PULLMAN – Washington State’s first-team offense showcased its big-play potential.
WSU’s No. 1 offense amassed 305 yards in the first half and scored 28 straight points. The “Crimson” team – consisting of offensive starters and defensive reserves – shone in WSU’s annual spring game, defeating the “Grey” team 42–14 in front of a few thousand fans on a Saturday afternoon at Martin Stadium.
New receivers DT Sheffield and Josh Kelly made highlight-reel catches. Starting quarterback Cameron Ward had an impressive performance, guiding the scoring drive on four of his six possessions.
Sheffield said, “Every day when we come to practice, as an offense, we have a plan that we’re going to get the ball out and specifically beat the defense.” “Yeah, we’re very explosive on offense.”
Sheffield showed their pace early on. He set up a touchdown down the middle of the field on a 63-yard reception from Ward on the Crimson team’s second drive. On the Crimson squad’s next series, Sheffield set a defender on fire on a deep crossing route and ran into the end zone for a 51-yard touchdown.
“He brings a different pace to this offense,” Ward said of Sheffield. “DT is kind of a playmaker, someone who brings the top down for our offense. He’s going to give our defense struggles in the conference.
Zucco-transfer slotback Sheffield led all pass-catchers with 121 yards on three receptions.
“DT is the one that really stands out, as I was watching it live,” said WSU coach Jake Dickert. “I thought Cam was super sharp. He worked very hard, so I’m happy to see his result today.
Ward was dropped the second half, along with most of WSU’s first-team skill players. He showed a lot in the first half. Ward completed 12 of 16 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers and no sacks.
“I think his accuracy has really improved. I think his leadership is better than ever,” Dickert said of Coggs’ second-year QB. “We’re going to push her to be the best version of herself, and I think she’s more comfortable in her own skin now.”
On their final possession, Ward downed a deep ball on a pass toward Kelly, a Fresno State transfer who has established himself in WSU’s starting lineup. Kelly jumped over a defender for the catch, then gained some additional yardage before being brought down. The 65-yard reception was WSU’s longest play of the day. Kelly finished with 82 yards on three catches.
Connecting with more deep passes has been an emphasis this spring.
“That’s our new mindset: ‘When you throw the ball down the field great things happen,'” Dickert said. I also liked what is happening after the catch. Josh isn’t satisfied with just making plays. He wants to miss someone. I think you saw (backup receiver Zion Nunnally) miss some guys. We’ve got some players who, if they get the ball in their hands in space, they can make some guys miss.
“On the other hand, defensively, we need to tackle better. But I think we have got some players who can catch it, take the top and do something with the ball in their hands.
Nunley, taking reps with the second team’s offense, gained 84 yards on four catches – including 53 yards after the catch. Gray Team receiver Carlos Hernandez, a true freshman, rushed for 70 yards on four catches with a 29-yard TD grab late in the game.
The starting offense, led by first-year coordinator Ben Arbuckle, dialed up a trick play late in the second quarter. Ward threw a pass to veteran slotback Lincoln Victor, who threw a deep pass down the sideline to tight end Cooper Mathers for a 46-yard gain. This set up the first of starting tailback Nakia Watson’s two touchdown runs.
Arbuckle’s system showed versatility throughout the game. The Cougs sometimes went with four receivers, then shifted to heavy sets that included two tight ends. WSU passed the ball 64 times and called 50 rushing plays.
Left tackle Asa Pole said, “With the playbook open, it shows how much flexibility Coach Arbuckle has.”
Sophomore tailback Jaylen Jenkins had 62 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns for the Crimson team. Watson finished with two scores on 17 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Third-string quarterback Emmett Brown led the Crimson offense in the second half, running a clock, and went 11 of 14 for 165 yards.
The Gray team – the No. 1 reserve on defense and offense – made a fourth-down stop in the red zone on the opening possession. Backup QB John Matter led a touchdown drive on his first series, but the Grays team did not score again until the 16th possession.
Linebacker Kyle Thornton said, “Obviously, the gray team, not the way we expected it to go, but the energy all around was really good.” “Even though we were competing against each other, we were celebrating each other’s success.”
Matir completed 16 of 27 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown in eight possessions. Redshirt freshman Jovensky Schellenbacher handled tailback duties with the Gray team, recording 49 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. He added a 35-yard reception on a wide receiver pass from fellow Squalicum High (Bellingham) graduate Layton Smithson.
“We had some trick play from both sides,” Dickert said. “I thought the coaches did a good job of putting something tough out there.”
WSU’s first team Crimson offense went up against an inexperienced defense for a large portion of the first half. Several defensive standouts played limited snaps. All-Pac-12 edge rushers Brennan Jackson and Ron Stone Jr. were only on the field for the first series. Star cornerback Chow Smith-Wade participated in two drives. Starting safeties Jaden Hicks and Sam Lockett III were done after the first quarter.
Coggs rotated defenders repeatedly throughout the game while evaluating positional battles at nickel, linebacker, backup cornerback and backup safety.
Reserve safety Joe Taylor led all defenders with six tackles. Five other players recorded five stops each. The two teams combined for nine TFLs and five sacks – players credited for the sacks included Erling, second-string edge Andrew Edson, backup safety Bryce Griese, deep-reserve edge Peter Iyabi and defensive tackle Ansel Din-Mbuh. who is a true freshman. Impressive Camp.
The Crimson team had a limited number of offensive linemen available, so it kept most of its starting O-linemen on the field for the entire game. WSU’s O-line struggled with safety issues last season, and the Cougs’ first-team offense occasionally had sack problems in team practices during camp. But the unit surrendered only two sacks on Saturday – one on each of the game’s final two possessions.
“They want to get better. They want to prove it. They want to take a step forward,” Dickert said of the offensive line.
The Crimson defense, composed mostly of reserve players, recorded two takeaways. Linebacker Joshua Erling jumped a red-zone pass from fourth-string QB Luke Holcomb for an interception on the first drive of the second half. Nickell Chris Jackson forced a fumble early in the game. After making a short reception, Hernandez turned up, but Jackson caught and fumbled the ball. Safety Reece Sylvester was there to fix it.