PULLMAN – Chima Nwachukwu, WSU’s senior safety and honor student, isn’t fazed by the pundits forecasting doom for his Cougars. “A successful season is going to a bowl,” he said Thursday night after the final scrimmage of fall camp. To get there, the Cougs must substantially improve their play in first halves.
WSU has been routinely blown out by intermission the past two years, so the excitement was palpable Thursday when the No. 1 offense scored on its first two drives.
“We wanted to be able to come out at a fast tempo and wanted to come out healthy, and we did,” coach Paul Wulff said.
“I was real happy with the way the offense came out,” quarterback Jeff Tuel said.
The No. 1 offense, playing against the No. 2 defense, settled for a 32-yard Nico Grasu field goal on its first drive. Sophomore running back Carl Winston immediately lost a fumble for the No. 2 offense at the defense’s 23-yard line, and Tuel soon found Isiah Barton with an 8-yard touchdown pass.
Tuel, a part-time starter as a true freshman last year, went 8 for 15 for 87 yards, one TD and one interception. Junior Marshall Lobbestael, working with the No. 2 offense against a No. 1 defense that did not use its first-string linemen, went 10 for 15 for 95 yards, no TD’s and no picks. Tuel in particular received excellent protection.
The Cougars are growing impatient as the Sept. 4 season opener at Oklahoma State nears.
“It’s really good to get out there and hit somebody else,” Nwachukwu said. “Tempers are flarin’ right now. We’re kind of tired of seeing each other and practicing the same stuff.”
Fall camp observers seem unanimous in their opinion that the Cougars are faster, stronger and deeper than a year ago. WSU remains inexperienced and/or unproven in several areas.
“We’re way ahead, much better (than last year at this time),” co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball said. “We’re still young.”
“We’re just a lot more confident in what we’re doing offensively, defensively and with special teams,” Nwachukwu said.
Ball said two true freshmen, cornerback Damante Horton and safety Deone Bucannon, will definitely see action this year.
“They’re really, really good football players and have had great camps and played really good tonight,” Ball said. “That helps you sleep a little better.”
Horton recovered Winston's fumble after linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis forced the bobble. Bucannon intercepted Tuel and gained 35 yards on the return.
Walk-on freshman Jack Wilson of Spokane recorded another defensive highlight when he recovered a punt fumbled by Leon Brooks in the end zone for a touchdown.
Wulff said running back Rickey Galvin, wide receiver Marquess Wilson and tackle John Fullington remain candidates to play as true freshmen on offense.
Grasu, a senior, and true freshman Andrew Furney continue to battle for the kicking job. Both took advantage of having a stiff wind at their back Thursday. Grasu connected from 58 yards out after Furney went wide left from 58 to cap the 50-minute scrimmage.
Coaches arranged for something vaguely resembling crowd noise to be blasted over the loud speakers. Perhaps 150 fans dropped by Martin Stadium on a warm evening with hazy skies caused by the wind as well as fires to the north. Classes started Monday, but Tuel said students don’t seem particularly excited about the upcoming season.
“I haven’t heard too much,” he said. “I probably won’t pay too much attention to it because, obviously, they’re going to think it’s going to be a bad thing because of the past two years. But we’re going to show them otherwise. We plan on winning some ball games and bringing the spirit back.”
In addition to the first-team defensive linemen who rested, potential starters who sat out the scrimmage with injuries included cornerback Nolan Washington (hip), wide receiver Gino Simone (hamstring), cornerback Aire Justin (hamstring) and safety LeAndre Daniels (neck). Senior running back Chantz Staden rested his bruised shoulder.
Daniels has been sidelined for the past week. Ball said “it’s too early to tell” if Daniels’ injury might be career threatening.
“They’re still evaluating it,” Ball said. “He’s got a lot of experts looking at it.”
Wulff said Simone, a starter last year as a true freshman, may resume practicing Friday. The Cougars likely will work specifically on Oklahoma State schemes for the first time on Saturday, Wulff said.