Washington State has one final practice in store on Tuesday, but on Saturday the Cougars held their Crimson and Gray scrimmage. Officially, the Crimson team -- led by quarterback Luke Falk (21-of-30, 191 yards, two touchdowns) -- walked away with a 35-10 victory, but defensive coordinator Alex Grinch made sure to note that the coaches don't evaluate too much of the spring game due to how players and position groups are split up.
But the game did provide for observation of individual players and hint at a bit toward the future. Here are a few takeaways from the spring game:
Coach Mike Leach has reloaded with some wide receivers yet again: Replacing Gabe Marks isn’t going to be easy (especially not when it comes to him as a postgame quote machine), but Saturday showed that there seem to be plenty of receivers waiting in the wings in Pullman. Should we have expected anything different? Isaiah Johnson-Mack led all wide receivers with 101 yards on seven catches (yes, there was a certain running back with more receiving yardage ... we'll get to that) after tallying 35 catches a season ago. At 6-foot-3, he's a nice complement on the outside with Tavares Martin Jr., who had five catches and a touchdown Saturday. Leach also had kind words for receiver Dezmon Patmon, who finished Saturday with seven receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown. "Even though he did some good things today, he has had an even better spring than that," Leach said.
But it's not just the wide receivers that we need to talk about when discussing the pass game because ...
If the spring game is any indication, expect the running backs to take on an even bigger role in 2017: Last season we saw a proliferation of catches made by running backs in the Air Raid offense. But on Saturday that progression took another step forward as the game's two leading receivers were running backs James Williams (10 catches, 112 yards) and Keith Harrington (nine catches, 56 yards). Both Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow didn’t play Saturday, but those two -- who were second and third on the team in rushing yardage in 2016 -- combined for 77 catches a season ago. With Williams, who finished with 48 catches in 2016, and Harrington, who had just two catches last season, showing an ability to lead the team in receptions in the spring game, Leach could decide to mix it up even more next season to keep defenses on their heels.
The Cougars defensive line is looking solid at nose tackle: Even with the Washington State defense playing pretty vanilla, according to Grinch, Daniel Ekuale stood out. He finished the day with a game-high two sacks, and Grinch said that he thinks Ekuale needs to be more of a pass rusher in 2017 in order for the Wazzu defense to compete better up front. "Production is the name of the game, and we need a more productive defensive unit," Grinch said. "Daniel is an experienced player up front and we need our nose tackle to make plays. He can't just be disruptive, it's not OK just to be in the backfield. He has to bring quarterbacks to the ground and running backs to the ground."
This defense is going to be senior-laden, and that's a good thing: Ekuale was one of the players that Grinch pointed out as being an asset as a senior, but he's also one of 10 seniors in Washington State's two-deep. Considering the strides the Cougars have made under Grinch with younger, less-experienced teams, the idea of a defense with 10 seniors as contributors is something that should boost the confidence of Grinch and this team. "If we want to have the year we expect to have ... our seniors have to have their best year," Grinch said.