At this time last year we knew merely a couple things about the depth of our Washington State football team; first that we didn’t really have anything past the first line (starters), and that we really didn’t have any idea what we had there either. We knew only that we were excited to see Marquess and Jeff (or Connor) in a pure air-raid attack with some hopeful standouts from a young receiver corps.
As we all know, that didn’t work out… or at least it worked with mixed results at best. On one hand, the quarterbacks and receivers combined to create the No. 9 passing offense in America! But on the other hand there was an NCAA leading 57 sacks, a -9 turnover ratio and a paltry 20.4 points per game (both of which were 2nd to last in the conference). I would say that the unsightly amount of drops was more than partially to blame as well, As the Coug receivers and/or running backs all contributed to wasted drives and failed 3rd down attempts with what is commonly known as “stone hands” or “butter fingers”.
Defense was… well, difficult to watch. I mean when Colorado punks you for 3 touchdown drives of longer than 50 yards in the 4th quarter… I think we all left the stadium with that frighteningly sick feeling in our guts.
Skip forward 1/2 a year, after the epic (and lucky) Husky comeback in the Apple Cup, a solid Spring session and a Summer of players getting bigger, leaner and stronger than expected in their respective bodies, to this Fall. I can almost guarantee that people outside the program won’t even believe this is the same team. Practically and relatively speaking, it’s not.
I saw somebody say that the Cougs were basically the same as last year, minus a quarterback and receivers and with no real newcomers that will make a lick of difference. Also saw that someone said we need a quarterback and receivers that we don’t have in order to run the system that coach Mike Leach has installed. Wait for it… those were Pac-12 coaches!
Simply put; Advantage, Cougs. Please keep thinking that WSU is the laughing stock of the conference. Keep thinking they are still a stepping stone in the latter of your annual success! Yes, to be fair, these Cougs have yet to prove otherwise. But sweet victory is right around the corner, let me tell you.
Sunday was another step in the maturation of this Washington State team, the first “scrimmage” of the Fall season. A chance for players to get some live round, game speed reps with their teammates. I mean in retrospect they do this everyday, but this was a chance for a solid session of only plays without the separation and tedious drills. It was also a chance for the backups to show off and try and weasel their way closer to the starters, which in some cases is exactly what happened. Remembering back to last year, I think there were very few surprises when it came to that aspect of the Fall. Just as we thought, there were the starters and then there was everybody else.
If there’s one thing becoming clear in this camp, it’s that that lack of depth is no longer such an issue as it has been in the past, oh, 10 seasons. To prove that point a little bit more on Sunday, the reps revealed that Jeremiah Laufasa is probably the hardest running back to take down on the team. Some would take that as a bad thing, but I don’t. He’s simply working harder than previous versions of Cougar backups. I don’t think anybody knows if he’s a 3rd, 4th or 5th stringer in that backfield, but if his blocking is anything like his running, he’s going to earn playing time quickly.
The reps also revealed that freshman inside receiver River Cracraft (once thought by most fans to be our only redshirt candidate in the receiving corps), is 1 of 10 receivers getting a serious look at starting in the season opener at Auburn. Cracraft registered plenty of reps with the 1’s… again. Third unit guys such as Ivan McLennan and Jeremiah Allison (both at linebacker), showed up and showed out in solid fashion. In McLennan’s case especially, this was great to see because he was thought to have a shot at starting before the coaches moved 290 lb Destiny Vaeao to BUCK. He should be a guy that gets plenty of situational play during the season.
Sunday also continued to reveal the difference 1 year can make in the size, athleticism and play of the offensive and defensive lines. It’s quite clear that both lines are about 1000 times bigger than they were last season. Even Leach commented on how he thought it was going for the mollies of the hog:
"I though pretty crisp execution for this time of year. We had two units on the OL play pretty well."
While it’s tough to gauge against your own lines how much you’ve really improved, it’s clear that it’s not the same group physically. I expect a lot less panic in either group this season when situations call for somebody to have to step up and make a play. As a matter of fact, I kind of expect that in general from the entire team this year. I think we can all look to expect that.
There’s still a little less than 3 weeks to figure out a couple of these answers, as there are still a whole lot of questions for starting positions;
- WR’s are basically 10 deep for 8 spots (we can also safely assume that Dominique Williams, Gabe Marks and Brett Bartolone are locks to play significant snaps all year).
- Cornerbacks are probably 3 fighting for 2 at this point between Horton, Washington and Brown.
- Linebackers have 4 going for 3, though Tana Pritchard, Cyrus Coen and Justin Sagote will probably do a lot of rotating anyway.
- Finally, the free safety spot is still undecided, with Casey Locker and Taylor Taliulu battling.
The one thing we know for sure this year is that there is some depth. It may or may not be Pac-12 starting quality depth (yet to be determined), but either way it’s starting to develop in the program and it’s something Washington State hasn’t had for some time.
For more information on just what happened in the scrimmage yesterday, CLICK HERE for Cougfan.