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Quarterbacks show room for improvement, newcomers shine in Washington State's first scrimmage

Apr. 7—PULLMAN — With 147 days until Washington State kicks off its 2024 football season, the Cougars took to Gesa Field on Saturday for their first game-like scenario of the offseason with plenty of position groups to sort out and starters to be named.

Six quarterbacks threw passes, 16 players snagged receptions and three defenders nabbed interceptions during WSU's first scrimmage of spring practice.

One thing was clear: there's a lot to improve on both sides of the ball if the Cougars are going to get to their first bowl game since 2022.

But that's what spring camp is all about — finding improvement and separating the wannabes from the future stars.

"I think the biggest thing is we're through six practices already and you start to reveal the makeup and mentality of the team, and I think we need to get better in every area," WSU coach Jake Dickert said. "And that's from taking care of the ball, our physicality at the line of scrimmage, communication on defense, tackling.

"That excites me though. I mean that. We've got a bunch of guys who are working their tails off, they believe in each other and they know what we want to do and the vision of it."

The Cougar offense scored four touchdowns on the day, kicker Dean Janikowski made three field goals (with a long of 42 yards) and the defense won the 10 other drives.

WSU will have one more spring scrimmage on April 20 and conclude spring camp with the Crimson and Gray game April 27.

Quarterbacks a mixed bag

On the first drive of the day, sophomore quarterback John Mateer navigated the Cougars down the field for an 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by junior running back Dylan Paine.

Mateer finished the day 16-of-20 passing for 203 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

But it was an overall mixed day for the Cougars' signal-callers, who are vying to replace two-year starter Cam Ward.

Senior Zevi Eckhaus, a transfer from Bryant of the Football Championship Subdivision, was the second quarterback to see the field. He went 10-of-19 for 123 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.

Cougar quarterbacks threw three total interceptions on the day (the third by freshman Brady McKelheer) with only one touchdown.

"We'll see what the tape says, but through six practices, John's turning the ball over too much," Dickert said. "We've gotta be better. I thought Zevi is very savvy, he's very pocket conscious, (but) he threw a pick today as well — that's his first of camp."

Dickert went on to say he likes where the quarterbacks are at mentally, operation-wise and leadership-wise, but "it's going to be a long journey as we go."

On the bright side, Mateer was the producer of WSU's two biggest plays on offense.

He completed a 33-yard reception to wide-open sophomore wide receiver Carlos Hernandez on the first drive and lofted a 27-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wideout Tony Freeman for the lone passing score of the day. The over-the-shoulder throw and catch might've been the best offensive play for the Cougs.

Defense stops the run, grabs three takeaways

The Cougar defense didn't allow a single breakaway run play and notched three takeaways on an overall good day for the group.

Sophomore defensive back Khalil Laufau, sophomore edge Isaac Terrell, senior edge Andrew Edson and senior safety Tanner Moku each tallied sacks, while senior safety Tyson Durant, freshman DB Ethan O'Connor and freshman linebacker Frank Cusano all grabbed interceptions.

Durant in particular made plays all over the field. The Akron transfer is quickly looking like he could be a key player in the secondary.

"I was really just focusing on alignment, assignment and just trying to do my job," Durant said. "I was writing that down in my notebook as many times as I could: 'Just do my job, do my job,' and I feel like the ball will find you at that point."

Trainer's room

Junior wide receiver Tre Shackelford, an Austin Peay transfer who has shined in the first two weeks of practice, took a big hit to the arm on an incomplete pass midway through the scrimmage and went to the sideline.

Freshman offensive lineman Ashton Tripp also went down with an injury early in the scrimmage.

The Cougars are already missing several pieces on the O-line, including junior Brock Dieu, Christian Hilborn and Fa'alili Fa'amoe, although none are expected to be out long term.

Quote of note

"(There's) a lot of energy when you get out on Gesa Field. Even if the stadium is empty, you're going to imagine what it's like on Cougar football Saturdays, so it's good getting that feeling and getting that first one out of the way." — Junior center Devin Kylany on wrapping up the first scrimmage.

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICAL LEADERS

RUSHING — Parker 10-35, Pulalasi 8-26, Ridgeway 5-15, Heeringa 4-12, Schlenbaker: 6-10 yds, Paine 4-7.

PASSING — Mateer 16-20-1—203, Eckhaus 10-19-1—123, Potter 6-10-0—45.

RECEIVING — Hutson 4-68, Hernandez 2-52, Meredith 3-43, Freeman 3-42, Neal 1-30, Williams 3-22.

INTERCEPTIONS — Durant, O'Connor, Cusano.

SACKS — Laufau, Terrell, Edson, Moku.

Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2260, swiebe@lmtribune.com or on Twitter @StephanSports.