PULLMAN -- The running game took center stage Sunday afternoon in Washington State’s second practice of the day, with Dwight Tardy and James Montgomery each offering compelling cases why he should start come Sept. 5. Meanwhile on Day 8 of the Cougars' fall camp, some tempers flared down in the trenches, Louis Bland made his presence known, and J.T. Levenseller decided it was time to move on.
Levenseller, absent from both of the Cougars’ Sunday practices and Saturday's scrimmage, asked head coach Paul Wulff for, and was granted, his release from WSU. Levenseller, a multi-sport star at Pullman High, saw limited action last season as a true freshman.
His decision to leave may be testament to the glowing early reviews of freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel of Fresno.
Levenseller’s departure also puts some uncertainty around the redshirt that coaches tentatively have been planning for Tuel, as there are only two other scholarship quarterbacks on the roster -- senior Kevin Lopina and third-year sophomore Marshall Lobbestael who is coming back from knee surgery.
AFTER A MORNING FOCUSED more on the aerial attack, the afternoon session featured more of the ground game. In the first 11-on-11 drill, Tardy and Montgomery peeled off a series of large gains, including a 30-yard scamper by Montgomery on the third play of practice.
“The guys are doing pretty good. We had a couple of hiccups in the scrimmages but for the most part guys are competing and that’s all you can ask,” said running backs coach Steve Broussard.
As the second-team offense took the field a couple plays later, running back Logwone Mitz was stopped at the line of scrimmage and was drilled by a rainbow of white jerseys. As the players were getting up, redshirt freshmen Tyson Pencer and freshmen Travis Long evidently didn’t hear the whistles and kept going at it.
Teammates intervened as the two locked into each other.
Wulff said he enjoys seeing that kind of passion on the football field but also wants to make sure the players understand they can’t lose their cool in the wrong environment.
“You want the kids to be intense but you also want them to be smart,” said Wulff. “Tempers flare but at the same time we want to make sure it stays on the field and they understand the line that they can’t cross to hurt the football team in a game.”
Intensity, though, was the theme of the day as coaches worked on having the offense and defense make plays under pressure.
“Executing under duress is a big area where we need to improve as a football team and when we’re tired,” said Wulff.
After solid work opening holes early in practice, the offensive line stumbled later on. Cougar QBs were forced to a number of balls away, run out of bounds or settle for gaining a yard.
Bland, apparently closer to full strength than expected after missing the start of camp due to injury, led the parade on defense. The sophomore linebacker batted down consecutive passes from Lopina, Lobbestael and Tuel, and picked off a Lopina lob pass that was intended for tight end Aaron Gehring.
Bland was running mostly with the second team defense in his first extended action of fall camp, and his work helped put a supercharge of enthusiasm into the defense, which made a vocal point of letting the offense know where they stood.
The yells and cheers continued after safety Chima Nwachukwu tackled Tardy in the back of the end zone for a safety, and Bland tackled Logwone Mitz on the very next play for a second safety. Nwachukwu added another great play as he dived full extension to deflect a Lopina pass to Jared Karstetter in the back of the end zone.
Montgomery quieted the defense later in the 11-on-11 drill when he broke through the hole for a 35 yard run, his second run of over 30 yards in the practice. Montgomery also broke open for a 50-yard touchdown run but it was called back by Wulff due to a hold by tight end Zach Tatman.
“James is a transfer from Cal so he has a little experience being in a good program like Cal’s,” said Broussard. “He redshirted last year and he embraced everything, and he’s come in this year looking to compete and he’s doing a great job.”
With Montgomery and Tardy battling for the starting tailback position, and Lopina and Lobbestael fighting to run the offense, considerable public attention has been dedicated to those two positions. Wulff, however, notes that the competition is fierce the team over.
“The one thing we have is better competition on this football team than we did a year ago -- so what that’s forcing players to do is focus and prepare so they can play at their best,” said Wulff.
Quarterback Dan Wagner, the backup punter, launched a series of boots that were in the 45-50 yard range.
To end practice, kickers Nico Grasu and Patrick Rooney went 3-of-8 on field goal tries from 48 yards out.
The Cougs will not practice Monday, it's their first scheduled off day since camp began back on Aug. 9.