Aug 31, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach speaks to Washington State Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday (12) on the sidelines at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
Saturday afternoon on a blustery day in Spokane, Coach Mike Leach and his Cougar football team worked through their 14th spring practice with unabashed enthusiasm. Beginning around 1:15pm on the field turf of Joe Albi Stadium, Washington State played their annual Crimson and Gray scrimmage. For those who are interested, the Crimson squad outscored the Gray by a final tally of 23-19.
As a Monday Morning quarterback, here are a few observations of where Mike Leach has taken Cougar football.
It was clearly visible to even casual observers that Leach has his roster excited to play Pac-12 football. Comparing the performance Saturday to the previous spring games in the Mike Leach era, there was an excellent display of college football at the highest level. The offensive units worked at a crisper pace than seen during actual game days just a few years removed from our collective memory banks. Sure, mistakes were made resulting in explosive plays by the offenses and regrettable turnovers earned by the defensive units. Taking into account this was little more than an opportunity for players to impress the coaching staff, there was a good level of precision executed on both sides of the ball.
- QUARTERBACK PLAY
Connor Halliday was impressive during two quarters of work going 25 of 41 for 326 yards through the air. Amid his completions were 3-touchdown strikes while a couple of misses were intercepted by the next All-Pac-12 defensive back from WSU, sophomore Daquawn Brown. Halliday played with the confidence expected of a 5th-year senior, exhibiting command of Leach’s CougAir offense with precision.
Based on scrimmage performance, there is depth behind Halliday ready to step up.
Battling for the starting job, Tyler Bruggman was first of the two redshirt freshman to make his case. Things didn’t get off to a great start for the young man from Phoenix. Call it jitters, but Bruggmann’s first attempt was a nicely throw ball on time which slipped through the intended receivers hands. That scenario bit Bruggman right on the…stat sheet repeatedly. He finished the scrimmage a dissappointing 12 of 28 for 154 yards. Three of his tosses were intercepted while none of his completions found the end zone. What stands more important than final stats during a scrimmage is competency. If you’re a fan, you’ll like both the arm and composure of Bruggman. If your glass is always half empty, question his ability to quickly read what the defense is giving him. The CougAir offense is all about taking advantage of open space surrendered by the defense. And to be effective, the quarterback must be quick to uncover where his receivers will find space.
The other student-athlete vying for the starting quarterback job is another redshirt freshman, Luke Falk. Watching Falk reminded all of us of one extremely important fact for Cougar football fans. Leach is a brilliant quarterback coach. The young man from Logan, UT impressed with his accuracy on the day, going 20 for 31 racking up 213-yards of passing offense. He was the only Cougar QB to complete all of his passes to the guys on his team. Falk had 1-TD pass and didn’t throw an interception. What makes that last stat impressive was the way the D-backs were flying to the ball and closing with big hits all afternoon. As good a day as Falk had, it wasn’t enough to indisputably lay claim to either the No. 1 or No. 2 spot on the depth chart.
To summarize the evaluation of WSU quarterbacks, Halliday not only is the man for the Cougs he’s poised to be the best in the Pac-12. If he should go down, both Bruggman and Falk fall into the category of guys who need on-the-job training with a skill set capable of running Leach’s offense.
Sep 14, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Washington State Cougars offensive line coach Clay McGuire during the fourth quarter against the UNLV Rebels at Sam Boyd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Oh what a difference another year has made. The past two seasons Washington State has lacked both depth and size across the offensive line. Both of those needs are no longer an issue…with one caveat. OL Coach Clay McGuire will be able to chose from a stable of massive lineman that have the tools to dominate in the Pac-12, but they don’t have the experience to backup such a claim. McGuire should be pleased by the improved play shown Saturday. His guys are the desired combination of size, strength and athleticism. And the best part for Cougar fans is the simple fact the OL unit is destined to get better through fall camp before beginning the 2014 schedule.
Check back for a look at the Washington State running game, receiving corps and defense.