WSU Cougars

Cougars mix rest with preparation for Oregon during bye week

By Jacob Thorpe

The Spokesman-Review

Oregon’s Dakota Prukop, right, throws down field against Virginia during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 in Eugene, Ore.
Oregon’s Dakota Prukop, right, throws down field against Virginia during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 in Eugene, Ore. AP

Taking a week off can be surprisingly challenging.

At least it is for football teams, who strike a delicate balance of getting in enough work when taking a bye week, while also recovering from the season’s weekly physical toll.

According to head coach Mike Leach, there are three different approaches teams take, and he’s tried all of them with varying degrees of success.

“One is work them like crazy, which I don’t agree with,” Leach said. “The other is give them the whole week off, which I generally don’t agree with. And then the other is give them the front end of the week off, work them towards the back end of the week and really focus on fundamentals. That’s the approach we’ve taken.”

To that end, the Cougars took Tuesday’s practice off and will also rest Friday. Leach believes it is important to keep the players’ body clocks on time by having a Saturday practice around the time the Cougars would normally play.

There has been a departure from last year’s bye week. Whereas last year the Cougars took the opportunity to give the young players additional reps with multiple Thursday Night Football underclassmen scrimmages, this year there have not been any.

“A lot of self scouting, get some guys healthy and get some recruiting in,” said running backs coach Jim Mastro.

That’s right, the WSU coaches spent the early part of the bye week on the road, and a few of them were seen rushing off the field as Thursday’s practice ended to catch a 7 p.m. flight out of Pullman.

The Cougars have made several changes during the bye week, specifically having freshman D’Jimon Jones play scout-team quarterback in an effort to replicate more athletic signal callers employed by multiple Pac-12 teams, including Oregon, WSU’s next opponent.

Jones is a fantastic athlete. He played quarterback and defensive back at Federal Way High, sixth man on the 4A state championship basketball team, and placed second at the state championship meet in the high jump as both a junior and senior.

He is expected to eventually play defensive back for the Cougars, but is showing this week that he has the skills to contribute on offense as well.

“The thing that’s going to be tricky with him next year is figuring out what he does,” Leach said. “He’s a real athletic guy and he can do a lot of things.”

It is imperative that Jones give the starting defense a good look at an opponent the Cougars may not know much about. The Ducks have injury questions at running back, wide receiver, and on the offensive line after a bruising loss at Nebraska.

Ducks quarterback Dakota Prukop has not contributed much in the running game so far in Eugene, but he ran for more than 1,700 yards in two seasons at Montana State. The WSU defense struggled in its only test thus far against a mobile QB, giving up 101 rushing yards to Eastern Washington’s Gage Gubrud.

The bye week gives the Cougars the chance to get extra preparation for the Ducks and heal up after their first three games. Like everything in football, success is about striking the right balance.