him, and rush linebacker Frankie Luvu got the sack.
It was a good showing from a group of pass rushers who know they need to step up their game this year.
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“The coaches, we talk about it all the time. We’ve gotta do more than we did last year,” said defensive line coach Jeff Phelps. “Last year was good, but we’ve gotta do more, otherwise we’re going to have the same results. And we want to finish the thing out the way we should, and start off on a great note so those guys are dialed in. They’re getting it done. It’s part of camp.”
Overall, the defense had a good day. Highlights included rush linebacker Chima Onyeukwu forcing a James Williams fumble, freshman cornerback George Hicks III picking off a Falk pass meant for C.J. Dimry on a corner route, cornerback Marcus Strong almost turning another Falk pass into an interception, and Jalen Thompson notching a big pass breakup when he got a hand on a ball meant for Easop Winston at the goal line.
But the offense had its moments too.
Jamal Morrow caught a 25-yard pass and blew by the safety for a touchdown, Williams juked and cut his way around the entire defense to rumble 50 yards down the sidelines on a rushing touchdown, Isaiah Johnson-Mack made a graceful one-handed catch down the sidelines on a corner route for a 20-yard gain, and Tavares Martin pulled in a perfectly placed 30-yard touchdown pass from Falk.
At one point, the offense harassed second team nickelback Kirkland Parker when, on consecutive plays, Jamire Calvin got out ahead of Parker to pull in a 15-yard touchdown pass…