PULLMAN – Washington State’s bye week came before the Cougars had a chance to bang up their bodies too much, and there will surely be times during the nine-game slog ahead when they wish their break had come later in the year.
But since the Cougars have been practicing nearly every day since early August, the bye week served as a much-needed mental respite for the players heading into their conference schedule.
Quarterback Luke Falk kept his TV off the sports channels on Saturday, figuring he’d be watching the day’s football games in the film room, anyway. And he relished the three practices last week, since they had more of a preseason-camp feel with scrimmages and young players getting more action.
“I thought the guys got rested up, took care of their bodies and I thought we had a great week of practice,” Falk said. “We got to go ones-on-ones so it was fun to compete again with each other. But I thought guys were focused and really looking forward to playing Cal.”
The Cougars who did pay attention to Saturday’s games got a glimpse of what to expect from conference play.
Last weekend’s lesson was that even established conference programs can be blitzed if they come out flat, with Arizona, Arizona State and Oregon all losing at home by at least 26 points.
“Guys just bring it,” Parker Henry said. “In our league, there’s no game you’re going into thinking ‘this is going to be fine.’ ”
With Gerard Wicks establishing himself as the closest thing WSU will have to a primary rusher and Keith Harrington turning into the most explosive option out of the backfield for the WSU offense, Jamal Morrow has been the member of WSU’s running back trio without a niche through the first three games.
His 12 touches are the fewest by a sizable margin, one that threatens to grow larger with Harrington’s touches increasing every game.
But coach Mike Leach says that Morrow still has a role and will continue to get carries and receptions.
“He plays quite a bit and in several phases, special teams, and does a good job,” Leach said. “But we’ve got three of them and I think they all have a role and Harrington’s steadily improving, so he’s a handful for anybody to hold down.”
Another player whose offensive impact has been less many observers expected is freshman receiver Kyrin Priester. After transferring from Clemson, Priester was one of the most explosive players on the roster last spring and in preseason camp, and the Cougars successfully filed a waiver request to get him on the field as fast as possible.
While Priester is the backup X receiver, he only has six catches for 34 yards and is no longer the punt returner.
“We’ve just got to get him the ball a little more and get him comfortable and relaxed,” Falk said. “I think the biggest thing on Saturdays is just getting guys in a rhythm. Once they get in a rhythm they set in and start playing like they play in camp and in practice.”
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