PULLMAN -- The bodies were banging again on Wednesday at full throttle out on Rogers Field, and it was a walk-on defensive lineman who set the pace early. And as for Justin Mann, he just might have a little extra added incentive come Saturday. Meanwhile, Paul Wulff continues to shake the routine up this practice week headed into the UCLA tilt on Saturday. Want more contact? You’ve got it.
Indeed, full contact remained throttled up at 100 percent on Wednesday with Wulff exhorting his players to continue to get off blocks, flow to the football and get the man with the ball down on the ground.
"We have to keep practicing harder," Wulff said. "We have to get tougher."
Among those who have upped the intensity this week in response to Wulff’s call is Mann, a walk-on listed as a 6-3, 246 d-tackle on the roster. He transferred in from UCLA, this Saturday’s opponent.
Mann is in his first season with the Cougars and the former Woodinville High product made his presence felt on Wednesday in ways he hadn't before.
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Mann looked like a man possessed, and was simply savage out there, flying all over the field and setting the tempo early for the defense. Mann's performance with the second team was so good, in fact, that it earned him plenty of reps with the 1's over at defensive end.
Emboldened, Mann continued his high octane performance with the first team, looking impressive throughout. So much so, could it lead to his first up-front playing time with the Cougars on the road this Saturday? Stay tuned.
LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis said the extra contact work this week has put a charge into the defensive players.
"I've definitely noticed that everyone is excited for it," Hoffman-Ellis said. "Contrary to the missed tackles last Saturday, we do like to hit. We're making our best effort to clean that up so it won't happen again. I think it helps both working on technique and just intensity wise getting up for it."
"It's the only thing we can do, and it better," Wulff said on the team's tackling. "There's no other way to do it really, other than simulate it the best that you can."
THE HARD HITTING won't come to a close just yet. Wulff announced after practice Wednesday that the Cougs will not be in their customary shoulder pads and helmets Thursday. Rather, they will be back in full contact for the shortened Thursday practice. Hoffman-Ellis said the increased tempo would work in Wazzu’s favor.
"It's critical right here, it's all about how we can respond as a defense," Hoffman-Ellis said. "If we can come out, set the tone, be physical, make tackles, and have everyone swarm to the ball, that right there should yield good results."
As for the offense, the first team came out firing on all cylinders to open up practice. But they lost their intensity to close out practice.
Early on, there was a crisp 25 yard touchdown play from QB Jeff Tuel to roommate and WR Gino Simone. And WR Jeffrey Solomon (bruised knee), returned to practice after missing Tuesday and showed no sign of injury after hauling in a TD pass a few plays later from QB Marshall Lobbestael with the 2's.
But the offense then sputtered a bit for the rest of the practice.
"Today we took a step back a little bit," said running back James Montgomery said. "We came out Monday and Tuesday and executed well we just need to clean everything up tomorrow…We have to come out and be more physical. You saw the way we tackled on Saturday against USC and (on offense) we have to get the ball downhill and start running harder. It's all about getting our mind right."
Montgomery said after practice Wednesday that the running game is nowhere near where it needs to be, and the Cougars remain with a rotation in an effort to find some yards, any yards, on a consistent basis via the ground.
Montgomery said he has identified his own issues in watching game film, and that it's time for him and fellow senior RB Chantz Staden to pick it up a notch.
"When I look at the tape, I'm just missing more reads that I want to," Montgomery said. "I just want to come out and make all the right reads and hit the hole and improve this running game. I was reading that our average is something like 2.7 yards a carry, so we need that over 4.0 for all of us. Me and Chantz, being seniors, he's been doing pretty well just a little dinged up, we have to try and separate ourselves so we can show who's the true No. 1 and 2 backs, so we can stop all of this rotating."
The defense had a good day on Wednesday but freshman QB Connor Halliday has been impressive running the scout team offense throughout the young season, and his talents were showcased again on Wednesday. Towards the middle of practice, Halliday rolled out and heaved a gorgeous 40 yard bomb, fitted nicely between safety Chima Nwachukwu and CB Nolan Washington, and hitting fellow freshman Matt Simmons on an impressive TD score.