Young nose tackle emerging for Cougars

After catching a pass from quarterback Anthony Gordon (18), Washington State wide receiver Brandon Arconado (19) leaps toward the end zone as Northern Colorado safety Nic Vinson (23) grabs onto his foot during the second quarter of a non-conference game on Saturday afternoon at Martin Stadium in Pullman.

As a group, receivers in Mike Leach’s offensive system at Washington State strive endlessly for consistency. For that reason, it’s sometimes difficult for them to shine consistently as individuals.

A case in point is Brandon Arconado, a senior slotback who went all last season without making a catch. After two games in 2019, he’s leading the team in receptions and all-purpose yards.

The main reason for the difference? He made Leach’s eight-man receiver rotation this year, probably boosted by an injury to Jamire Calvin. Last season, when Calvin was healthy and Kyle Sweet was around, Arconado got placed on a back burner. Because of Leach’s huge emphasis on precision and timing, the coach rarely changes his rotation if it’s not necessary. You’re either in or out.

That said, Arconado is impressing Leach.

“I thought he did play consistently the last game,” he said, “and has quietly been an incredibly consistent receiver for us.”

Arconado made eight catches for 127 yards and a touchdown Saturday in a 59-17 win against Northern Colorado, giving him 14 receptions for the season.

As for Calvin, Leach acknowledged Tuesday the possibility of redshirting him, even while clinging to his policy of avoiding talk about injuries.

“Well, yeah, if the thing doesn’t shape up,” Leach said. “I mean, it’s definitely on the table.”

Calvin, a junior who has caught 75 balls for the Cougars, played as a true freshman and has yet to redshirt. After missing all of spring drills for undisclosed reasons, he has been inactive in practice this season in recovering from what appears to be a lower-leg injury.

The No. 20 Cougars (2-0) play their first road game at 6:15 p.m. Friday at Houston (1-1) and NRG Stadium.

Because it’s a Friday game, the Cougars staged their final full-scale practice Tuesday.

Arconado, a former walk-on, enrolled at WSU as a junior-college transfer in 2016, redshirting his first year before making four catches the next season and hinting 2018 might be a big year for him. But he rarely saw the field except on special teams.

“We’re really deep at receiver,” he said. “It just wasn’t my chance last year. I’m trying to make up for it this year.”

The 6-foot, 193-pounder lacks the speed and strength of some of his fellow receivers but has become a consummate route-runner. His models in that regard were former teammates Sweet and River Cracraft, the latter of whom has been on and off the Denver Broncos roster.

“Those guys were not the fastest but they’re real savvy,” Arconado said. “I was behind River and Sweet, watching them in practice and games. I use some of their moves. I still watch River to this day. I’m really thankful for them.”

ANOTHER HOLGORSEN CONNECTION — Leach isn’t the only Cougar who’s familiar with this week’s opposing coach, Dana Holgorsen, who’s in his first year at Houston.

Backup nose tackle LaMonte McDougle played for Holgorsen at West Virginia in 2017, making a Freshman All-America team. He then transferred to WSU and redshirted last season.

Leach suggested McDougle’s departure from West Virginia was entirely voluntary, and his decision to choose WSU didn’t have much to do with Leach’s friendship and former working relationship with Holgorsen.

“They didn’t want to lose Lamonte,” he said. “Once LaMonte was going to transfer and they released him, it probably had more to do with my relationship with his father.”

Stockar McDougle played on the offensive line at Oklahoma when Leach was offensive coordinator there two decades ago.

FAST-RISING FROSH — With WSU middle linebacker Dillon Sherman going down with an undisclosed upper-body injury against Northern Colorado, the Cougars could be ready to give more playing time to heralded true freshman Travion Brown.

Sherman had been rotating with Justus Rogers. After his injury, Brown took the field and made six tackles in short order.

“He flies around, he plays fast and he’s learning the game, obviously,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “He’s got a ways to go to learn the game, but he’s a good enough athlete right now he’s able to make up for a few of those mistakes just because he plays hard and he’s usually in the right spot.”

Grummert may be contacted at daleg@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2290.

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