Aug. 28, 1999
PULLMAN, Wash. - Steve Birnbaum fired three touchdown passes Saturday morning and Washington State's defense was dominant in the Cougars final football scrimmage before opening the gridiron season at home next week against Utah.
The nearly three-hour workout was a mock scrimmage, with the Cougar offense going against a scout team running Utah's defense, while on defense the WSU varsity stopped every thrust by a squad of players operating Utah's offense.
"Utah didn't miss any tackles on defense, they are very good," head coach Mike Price joked after the "thud" scrimmage. "I think it was one of the better mock scrimmages we have had before a game. We weren't perfect, but the execution was better than I anticipated."
Birnbaum, named earlier in the week as the starting quarterback, connected on 17 passes for 212 yards. He hit Nian Taylor on a seven-yard scoring play early in the scrimmage. During the drive he hit all six of his passes for 51 yards.
Later in the scrimmage Birnbaum hit Milton Wynn with a nine-yard scoring pass, then connected with Marcus Williams on a 60-yarder.
Second string quarterback Jason Gesser took his team 85 yards in just two plays early in the scrimmage, the final 83 on a pass and run play to Wynn.
Wynn had quite an afternoon, catching five passes for 114 yards. He also blocking a punt that Farwan Zubedin scopped up and returned 33 yards for a special team score.
Gesser ended the scrimmage completing 12 passes for 168 yards. Paul Mencke also had a busy scrimmage with duty at both quarterback and wide receiver. When he went behind center, he hit three of his five passes for 21 yards. When on the receiving end of six passes, he accounted for an additional 48 yards.
"Paul Mencke is a great athlete, a great competitor," Price said after the workout. "I didn't know he could catch like that, but he got in there and caught six passes. He will play against Utah in a variety of different ways. He knows the plays and knows what the quarterbacks are looking for. He's getting into the open area and the quarterbacks found him today."
Austin Matson, Curtis Holden and Grady Emmerson each had three solo tackles during the scrimmage, while Billy Newman and Anthony Matthews had two each. Two of Holden's solo stops were sacks, while Rob Meier, Matson and Anthony Adedipe had one sack each.
"We did throw a couple of picks today and that is unfortunate," Price commented. "We have to eliminate those. That is our number one goal going into the season." Gesser had two of the interceptions and Mencke the third.
The Cougar running attack didn't put up impressive numbers, in part because of a patch-work offensive line, but Price did single out freshman Deon Burnett (34 yards) and converted linebacker Brad Philley (43 yards) for their work.
"We are a little beat up and scarred up on the offensive line," the Cougar coach noted. "We are coming along slowly. Obviously it would help if we had the Raymond twins (Reed and Ryan, both recovering from pulled muscles). Right now it is Phil Locker and Mike Swartz, the guys we are really leaning on."
With a week to go, Price doesn't expect a lot of contact work in the next six days. "We will gear down quite a bit and let the players get their legs back," he said. "We won't hit much. We will pad up Monday and Tuesday, maybe shoulder pads only Wednesday and no pads Thursday and Friday. We will finish our game plan and run those plays all week."
After yesterday's workout, Price, his staff and the entire team headed for Spokane to participate in a youth football clinic.
"It is our way of paying back the Spokane community for all the times they have driven down to see us, especially the youth," Price said. Several of the players also visited kids at the Shriner's Hospital, also an annual part of the trip to Spokane.