SCRIMMAGE 1: Cougs running game takes off

XAVIER HICKS: On his way to a pick-six

PULLMAN--The Cougar running game on Saturday was firing on all cylinders despite a steady downpour, accounting for over 75 percent of the total yards on offense. There were positive plays on both sides of the ball in the first full scrimmage of the spring, said Paul Wulff, including some physical play on defense. Off the field, two Cougar redshirt freshmen have left the program.

Both Dwight Tardy and James Montgomery ran for over 60 yards each in Saturday's scrimmage.

On Tardy's longest run, he was nearly taken down in the backfield before regaining his balance and running the other way from the defense, By the time he was finished, he had carried the pigskin upfield for 27 hashes. Tardy finished with 63 yards on eight carries.

Montgomery's big play, the only running touchdown of the scrimmage, came from 33 yards out.

Montgomery made a nice move to break out into the open field, and then broke a couple of tackles on his way to paydirt. The touchdown was set up by a 19 yard run by Kevin Lopina that was made possible in part by a great block from wide receiver Kevin Norrell. Montgomery, on nine carries, flashed for 61 yards.

Logwone Mitz gained 32 yards on but three carries and Marcus Richmond had 14 hashes on four attempts.

It was a physical day on the Palouse, with Wulff saying the dividends from the Cougars' offseason conditioning was evident in the physical style of play by both the offense and defense.

The Cougar passing attack was limited to 58 yards on only 10 attempts. But it did account for two of the touchdowns.

The first team wide receivers tallied just seven yards on two catches, with Kevin Norrell and Johnny Forzani each bringing in passes from Lopina.

On Lopina's touchdown pass, he threw a nice ball into a tight window with a lot of zip to it to tight end Skylar Stormo. Stormo juggled the pass a bit before bringing it into his body.

While Lopina was efficient in his limited number of throws, completing four of his six passes, one of his incompletions nearly resulted in an interception. While under duress from the pass rush, Lopina got happy feet and threw an awkward pass while leaping that was tipped and luckily for the offense landed in an area where there were no defenders.

THE HIGHLIGHT CATCH of the day was turned in by second team wideout Randy Johnson -- he hauled in the only completion from backup Dan Wagner with corner Brandon Jones draped on his back the instant he touched the ball. Johnson hung on for a 25 yard touchdown.

During the skelly portion of practice, Richmond also made several nice grabs over the middle of the field, showing why the coaching staff considered switching him to wide receiver last year when injuries struck.

IN THE SECONDARY, the defensive backs made some plays on the ball during the skelly portion, highlighted by Xavier Hicks who turned in a pick six by jumping a route and making a nice leaping grab.

Daniel Simmons, Tyree Toomer and Shane Thomas all had pass breakups -- and all had shots at making an interception, but were unable to hang on.

The defensive backs were physical on Saturday, with Chima Nwachukwu, Toomer and Jones all coming up to the line of scrimmage to make big hits.

"We definitely wanted to become (more physical) It's an area we can control a lot more in terms of getting ourselves bigger and stronger...We're going to continue to do that until we become the physical type of team we need to be to be successful in the conference," said Wulff.

And what of the increasingly productive Cougar running game?

"The running backs have some very good competition there right now...It's tough in practices, when you're not live, for the running backs to completely shine. That's what's nice about the scrimmages and the live portions; it gives them some legitimacy there when it's live," said Wulff.

Subscribers can check out the exclusive video from the day in Pullman here.

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Wide receiver Michael Vandenkolk and cornerback Kevin Frank have left the Cougar football program. Wulff said Vandenkolk plans to transfer somewhere closer to home, while Frank may be planning to hang up the cleats altogether. Frank was listed as the third string corner on the right side on the depth chart entering spring drills, Vandenkolk the fifth string flanker.

  • A smallish crowd of somewhere north of 50 fans braved the elements to watch the first Cougar scrimmage of the season.

  • J.T. Levenseller did not participate in the scrimmage and is out for the rest of spring ball. Originally thought to be a leg contusion, further imaging revealed a small fracture at the top of the tibia. He is expected to be out 4-6 weeks.

  • Toby Turpin came out of the scrimmage midway through with a limp. Word from the coaches was they thought he got kicked in the shin. No immediate update was available on the severity but it didn't appear to be serious at first glance.

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