By Christian Caple The Spokesman-Review
SPOKANE – The play would have felt routine coming from Marquess Wilson last season. On Saturday, it was more of a reminder that the junior receiver is actually still here.
Washington State’s first-team offense was backed up to a third-and-17 on its first possession of the Crimson and Gray Game at Albi Stadium, a false start and a sack knocking them to their own 16-yard line.
So quarterback Jeff Tuel bailed out his unit by running one of his favorite plays, one not often seen this spring: toss it up to Wilson and let him run under it.
And he did. Wilson ran past the coverage of Damante Horton, reeled in the throw and covered the rest of the green in front of him for an 84-yard score on the third play of the scrimmage before a presumed spring-game-record crowd of 10,713.
“I’ve been waiting for him to do it the whole spring,” Tuel said. “The guy tries to act like he’s not that fast or something during practice, but you come out here on the game field and I’ll throw it as far as I want and he’ll run under it.”
So after a somewhat forgettable spring, Wilson finally had a day to remember, catching four passes for 149 yards, also reeling in a 41-yard catch on a third-and-long pass down the left sideline later in the scrimmage.
After he caught 82 passes for 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns last season as a sophomore, many assumed Wilson would be the focal point of coach Mike Leach’s pass-happy offense heading into the spring.
But Leach has questioned his work ethic, at times placing him with the third-team offense during practice. And when the first-team offense took the field on Saturday, Isiah Myers and Dominique Williams were the starters at outside receiver.
So consider Saturday a positive response.
“I noticed that I was lacking out at practice,” Wilson said. “… I just realized that’s not me and I wasn’t the same person. I just had to come back to me and start working harder.”
Now he really, really doesn’t have a choice. Same with Williams, who caught five passes for 121 yards and a touchdown.
“If they want to be great receivers, they need to practice and play with that sense of urgency every snap in practice,” Leach said. “That’s the difference between great ones, because then you take the threshold they played at some today and you improve from there.
“Now that it’s revealed that they’re capable of it, we’ll just stick that on film and anything short of that will get their attention a little bit.”
Tuel had something to do with that, too. He had easily his best day of the spring, completing 19 of 21 passes for 285 yards and two scores during the 80-or-so-play scrimmage, connecting on his first 15 throws before throwing an incompletion.
His second touchdown was a 1-yard pass to running back Carl Winston on the second series. But the first-team was held out of the end zone on its remaining three series, with “buck” linebacker Logan Mayes recording 2.5 of his 4.5 sacks during that span.
Protecting the quarterback continues to be a concern — Mayes led a defensive effort that totaled nine sacks, most of which came against the first- and second-team offensive lines.
“I felt like we had a big day,” said Mayes, who worked mostly with the second team. “We were pretty aggressive. We had a couple of big busts, but those are just scheme things that will get corrected as we go on.”
“I thought we had pretty good effort,” Leach said. “I thought we had some guys hesitate and try to make too much happen. It’s kind of like if a hitter in baseball were to go up and check swing each time. We had some check-swingers, and then of course the results were poor. So now next time, they need to not worry about making a mistake and go full tilt.”
“I feel like I’m real close,” he said. “I have a different mindset now. I’m just going out there and playing hard and helping the team out, and that’s my mindset.”
Eight different receivers saw reps with the first-team offense, and Leach said afterward that’s likely how many will play in each game during the regular season. … Though it was billed as a “game,” the numbers displayed on the scoreboard didn’t truly reflect the action on the field, as the defensive total seemed to fluctuate somewhat arbitrarily throughout the scrimmage. For what it’s worth, the board read Defense 28, Offense 27 when the 80-play scrimmage concluded.