Longball’s WSU Spring Scrimmage Recap

Happy Post-Easter week Cougs! 

As you may have heard, I was able to brave the sub-arctic temps and way-too-early start time (9:40?) to take in the first Cougar football scrimmage of the Spring this weekend. Grippi, Cougfan and others have got you covered on just about everything you want to know about what took place at Lambeau… er, uh, Martin Stadium on Saturday. But I am here anyway to give it to you the only way I know how… through crimson-tinted glasses and all “ginned up” on eternal Cougar optimism. In other words, after what I saw I’m pretty sure nobody is going to be able to beat us this year.

Why? First of all because Logwone Mitz (who was not suited up for the scrimmage btw) was wearing a shirt with his number and the words “Rose Bound”. That’s right, ROSE BOUND. Of course, it didn’t say what year we are bound for those roses, but I think he meant this year. Scoff all you want cynics, but we sure won’t ever get there with a bunch of guys who don’t believe we can do it.

So, back down on planet earth I think we can all agree that our only trip to Pasadena this year will be to play UCLA on October 2nd.  However that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t at least try to get to the Granddaddy of ’em all! So indulge me, and for a moment lets say we do shock the world and achieve the impossible dream….

“You gotta have two things to win. You gotta have brains and you gotta have balls. Now, you got too much of one and not enough of the other.”
Read on for more….

It’s January 1, 2011 and here we all are at the WSU Football Blog tailgate extravaganza on the 12th hole tee box of the golf course surrounding the Rose Bowl. SeanHawk is launching empty Busch Light cans down the fairway with a 3-wood, while Sutra hovers inches off the ground in deep meditation on the no-huddle offense, and Lucas and I apply our crimson and gray face paint getting ready for kick off: upstart WSU vs. the resurgent Michigan Wolverines for the roses; the mother of all rematches!

We take a moment to look back on the miracle season that just transpired and that first inauspicious scrimmage on a frigid day in early April. Besides Logwone’s now-prophetic shirt, what signs were there that day, what clues that this would all transpire?

First of all, the addition of Coach Steve Morton on the offensive line. One coach’s voice rose above all others on Saturday, urging not only his guys on the offensive line, but the entire offense. As players milled about on the sideline, it was coach Morton who stormed over to them, imploring them to get engaged in what was happening on the field and ready to go in if their number was called. He is a conspicuous new presence on this coaching staff and when you see him in action it is hard to imagine him not having an impact.

Brandon Rankin. There is probably no newcomer anyone is more interested in than the big JC sack machine. As I entered Martin Stadium I was able to pick Mr. Rankin out immediately from quite a distance, and there was no doubt about it. Of course this is an indication of just how much work remains ahead as coach Wulff and company try to add the types of bodies they’ll need to be contenders in the Pac-10. Teams like USC have legions of guys like Brandon Rankin filling out there two-and-three deeps, but we have to start somewhere.

Once the ball is snapped, Rankin is as-advertised. He moves extremely well for his size and showed all kinds of ways to get into the backfield and cause problems, using his speed and athletcism, or simply over-powering his man. With the loss of Toby Turpin it looks like Rankin’s move inside may become permanent out of necessity.  While it’s frustrating to have yet another player in a position where we need him instead of where we want him, lets just be really happy we have this guy at all. I am confident Rankin will have a major impact.

Wade Jacobsen and David Gonzales: The two new JC offensive linemen have acquitted themselves well this spring and neither seems intent on spending too much time watching from the sidelines this year. Jacobsen already projects as a likely starter and with the likes of Steven Ayers and Zack Williams sitting out the scrimmage for minor (hopefully) injuries, Gonzales made the most of his opportunity to impress. Both look the part, and though the eye test is not exactly the most accurate measure of a player’s ability(especially with this team), adding the right kind of bodies on the sidelines is a big deal. Frankly we have had too many Pillsbury doughboys roaming our sidelines the last couple years, but more and more we are looking like a Division I football team in the trenches. Gonzales and Jacobsen are both the right kind of “big”.  Although there is plenty of work for both of them to do in weight room and at training tables before fall camp, seeing two new guys with big, but athletic frames was a welcome sight. After losing Eppele, Freitag and Danaher this off-season, these two hosses may end up being our most significant additions.

There is a lot of debate about what you want to see from an intrasquad scrimmage. The prevailing wisdom is that at this time of year the defense should be ahead of the offense, but you certainly don’t want to see the offense get completely shut down. For me, I just hope to see players on both sides who can make plays. If a receiver gets open deep, can the QB get him the ball? If a defense gets into the backfield, can they finish the play with a sack or TFL? If a running back gets through a hole in the line and into the secondary, can he make plays for extra yards in the open field? If a QB telegraphs a pass, is a DB there to make the pick?

From what I saw Saturday, this team has some play-makers. Aire Justin made an amazing interception of a corner fade pass to Jared Karstetter. The much taller Karstetter usually out jumps his man, but Justin put himself in perfect position and took away a sure TD. That is the kind of play that could be huge for a team that so desperately needs things to have things going their way. On another play, Tuel rolled to his right and threw a perfect strike to Gino Simone who had found space between the corner and deep safety. All this against a secondary and a pass rush that are significantly faster than what we had on the field last year.

But probably my favorite play was watching Brandon Rankin spin accross the offensive line, find a gap and burst through it into the backfield in an instant. Luckily for the offense the play was a quick screen the other direction, but the sheer speed, power and athleticism Rankin showed getting into the backfield left the coaches falling all over themselves, laughing in amazement.

To wrap it up, perhaps the most important observation I can pass along to you is that for the first time since they arrived on campus, this coaching staff is clearly excited about the players they have to work with. Lets just hope it shows by the time we kickoff in Stillwater in September!

That’s all for now.  Enjoy your Tuesday, and GO COUGS!