But first, DT Toby Turpin has been dismissed from the school by the WSU Student Conduct Board for an academic incident. The dismissal wasn’t a complete surprise, it had been a possibility for weeks, but it’s still a hit at a position where proven depth was already in short supply this spring. Turpin, a senior, was listed as a starter on the depth chart headed into spring but he had missed nearly all the practices thus far to take care of what Wulff called academic issues.
“It’s the consequences that happen to you when you don’t do the right thing, I guess,” said Wulff. “..It’s really an unfortunate situation for any student, whether you’re a student athlete or a student. These things happen, they review these things. There are students that get dismissed for a variety of reasons all the time on campus, and being a student athlete it’s obviously very unfortunate for him and us.”
WITH TURPIN NOW out of the picture permanently, players like Anthony Laurenzi, Dan Spitz and Justin Clayton will need to step up if the Cougs are going to build a solid d-line rotation. And Laurenzi did just that on Saturday.
Laurenzi saw the bulk of the workload running with the 1’s -- alongside fellow DT Brandon Rankin -- and Laurenzi looked good out there, getting to QB’s quickly, and sticking up a big paw for a couple of pass deflections off QB Jeff Tuel.
The defensive front as a whole shined Saturday morning -- something that has been the case this spring session and perhaps surprisingly so, given the lack of proven and experienced depth inside. Running with the first team out at defensive end were Travis Long and Kevin Kooyman.
“I thought they did a great job,” Wulff said of the d-line. “Very active, they did some really good things. I think there’s some steady, heavy competition in there right now and it’s going to definitely make our defense that much better.”
As for an overview of the scrimmage, Wulff, the third year coach told CF.C the Cougs are continuing to impress him this spring, and he was very pleased with the way they performed in the first official scrimmage.
“This is probably the most quality scrimmage we have had since we have been here in terms of depth on both sides of the line,” said Wulff. “It was crisp -- a lot like practice on Thursday, and our intensity level was solid the whole practice. It was the first time we have put back-to-back quality practices together (this spring). We are still missing a few veteran bodies out there obviously, but there were a lot of really good things.”
ONE WHO FIGURES to be a major contributor in the fall up front defensively, DE Sekope Kaufusi, played well throughout the Saturday morning session with the 2’s.
Much of the scrimmage, Wulff had the first team offense lined up against the second team defense, and Kaufusi made some big plays early. First, he tackled RB Marcus Richmond in the end-zone for a safety. Later, he pounced on and recovered a fumble after a bad exchange between Tuel to Richmond.
Indeed, the defense as a whole shined, forcing turnovers by both Tuel and QB Marshall Lobbestael. The first pick was by Tyree Toomer, who saw more action running with the 1’s today at safety.
CB Aire Justin also picked off Tuel in a goal-line possession. Tuel threw a fade to WR Jared Karstetter but Justin was able to win the battle over the 6-4 receiver.
Cornerback Daniel Simmons, coming off a broken leg last season, also impressed Saturday with several pass deflections and sticky coverage on WR’s. Simmons was running with both the first and second team. Simmons told CF.C he feels he’s continuing to improve, and that the secondary unit is also much improved this season.
“As a whole we’re coming together, we’re more like brothers,” Simmons said. “We have a better confidence level, we’re trying to bring that old cool defense back.
“The coaches keep telling me I’ve improved and I’m seeing it in film. There’s some little things I had to clean up from last year until now, and I’m trying to make sure I get that in now so come fall camp, all I have to do is execute and work hard.”
MEANWHILE ON THE other side of the ball, there were some sustained offensive drives -- including a 70-yarder at the beginning of the session. It was capped off when Tuel hit WR Gino Simone for a 24-yard TD strike. Karstetter threw an excellent block on the play, sealing off CB Anthony Carpenter and allowing Simone to break free and dive into the end zone for the score.
Later, Tuel and Simone connected on a beautiful pass play when Tuel was on the run, threw a 40 yard pass and Simone snagged it on the run and in stride. Simone led all receivers on the day with 63 yards on three receptions.
Tuel finished the day 7-of-13 for 84 yards with one touchdown and an interception. Lobbestael was 5-of-10 for 67 yards, with a touchdown to TE Skylar Stormo to close out practice, and one pick.
RUNNING BACK Chantz Staden was a key factor on that scoring drive, rushing for 38 yards on only four carries. The redshirt senior-to-be has had an eye opening spring thus far. He looks different than he did in 2008 – quicker feet and making better cuts through the first six days.
And though it was in the back of his mind, he’s showing no signs that his rehabbed knee, the injury having cost him the 2009 season, will be slowing him down. He finished the day with 68 yards on 15 carries, including a five yard touchdown scamper.
“I came out here and I was kind of nervous to see how my knee was going to feel but it’s gone beyond my expectations,” Staden said. “It feels good and I’m excited. I haven’t felt this healthy in a while, I took a whole year off and I’m ready to go. That year off helped me grow as a player and a person.”
THE OFFENSE HAD their moments, they looked sharp at points, but whenever they were matched up against the first team defense, it was clear the stop corps held the upper hand in the battle on Saturday. Want an example?
One particular drive where the Cougs tallied up -5 yards on three plays.
“Working up to this point, I felt we fought better during practices this week,” Staden said. “We weren’t terrible but I think we definitely weren’t where we could be. We have a lot of improvement to make, we hadn’t had turnovers all week and today we came out with 2-3 (of them). We’re getting there, but we just have to improve from here.”
UNFORTUNATE INJURY NEWS for the Cougar running game, however, is that RB Marcus Richmond went down towards the end of practice and couldn’t walk off the field on his own. Wulff said the initial indications were that Richmond suffered a sprained MCL and that the injury doesn’t appear to be too serious.
Before going down, Richmond had rushed for 61 yards on six carries, including a breakout 40-yard gainer. Richmond saw extensive time because RB Carl Winston was held out of Saturday’s action with an injured toe.
Up front on offense, the line had to make some slight adjustments again, this time with LG Steven Ayers out with a concussion.
The No. 1 line was made up of LT Wade Jacobsen, LG Micah Hannam, C Andrew Roxas, RG B.J. Guerra and RT David Gonzales. The big hosses played their best on Saturday when in the running game, opening up good-sized holes at times for the backs to exploit.
OFFICIAL SCRIMMAGE STATS FROM WSU:
RUSHING: Chantz Staden 15/68 (TD), Marcus Richmond 6/61, Leon Brooks 11/20.
PASSING: Jeff Tuel 7/13/84/1TD/1INT; Marshall Lobbestael 5/10/67/1/1
RECEIVING: Gino Simone 3/63 (TD); Skylar Stormo 3/37 (TD); Esa Johnwell 1/22; Daniel Blackledge 1/14; Jared Karstetter 1/7; Marcus Richmond 1/5; Leon Brooks 1/3; Chantz Staden 1/0.