Interceptions highlight Wednesday scrimmage

PULLMAN - It may have looked erratic to those on hand Wednesday night. And, sure, those two interceptions returned for touchdowns may have gotten some reaching early for the panic button. But it was a scrimmage the Washington State football team needed to have.

Overall, quarterback Matt Kegel put up numbers consistent with his impressive fall, going 9-for-15 while collecting 110 yards. However, Kegel and the first string offense made a couple key mistakes, specifically in the red-zone and during their two-minute and four-minute drills.

"It was a good mental practice and we need a lot of those," WSU head coach Bill Doba said. "I'm a rookie and (offensive coordinator, Mike) Levenseller and (defensive coordinator Robb) Akey are both new at calling plays."

Backup quarterback Josh Swogger fared better than he did last week, completing 6-of-14 for 74 yards Wednesday night. Still, Swogger made several mistakes including having a pass blocked by MKristo Bruce before it even left his hand and throwing an interception picked by Jason David, who ran it back 66 yards for a touchdown.

Hurting both Swogger and Kegel's accuracy was the absence of four of the team's top five receivers who were out with injuries. Sammy Moore (knee), Chris Jordan (hamstring), Marty Martin (thigh) and Scott Lunde (ribs) all sat out.

There wasn't much Doba was impressed with, but the 62-year old rookie head coach tried his best to look at the bright spots.

"Kegel's first drive looked pretty good," Doba said. "He took them down the field but he had a few dropped passes. He did a good job of adjusting with Lunde and Moore out tonight."

That first drive saw Kegel zipping passes of 13 and 15 yards to receivers Trandon Harvey and Devard Darling, which drove the team down to the 22-yard line. But the WSU offense that finished last in the Pac-10 last season for red-zone offense, failed to score a touchdown on the drive -- not that they didn't have the chances. Both Darling and tight end Cody Boyd (who was playing receiver because of the injuries) dropped passes in the end zone. Instead the offense settled for a 38-yard field goal from Drew Dunning.

Swogger marched the second string offense in the red-zone, but once again they settled for a field goal after a first down that would've placed them inside the 10 was taken away because of an illegal shift on the line. Quarterback, Alex Brink, a true freshman, didn't have to settle for a field goal on his drive, instead he was picked off by high school teammate, Chris Baltzer, who ran the interception back for a 90-yard touchdown.

"You never like to see those kind of mental errors," Doba said. "But again that's why we are doing it now. The intensity was pretty good and the guys flew around to the ball."

The offense did match the defense's two touchdowns. The first touchdown came when Swogger found tight end Adam West in the end zone. That drive was helped by a pass interference call on David, which put the offense on about the 10-yard line.

Kegel put the offense in scoring position on the next drive with a 25-yard pass play to Darling, which put the team on the five-yard line. After two consecutive runs by Jonathan Smith, Kegel ran in for what would of been a touchdown if it weren't two-hand touch of the quarterback. Kegel faked the handoff to Smith and the entire defense bit, while Kegel skipped left before being tagged at the 1-yard line. Instead fullback Jesse Taylor pushed them into the end zone.

Taylor is another tight end that the Cougars have used to spread the wealth. Instead of letting backups, Taylor and Boyd sit coaches have opted to use them at different positions. Taylor has looked great playing fullback and Smith has benefited from it as well.

"It's like going downhill instead of going at an angle," Smith said. Smith (14 carries for 52 yards) said that he has put in a lot of time strengthening his lower body so he can break tackles the way he has been doing.

"I felt comfortable out there tonight," said Smith who filled in for starting running back Jermaine Green. "I had to perform like it was a real game. The team did a good job blocking. We've got to show why we're not going to be seventh in the Pac-10."

Akey finally got a chance to see a healthy defensive line with tackles Tai Tupai, Steve Cook and Josh Shavies healthy for the first time in weeks.

"Those three in with Jeremey Williams helped solidify the middle a bit," Akey said.

He also expressed concern over their pass protection and stopping running backs that break tackles as fluently as Smith has been doing.

"Guys get a hit on (Smith) but he gets out of it, he's a tough back to deal with," Akey said. "We have to wrap him up and then get a lot of guys pursuing him after that to come and hammer him. Then you have a chance to get the ball out."

One player who has consistently wrapped up his opponents is middle linebacker Brian Hall. Hall has been involved in a middle linebacker shuffle that has featured Aaron Wagner, Al Genatone, and Scott Davis. Donnie Jackson is the starting middle linebacker but is out with a pulled hamstring. Akey is still uncertain who he will use as No. 2. Doba has said he wants the best three linebackers in there, regardless of position. Hall and Wagner, who are listed as middle inebackers have both played some outside, as well.

"We have to figure out what our next best option is (at middle linebacker)," Akey said. "Right now I feel confident using any four of them."

MONDAY PRACTICE RECAP: Concerns at middle linebacker, running back and the two-minute drill heralded practice on Monday.

At middle linebacker Doba rotated Davis, Hall and Wagner with the different defenses. During the day it was Davis with the first string and Hall, as well, spent time with the first unit. During the evening it was Wagner getting the majority of the reps with the A-Team. Hall also played some outside linebacker.

"We wanted to see what Scott Davis could do inside and I think Hall and Wags have responded," Doba said.

Despite running backs coach Kelly Skipper's statement that he was not worried about starting running back Green, Doba expressed concern.

"Yes!" Doba said emphatically. "I do worry about his tight back. I just thank God we got two more guys that can come in. I don't know if that Yoga was the answer or not."

As for the two-minute drills Doba is mostly concerned with getting the plays in fast enough and for the offensive line to get out of the huddle in time. During the morning drill, Moore lined up on the wrong side once and resulting in a Kegel interception. Admirably Kegel stepped up and took the blame, telling the team it was his fault and he was sorry.

The night practice had a little more pep than usual as the team got to go live on two plays from the four yard line. In doing so any fears about the running back position were assuaged. On the first drive Smith took them to the two-yard line then tried to leap into the end zone. He was pushed back but immediately spun around and into the end zone. On the second drive, Taylor (who played fullback and tight end) caught a Swogger pass with one hand behind his head while sliding. The ball popped out of his hand but not until he was already determined to be down. Then from about the one-yard line, Chris Bruhn torpedoed his way through the defensive line for a touchdown.

INJURY REPORT: Jermaine Green, RB: Sore lower back, day to day; Don Jackson, LB: Pulled hamstring at 60 percent expected back by late week; Pat Bennett, LB: Sprained shoulder expected to be out one to three weeks; Isaac Brown, DE: Groin strain, day to day.