Give Washington State’s defense credit — the Cougars defenders gave the Air Raid offense all it could handle during the team’s nine-day preseason camp.
But during Sunday’s camp-ending scrimmage, the WSU offense showed why it is getting so many preseason plaudits with an explosive performance at Sacajawea Junior High.
“I thought both sides were pretty competitive,” coach Mike Leach said. “The biggest single difference would be a few key third downs that kept drives going. I think that was the thing that made the biggest difference. But I thought defensively, we ran around well.”
The best play of the day, of course, was a 52-yard field goal kicked against the wind by Erik Powell.
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Backup quarterback Tyler Hilinski threw four of the offense’s seven passing touchdowns, mostly against the second-team defense, and starter Luke Falk completed 12 of 17 passes for 108 yards and two scores.
The drives started at midfield or the opposite 40-yard-line because the coaches wanted to get red zone work in, and if the offense scored quickly on a drive, the coaches would add a few plays from the 15- or 20-yard line.
Robert Lewis got the offense on the board during its first drive with a 15-yard touchdown run. The run capped an easy six-play, 60-yard drive with Hilinski leading the offense. John Thompson had a 14-yard reception on the drive to move the offense into the red zone.
Before handing the offense over to Falk, Hilinski ran a few more plays, including a 7-yard touchdown pass to Thompson, who benefited from a Keith Harrington block that sealed a defender away from the goal line so Thompson could sneak the football over the pylon.
Falk also found the end zone shortly after taking the offense’s reins, despite a sack by Daniel Ekuale. Falk threw a 15-yard pass to Lewis, who made a great catch against the sideline, and Falk capped the 10-play drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to River Cracraft.
“I think all the spots (had great days),” Falk said. “River made a key block on a crack-back. He had a touchdown, John (Thompson) had a touchdown, I think all of them pretty much ate today.”
Cracraft scored a second touchdown a few drives later, a 22-yarder from Hilinski, who threw a nice pass over the top of the defense.
Trey Tinsley ran the third unit first and made a couple of plays, though he was sacked by Nick Begg, who led the defense with two sacks.
Tinsley and Anthony Gordon are competing to see who will be the team’s third option at quarterback. Tinsley completed 10 of 14 passes for 57 yards, and Gordon completed 8 of 11 for 75 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“I thought they looked good. Tinsley knows the offense a little better, which I think helps him,” Leach said. “Gordon’s got some intangibles, it seems. When he’s on the move, he’s pretty dangerous.”
Falk’s second series was the most interesting of the day, and it featured freshman receiver Dezmon Patmon. The drive started with a 5-yard rush for Gerard Wicks, and the offense was put in a third-and-5 situation when Darrien Molton broke up Falk’s pass. Patmon came through with an 11-yard reception to move the chains.
“It was just a simple curl route, and Luke threw the ball perfectly,” Patmon said. “I just did my job and made the catch.”
Falk’s next two passes were incomplete, and Wicks gained just 4 yards on a rush, putting the offense in fourth-and-6. But Patmon made a great 9-yard catch with Molton in coverage, keeping the drive alive.
Jalen Thompson came up from his safety spot to nail running back Jamal Morrow for no gain, but Tavares Martin came up with a 17-yard catch and then forced Molton into a defensive pass interference, putting the ball on the 3-yard line. Wicks ran the ball in easily for another score.