PULLMAN – After six days at Lewiston’s Sacajawea Junior High, Washington State returned to Pullman Friday for their first live scrimmage of the preseason.
Under the Martin Stadium floodlights, the Cougars drove down the field nine times and held 108 plays, shuffling through six different quarterbacks. As expected, the three signal-callers competing for WSU’s starting job – Anthony Gordon, Gage Gubrud and Trey Tinsley – got the majority of the work, equally splitting six of the nine drives.
Below, we evaluate the play of the QBs and list four other takeaways from Friday’s scrimmage.
1. Gubrud’s debut
Mike Leach claimed a few weeks ago he’d like to whittle the QB race down to two players sooner than he did last year, but if you came here looking for clarity on that front – or merely a hint or two – you’re sorely out of luck.
“I’m not sure, we’ll have to watch the film first,” Leach said, asked if he was close to axing one of the three signal-callers.
But who moved the ball most effectively?
“I think they all three did,” Leach said. “Because we went our ones on twos, then our twos on ones. I thought all three moved the ball when they had the ones. I thought Gordon moved the ball best when they had the twos. But all of them did some good things.”
Gubrud, Tinsley and Gordon each got two offensive drives to work with and had varying degrees of success. Gubrud’s first series was easily the best, as the Eastern Washington grad transfer completed 4-of-6 passes and got his unit into the end zone on a throw to Brandon Arconado. Combined, Tinsley and Gordon went just 4-of-13 on their initial drives and neither found the end zone.
Gordon and Tinsley were better than Gubrud on the second series, but it still almost too close to call. Gordon finished 6-of-8 on that one and chucked a touchdown to Renard Bell, while Tinsley was 7-of-9 with a touchdown to running back Jouvensly Bazil. Gubrud completed 4-of-5 passes and hit Rodrick Fisher for his second TD, but also threw the scrimmage’s only interception. Facing a heavy pass-rush, Gubrud had his arm clipped as he wound up to throw, and a wobbly ball floated right to linebacker Dominick Silvels, who made the catch and sprinted down the right sideline for what would’ve been a 20- or 30-yard return.
“You always think on what you can do better,” Gubrud said. “It’s a team game, it’s a team effort. I could’ve checked out of the play and gotten into something quicker doing whatever. But yeah, they hit my arm and the ball just flutters up. That’s football, that happens.”
In total, Gubrud completed 8-of-11 passes for two touchdowns and a pick. Tinsley was 9-of-15 with two touchdowns and Gordon was 8-of-15 with one touchdown.
Clarity? Not just yet, though Gubrud was probably the most effective of the three if you absolutely had to choose.
2. Pass-rush gets push
The defense generated six sacks and unofficially had four tackles-for-loss Friday evening. Besides that, it caused four offensive false starts by my count and forced a number of throwaways from the six quarterbacks.
“I thought our front is quick and aggressive,” Leach said. “I thought we tackled well for our first scrimage.”
Cosmas Kwete, the freshman defensive lineman from Arizona who’s not too many years removed from living in a Zimbabwan refugee camp, was the sack leader with two, though both of those came in drives against the No. 2 offensive line unit.
After Kwete, recently-converted “Rush” linebacker Fa’avae Fa’avae had one sack, as did nose tackle/defensive tackle Dallas Hobbs and “Rush” linebackers Willie Taylor III and Brandy Okeke.
“We started really well,” Hobbs said. “We had all the younger guys come in really well. Cosmas, he had three sacks today I think … Will Rodgers had a couple pressures back there. I think we all played really well. We finally got our plays all down so I think that’s going to help out a lot.”
The Cougars should be deeper at each of the three D-line positions this season – not to mention the “Rush” linebacker spot that essentially acts as a fourth defensive lineman – with players like Hobbs and Rodgers who are capable of sliding into two or three different roles.
“I think we have 19 D-linemen right now and that’s (the most) I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Hobbs added. “And right there, you saw it because everybody was rotating. We had three different groups of six, so we kept going and that’s a lot of depth.”
The No. 1 unit included the same three players it has through the first week of camp – Nnamdi Oguayo (defensive end), Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei (nose tackle) and Rodgers III (defensive tackles) – but the likes of Hobbs, Lamonte McDougle (nose tackle), Jesus Echevarria (nose tackle/defensive tackle) and Karson Block (defensive end) are all capable of spelling the starters and should see plenty of field time in the rotation this fall.
3. Fisher finds paydirt … twice
On Thursday, Rodrick Fisher had his name called when starting “X” receiver Tay Martin was excused from a passing drill by Leach and spent the rest of the practice “skill building” with the WSU strength coaches on “Muscle Beach.”
Fisher, still just a redshirt freshman, may not overtake Martin or Calvin Jackson Jr. on the depth chart at any point this season, but he sure played like something was on the line, hauling in four touchdowns from three QBs and making six catches in total during the team period of Thursday’s shortened practice session.
The Spokane native and East Valley product let one pass slip through his hands on Friday – a catchable ball from Cammon Cooper – but responded by making five catches the rest of the scrimmage. Seventeen players caught passes, but it was Fisher who led the bunch.
Fisher and Cooper, roommates who came to the Palouse together last spring, hooked up on a deep pass down the left sideline, then connected twice more, finding the end zone on a bullet over the middle.
“The little things, definitely the little things,” Fisher said, asked how he’s become more consistent. “So, focusing on those one day at a time and it’ll all fall in place when it comes.”
Outside receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. called Fisher “a fast, full-speed, 100 mile-per-hour guy” who’s “getting more comfortable in this offense and learning how to play.”
Added Spurrier Jr.: “I’m interested to see how much better he gets in these next couple weeks, but no he’s doing well and he wants to play and he’s going to play.”
4. Back and forth
Redshirt freshman Tyrese Ross apparently isn’t ready to concede the free safety position just yet.
The Floridian was taking early first-teams reps and seemingly came into camp as the top choice to replace Jalen Thompson. Then coaches decided to move Daniel Isom from cornerback to safety and the junior college transfer essentially hung on to the position through the Lewiston portion of camp.
Isom worked with the first team Friday night, but he didn’t outplay Ross, who finished with a scrimmage-leading six tackles. Ross wasn’t officially credited with a pass breakup, but he had a hand in preventing a touchdown pass from Gubrud to Dezmon Patmon when the QB scrambled out of the pocket and unleashed a throw to the end zone on the run. Ross, glued to the much bigger and stronger Patmon, followed the receiver to the front corner of the end zone and watched Gubrud’s pass deflect off Patmon’s hands.
Later, Ross got props from the secondary’s elder spokesman, Skyler Thomas, when the nickel was asked which of the young players caught his eye.
“Tonight, Tyrese Ross,” Thomas said. “He was playing real downhill, real physical, real fast and I just like what he brought to the table tonight.”
5. Field goal frenzy
There shouldn’t be a kicker shortage in Pullman this season. Four players attempted field goals in the scrimmage and there wasn’t a single miss in eight total attempts.
Redshirt sophomore Blake Mazza was the only kicker to try three field goals, and he slotted home all of them, from 39, 40 and 45 yards out. Redshirt junior Jack Crane, who handled kickoffs for WSU last season, was good from 27 and 39 yards. Two newcomers split up the last three. True freshman Dean Janikowski booted a 31-yarder and a 39-yarder, while fellow walk-on Andrew Boyle was good from 40.
There isn’t necessarily a kicker competition in Pullman and Mazza should retain field goal duties, but the Cougars should feel all right about their depth chart at the position if something does happen to the starter.
The non-participant list mirrored just about every list we’ve put out this camp: WR Jamire Calvin, QB John Bledsoe, OL Jimmy Price, LB David Aldapa and OL Christian Haangana. … But, for the first time this camp, Bledsoe was in attendance, still using the crutches that appeared in his father Drew’s Instagram post last month. The former WSU QB and New England Patriot still came to support, sitting in the bleachers on the student side of Martin Stadium. … Strong safety Bryce Beekman took a hard shot to the head from wide receiver Tay Martin, who knocked the JC transfer over before picking up a few more yards. Beekman sat out for a good portion of the scrimmage and both Skyler Thomas and Patrick Nunn took reps in his place, until Beekman could return. … Next to the trio of QBs contending for the starting job, three other WSU passers got one series each in the scrimmage. Those were Cammon Cooper (5-of-8, 62 yds., 1 TD), Gunner Cruz (4-of-10, 31 yds.) and walk-on Aaron Angelos (4-of-5, 49 yds., 1 TD).
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