PULLMAN — As if signaling the wisdom of two recent position changes, Skyler Thomas and Armani Marsh made big plays in new roles as the Washington State defense broke a 10-quarter takeaway drought.
Thomas intercepted a pass and a blitz by Marsh set up another theft Saturday in the first half of the Cougars’ 41-10 rout of Colorado.
A third Wazzu interception didn’t involve a position change. But it was a satisfying moment for longtime cornerback Marcus Strong.
Thomas, back to playing safety the past two games, jumped a pass route in the first quarter for an impressive interception of Steven Montez and returned the ball 19 yards to the Colorado 26-yard line. It was the Cougars’ first forced turnover since their 67-63 loss to UCLA on Sept. 21.
A safety last season, Thomas had played nickelback the first five games this season as coaches looked for a capable replacement for 2018 senior Hunter Dale.
Now the Cougars are going with Marsh at nickelback, and the former walk-on pressured Montez into an ill-advised heave on a blitz in the second quarter. George Hicks III made a leaping interception at the back of the end zone.
“The biggest thing is we made it real competitive in practice,” WSU coach Mike Leach said of the position changes. “We’re just trying to find the most cohesive group that we can out there. As we made (the schemes) simpler, it was easier to identify how to go about that.”
Strong’s interception came in the fourth quarter against backup quarterback Blake Strenstrom, capping a strong bounce-back performance for the senior corner after a rough outing the previous week at Arizona State.
Cougars linebacker Jahad Woods, who is Strong’s roommate, said the cornerback spoke explicitly during the week of a redemption game.
“Not only did he talk about it, he practiced like he wanted to (have one),” he said. “This was probably his best (week of) practice since he’s been here. He was locked in the whole week.”
THURSDAYS TO SATURDAYS — Cougars quarterback Anthony Gordon said his rapport with slotback Brandon Arconado was developed during their years in Thursday Night Football, the team’s weekly scrimmage for little-used players.
In Arconado’s return from an injury, Gordon found him five times for 109 yards and a touchdown.
“Arconado’s real consistent,” the quarterback said. “He’s decisive with everything he does, and real good with the ball in his hands. Once you get it to him, he’s quick going upfield. Me and him have just kind of built a connection throughout our Thursday Night times, where we just have a good feel in the middle of the field together, and he does a great job finding the open holes and getting the ball.”
Many of Arconado’s yards are tough ones, but he broke free down the middle in the third quarter and caught a perfect toss by Gordon for a 44-yard touchdown.
“I was lined up pretty wide, and I saw the safety was sitting on the hash,” Arconado said. “My job was to get past him and the quarterback just had his mind on the same thing I did. I thought he didn’t see me at first, because he had a lot of time. And he just let it rip. Gordo can get it downfield. I just got past that safety and he just put the ball in my hands.”
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