The hard hitting continued for about 10 minutes with plenty of big sticks and consistent open-field tackling. Linebackers Alex Hoffman-Ellis, Myron Beck, and Mike Ledgerwood looked light years better than they did in Saturday's pratfall to USC. They contained, wrapped up and drove to the ground. True Freshman Eric Oertel, who missed several practices last week with a banged up hamstring, also saw some action running with the 1's and got in on several plays.
One highlight during the 11-on-11 session was 5-11, 163-pound corner Aire Justin making an impressive open-field tackle on 6-1, 218-pound running back Marcus Richmond.
Perhaps the biggest positive coming out of the opening sequence of practice was that missed tackles were held to a minimum, and the players wrapped up with a new sense of excitement. The team was fired up from start to finish of the 11-on-11s, and when asked if this type of play during practice is necessary, Beck did not hesitate with his answer.
"Oh most definitely," Beck said. "We have to get used to it, just going fast. In practice we're usually at a fast speed but it's kind of keeping guys up but today we let the bullets fly and we had a great practice."
"I mean it was real exciting," Beck said. "You saw some big hits today. That correlates from Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday onto Saturday. It was good to see guys out here flying and it was really good for me because you can't really get to the speed of the game but you can get close to it."
Although the defense did bring the lumber, the offensive line was clicking early on with run blocking. Mitz, a 231-pound junior from Redmond who saw time with the 1s and 2s, had a series of nice runs ranging from 7 to 10 yards each. Starting RB James Montgomery also looked sharp, getting through the holes and having some nice gainers himself.
"We've had two good days of practice and things are looking good and the kids have done a nice job," offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy summed up.
The Cougar running game hasn't had much success on Saturdays.
Through four games, Montgomery has 175 ground yards and Mitz, the second-leading rusher, has 66. Sturdy acknowledged that the ground game has been struggling, but the unit continues to fight.
"You're going to see the same kids that have been playing," Sturdy said. "Our running game's not good enough but we're working really hard on that -- but it's not where we want it to be."
As for preparation for UCLA, which is coming off a shocking upset at Texas this past weekend, Sturdy said after practice Tuesday that he's more than impressed with the Bruin defense.
"They're really good, they're coached extremely well, they're very talented," Sturdy said. "They run to the ball with great speed, very physical and I'm very impressed with their defense. It's one of the best defenses I've seen on film this year."
To close out practice, as usual, the first-team offenses and defenses were matched up against the scout team units. On defense, Deone Bucannon showed another case of his youth and inexperience when WR Blair Bomber put a quick 1-2 step on the defensive back and Bucannon bit, overrunning Bomber and whiffing on the attempted stop.
It was the sole notable blown tackle for the Cougar defense Tuesday, and Bucannon made up for it a bit just a few plays later when he hauled in an impressive interception off QB Connor Halliday. Halliday tried to go deep to Bomber, but Bucannon had great coverage and jumped in front of the Lynden High product to secure the turnover.
On offense, QB Marshall Lobbestael stepped in with the 1s for starting QB Jeff Tuel who left practice early for an exam. Lobbestael, who saw his first action of the season last Saturday against USC (going 1-of-3 for 5 yards), looked sharp with his control and command.
RUNNING BACK ON THE MEND
True freshman Rickey Galvin, who broke his forearm on his first collegiate carry this season, was at practice Tuesday doing some conditioning and working with trainers on rehab. Galvin had been expected to see plenty of action for the Cougars this season.
"Rickey's a different type of back," Sturdy said. "He's a back that I think has a chance to have a great career here. We were really excited about having him and then he breaks his (forearm) on the first carry that he ever had in college.
"He's going to redshirt and he'll be ready to go next fall but we can't worry about that at this point. I feel bad for Rickey but in the grand scheme of things he does get a redshirt back and hopefully he's going to move on and have a great four years here."