Crimson and Gray game observations

The running back room looks just fine. Quarterback, though ... ?

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Before we get started, just a quick note: If you didn’t get a chance to watch the game and/or you don’t have Pac-12 Networks on your preferred cable provider, the indispensable Matt Highlights #2 has the game cut down to under 35 minutes with no commercials or stoppages.

One other quick note: Beehiiv (the newsletter software I use) doesn’t really play nice with most YouTube embeds, so I’ve provided links below to the relevant highlights.

OK, enough of that — let’s get on with the show!

Welcome to Pullman, Wayshawn Parker

As I have said before, and I will say again, I remain unconvinced that there’s a whole lot to be learned from spring football games. Going in, I’m always hoping for someone or something to “pop” — someone or something that clearly stands out.1

In that regard I can really only point to one man — the one guy who caused me to audibly blurt out HOLY SHIT during the game on Saturday: Freshman running back Wayshawn Parker.


The spin was nice, but that’s not what caught my attention — it was more the acceleration out of the spin, then the subtle shifts of his weight, planting a foot to create space by slowing down and turning around the defense to get the edge and then race to the pylon.

The craziest part about Parker is that he’s an early enrolee out of high school. I don’t pay as much attention to recruiting as I used to, and I had to look him up on the roster — I figured he was a transfer. That’s how mature he looked.

Parker wasn’t the only one who looked pretty good in the backfield — all the guys who got extended touches did really well.

After a slow start — thanks largely to the offensive line getting mauled early on — Djouvensky Schlenbaker found a groove, breaking off his own long run in which he absorbed contact, spun away, and then accelerated upfield for a 50-yard gain. He flashed some speed that, frankly, I wasn’t sure that he had.

He’s listed at the same weight as last fall, but he looks lighter to me. Schlenbaker followed up that run with a TD that looked a lot like a pretty routine goal-line run, but he actually did a real nice job of reading the blocks in front of him — the action is flowing to the right, but he finds a soft spot on the backside and darts for paydirt.

I’d still like to see Schlenbaker get a little better at running behind his pads as a power back, but it’s hard to complain too much about a guy who tops 100 yards on the day and leads the team in rushing.

The other running back to stand out was Dylan Paine. The redshirt junior, who has often been overlooked, showed the kind of shiftiness, burst, and strength that leads me to think that maybe I’ve been overlooking what he can do for us. He had a couple of really nice runs on the final drive.

The one exception to all these good vibes was an injury to Leo Pulalasi, who was carted off the field with an air cast after suffering a lower leg injury. When they drag out the air cast, that’s usually very bad and indicative of a broken bone, but Jake Dickert said on Sunday that they think it’s just a six- to eight-week injury, which is actually fantastic news.

Running back was a real issue last year when Nakia Watson wore down, and while it remains to be seen if any of these guys can be the “bell cow” that Watson was, the depth certainly looks to be vastly improved.

Easy ParsGolf news that's not boring.

A QB competition into fall?

I think there was an assumption coming out of last season that when Cam Ward left for the draft and/or transferred, the job for this season would belong to upcoming redshirt sophomore John Mateer. While I still think that’s the case, I don’t think it’s super cut-and-dried based on what we saw in on Saturday.

Now, admittedly, the game doesn’t give a full picture of what each quarterback can do because of the lack of ability for the QB to run, which is a major weapon for both Mateer and Zevi Eckhaus, the transfer from FCS Bryant whom the staff brought in to compete for the job. For the most part, we only can evaluate how they looked as passers, and neither guy really separated himself in that regard.

Mateer was 11-of-24 for 194 yards and a couple of TDs, while Eckhaus 19-of-30 for 196. Mateer’s 8.1 yards per attempt outpaced Eckhaus’ 6.5, however, more than half of his yards came on two plays: A long trick-play TD to Billy Riviere on the first snap of the game, and a long TD to Josh Meredith on a cool roll out/out-and-up route that torched Reece Sylvester, who got got trying to jump the sideline.

I think the 46% completion rate tells a better story of Mateer’s day. There were some drops mixed in there (Kyle Williams had a particularly bad one on what would have been a big play), but that wasn’t all of it. This is the first time we’ve gotten to see Mateer get extended run as a passer, and one immediately noticeable thing about him is his throwing motion, which is somewhere between three-quarters and sidearm.2 I wonder if he can be accurate enough, consistently enough, throwing like that. It’s obviously not an inherent problem — Philip Rivers had a pretty nice NFL career! — but I think there’s a reason why most QBs don’t do it, and 46% is exceptionally poor, drops or not.

Eckhaus, meanwhile, fared a bit better at 63%, which is just about baseline for an offense such as this. I think his YPA also tells a pretty good story. He had lots of short, accurate passes, throwing a really soft ball that’s almost a toss — very casual. He doesn’t really seem to throw with conviction, which is fine if you’re throwing within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, and that’s where the vast majority of his attempts were. He generally put those on the money, which is good!

However, we didn’t really see Eckhaus push the ball into those midrange spots — the throws that travel 10-20 yards in the air into a tight window. Those throws are super necessary when defenses are both crowding the short routes and dropping to take away the vertical plays. It doesn’t seem like an arm strength issue; he delivered a handful of nice deep balls with ease, including dropping the ball in the bucket on the TD to Carlos Hernandez. I’m not sure why he didn’t really use that part of the field.

When you put it all together, the best word I can come up with to describe Eckhaus is … fine. He definitely looks like the kind of guy who has the skills to be moderately successful at the FCS level, but might have a hard time with the smaller windows and rangier athletes at this level. Which … again … is just fine — if he’s your backup.

All of this does come with a huge caveat: Both of these guys’ legs are real weapons that can’t really get used in a game where one touch with one hand on the QB ends the play. We know what Mateer — who, at 6-1/217, is built a bit like a running back — can do in that regard, and it’s likely that his ability to run on designed plays will be a big part of his total contribution. Eckhaus, meanwhile, flashed some excellent speed on one scramble, although at 6-0/192 it’s hard to imagine running the ball being a staple of his.

Eckhaus just doesn’t make you sit up and think “whoa, we might really have something here,” but Mateer didn’t really produce better results. I still think the job is Mateer’s, being the younger player with much higher upside, but if the coaching staff wanted a competition to push Mateer into the fall, it appears they’ve got one.

Defense shows out

Let’s be honest: Defenses usually get short shrift in these sorts of evaluations because we all want to see points. But I think it’s worth noting that the defense looked good — and deep — in this one.

I could be wrong on this because it’s not like I chart plays, but I seem to remember defenses generally keeping things pretty vanilla, scheme wise, in these sorts of scrimmages. That certainly wasn’t the case on Saturday, where defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding deployed a plethora of blitzes and stunts that caused some pretty major issues for the offense for the first half of the game.

The debate will always rage on about bad offense vs. good defense in these scrimmages, but I came away feeling like this was more of the latter. I also really liked the attitude and aggression with which the defense played. That aggression did come around to bite them a few times, though, as the offense adjusted in the second half.

I’ve said in the past that I trust Jake Dickert to put together a competent defense more than I trust just about anything in this program, but last season was an inconsistent mess. At the risk of reading too much into it, Saturday gives me hope that we’re back on the track of what we’ve become used to under Dickert.

Other quick observations

  • In general, the receivers didn’t really help out their quarterbacks, especially early. I remember walking away from last year’s spring game and thinking, “Yeah, we’re going to be fine,” after replacing a whole bunch of guys by adding Josh Kelly, Williams, and DT Sheffield to Lincoln Victor. I do not have that same vibe after Saturday. Williams and Hernandez looked great, and Tony Freeman still looks really fast, as he did on a previous highlight video. But the rest was a mixed bag, filled with a whole lot of ehhhhhh … it’s fine. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

  • Speaking of Hernandez, he murdered Warren Smith Jr. on his TD. Facing a blitz with no safety help, Hernandez did exactly what you need your receiver to do there: Decisively win at the line of scrimmage. He perfectly executed an inside release to easily get by Smith before “stacking” him and giving Eckhaus a place to throw the ball over the top. A truly beautiful play from start to finish.

  • Early enrollee nickel Jaylon Edmond had a really nice play to nearly come up with an interception on Eckhaus in the red zone — he recognized the play fake, read the QB’s eyes and got deep to take away the throw.

  • Other defensive players who stood out include a couple of safeties: upcoming redshirt freshman Adrian Wilson and Akron grad transfer Tyson Durant, who had a really athletic play to break up a pass on a 2-point attempt.

  • Freshman early enrollee QB Evans Chuba is … certainly big! Not a whole lot else to glean from Saturday, other than to say he looks legit.

  • To that end, I really liked the way they mixed the QBs throughout the game, rather than waiting for the traditional scrub time at the end to insert all the guys who will rarely (or never) see the field this fall. It kept me interested all the way until the end, which was pretty fun!

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1  Past honorees include Franke Luvu in Spokane in 2017, Anthony Gordon in Pullman in 2019, and DT Sheffield last spring. The first two turned out ok, and Sheffield looked like he was headed for turning out ok until he up and quit last season. He landed at North Texas, if you’re curious. (I was!)

2  I didn’t remember it being that pronounced, and after going back and watching his high school highlights, it seems like maybe it actually has dropped a little.

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