A skelly border war between Cougs, Vandals

PULLMAN -- Thursday's voluntary workout out on the Palouse felt a bit like September. Sure, there were no helmets or pads, no refs or coaches, but there was another team in the house. If you weren't fortunate enough to be in Pullman to witness the Cougs' session first hand, this CF.C exclusive report will make you feel as if you were and had a sideline pass.

Idaho made the trek across the state line and joined the Cougars for the 7-on-7 skeleton drills that have become the theme of July's workouts.

The Vandals came to play, and WSU started slowly. Eventually, however, the combination of Rogers-to-Gibson heated up.

SOME SLIGHT rules changes were made to compensate for the pass oriented nature of skelly -- three downs instead of four, and with 20 yards for a first down. In the red zone, fourth down was allowed, and each team started on their own 45.

The teams wasted little time in getting down to business. Both offenses came out eager to wing it deep -- too eager perhaps. On Idaho's first drive, Kendrick Dunn and the Cougar defense came up with a pick.

"I was sittin' on the curl route, watchin' the quarterback, and I just stepped in front of it," said Dunn in his familiar Texan drawl. "I could have taken it back for six, but that's not the point of the drill."

But the Cougs and Gary Rogers' first series would also end on an errant pass, one that was tipped several times before an Idaho defenseman scooped it out of the air to end the WSU drive.

NEXT, THE COUGAR number twos on defense stepped up and flexed their muscles, stopping Idaho on the 15. The young unit had several bright spots on Thursday, including linebacker Hallston Higgins who had been recently been playing in place of Cory Evans with the first unit while Evans let an injury heal up. Evans was back on the field Thursday, as were Randy Johnson and others.

After the Cougar stop, Kevin Lopina then smartly took the No. 2 WSU offense on an eight-play drive -- a 25 yarder to receiver Michael Willis accounted for a large chunk of the yardage. But Lopina had a pass to Willis, and another to Jared Karstetter, broken up by Idaho DBs at the last second and the Cougs were turned away again.

The fifth drive by Idaho against the Cougar first team defense resulted in the first points. Cal transfer Brandon Jones, who will sit out the '08 season per NCAA transfer rule, would see several balls come his way on the series and the cornerback beaten over the top on a perfectly placed pass by the Idaho QB down to the 10 yard line for a long gainer.

Jones has been impressive in offseason workouts since arriving at WSU. He plays very physical whether he's wearing pads or not, and he jammed the receiver at the line on almost every down on Thursday. But that also means he can be susceptible to the deep route if he doesn't get good initial contact on the opposing WR in man coverage and that's what happened on the Idaho score.

The Cougs held their ground and Cory Evans forced a fourth down in the redzone after a nice pass break up against the Idaho tight end, but the WSU defense was unable to keep Idaho out of the end zone in the end.

ROGERS CAME BACK on the field and his first pass was again tipped, but tight end Aaron Gehring snatched the ball out of the air. Rogers then tossed a perfectly placed deep ball to Willis, only to have it called back for holding on to the ball too long.

Now in rhythm, Rogers went to work. A leaping highlight reel grab by Brandon Gibson in the middle of three helpless Idaho defensive backs was followed by firing a Rogers' strike to the end zone to Benny Ward for the Cougs first score.

Jason Stripling led the number two defense on a nice stop against Idaho on on fourth down in the red zone, with freshman Kevin Frank showing good coverage skills on a deep pass while breaking up another on a jump ball in the end zone.

Lopina returned and, looking for the home run ball, promptly went three and out while trying for a deep ball to Karstetter, TE Dan Spitz and Anthony Houston. Each attempt was broken up by the Idaho defensive backs. The Cougar first team defense responded with a three and out of their own, this time Brandon Jones locking down his side of the field, causing two incompletions on the drive.

Rogers quickly marched the team down the field and Willis was on the receiving end of two long passes, both for first downs. The second was a leaping grab between two Idaho DBs that drew some admiring "oohs" from the sideline. But with a score seemingly inevitable, Rogers tried to force a pass to Ward that was deflected and then picked by an Idaho linebacker. Rogers came to the sideline and commented with a little frustration; "My passes keep getting tipped."

The Idaho second team offense would take it to the house against their Cougar counterparts in four plays, the first of which was a grab against good coverage by the Cougars. Idaho capped the drive on a jump ball that was nearly intercepted -- the receiver ripped it out of the hands of a Cougar defensive back.

Idaho's ensuing celebration stoked the ire of the Cougar players, who up to the that point had been very polite hosts.

THE COUGS WOULD have a chance at their own victory dance when Lopina took the next drive to the house in just three plays, the signature play a nicely placed pass in the back of the end zone to Willis. It would be the first of three consecutive crimson touchdown drives. The other two touchdown passes would come on scoring catches by Reid McEllrath.

The following two series by the first team were all about getting back to the bread and butter of the Cougar passing attack -- the Rogers to Gibson combo.

Gibson would have the ball thrown to him six times on the two drives, catching five and scoring both TDs. The lone incompletion came when Gibson nearly hauled in a one-hander more than 30 yards downfield.

Gibson's second touchdown came on a great fake, leaving the defender close to 10 yards behind. Gibson then settled down in the corner of the end zone, wide open. But Gibson wasn't the primary on the play and Rogers went through every one of his progressions before getting off the pass just as the Idaho defensive back was scrambling back to Gibson's side of the field.

Rogers' pass arched perfectly over the defender's head, Gibson went up for it and hauled in the touchdown. Someone shouted from the WSU sideline, "You should have saved that one for gametime, Gibs." It also drew applause from Gibson's parents who were in attendance, as well as the rest of the players from both schools.

The session ended with high fives and friendly banter between the two sides. Maybe it's not September yet.

But it's getting closer. The start of fall camp is just a little over two weeks away.

NOTABLE NOTES:
* Jeshua Anderson finished his track season last weekend, winning the junior worlds in Poland and one hot question on the minds of Cougar fans was when the phenom receiver would be joining the Cougar football team. "I talked to him two days ago and he is back at home resting and will be back with the team before summer camp," said Rogers. "We're just not sure (exactly) when he plans on making it back."

* Defensive end Asly Jean-Jacques has left the Cougar program, according to sources in Pullman. The redshirt sophomore-to-be from Los Angeles did not see game action in '07 according to official statistics.

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