Notes & quotes galore from WSU's 48-10 win

PULLMAN – Washington State's Air Raid offense finally exploded on Saturday afternoon at Martin Stadium. After WSU's highly touted offense generated just six points on two field goals in the previous six quarters, the Cougars routed Southern Utah, 48-10.

The Cougars' decided edge in speed and athleticism exposed Southern Utah's secondary in glaring fashion. Connor Halliday completed 32 of 41 passes for 383 yards and five touchdowns in barely three quarters.

WSU receivers were often wide open, and Halliday was well protected.

"He played great," WSU wide receiver Gabe Marks said. "What'd he have? Five touchdowns or something like that? A thousand yards throwing?"

It only seemed like that to the Thunderbirds.

Halliday's five touchdown passes, one shy of the school record, matched his career high. He completed his first 10 passes.

"The receivers came out and ran real good routes," Halliday said. "It was easy to get them the ball at the start of the game. Everyone was wide open."

WSU's home opener, played in gorgeous sunshine, drew 31,127. The Cougars have sold more advance tickets for next Saturday's homecoming game with 0-3 Idaho (7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) than they did for Southern Utah, a Football Championship Subdivision team.

"The fans were crazy," safety Deone Bucannon said.

"The fans were fantastic, especially our student section," coach Mike Leach said.

"When you win a home opener, it's amazing," wide receiver Dominique Williams said. "The atmosphere gets even better for the next game."

Fans without tickets for the Idaho game would be wise to jump on wsucougars.com as soon as possible. Only 2,000 tickets were left as Friday afternoon. Just 500 tickets remained for the Dad's Weekend contest Oct. 12 against Oregon State.

Bucannon said Saturday's game was "definitely" the best overall performance by the Cougars in Leach's two years at the helm. Halliday said it was "probably" the best offensive showing under Leach.

"This is how we're supposed to play against everybody, not just an FCS team," said Marks, who led all players with seven receptions.

"We go and play in the Pac-12, all those good schools, we expect to do the same thing. We're a confident group."

Halliday, a redshirt junior making his ninth start, climbed past Mark Rypien into eighth place in WSU history with 30 touchdown passes. He also threw his 23rd interception -- his sixth of the year, and the third one picked off in the end zone – when wide receiver Isiah Myers ran a bad route in the second quarter and Halliday's pass came nowhere close to any teammate.

"Isiah plays both X and Z (receiver positions)," Halliday explained, "so I think he thought he was playing the Z at the time. Instead of running a post, he ran a curl pattern."

Still, Halliday fired three touchdown passes in the first half to help the Cougars take a 28-10 lead into the locker room. Two of the TD's were perfectly thrown bombs down the left sideline to speedy wideout Dominique Williams for 43 and 55 yards, respectively.

"They really took away our slot receivers," Halliday said. "We had some good chances on the outside, and we took advantage of them."

Halliday has thrown passes to 10 teammates in each of WSU's three games. His fifth career game with four or more touchdown passes ties him with Jason Gesser for second in school history behind Ryan Leaf, who had six.

Halliday joked about making his "first career reception" late in the second quarter when the ball slipped out of his hand as he was releasing it. He quickly grabbed the ball in midair. It was ruled a fumble.

Halliday went into deadpan mode in "blaming" center Elliott Bosch for giving him a wet ball.

"Elliott sweats a lot," Halliday said dryly.

The ball must have dried off in record time, because Halliday threw the 55-yard touchdown pass to Williams – on third-and-18, no less – on the next play.

Halliday wasn't the only Cougar who was able to joke afterwards about a boo-boo during the game.

The Cougars made three interceptions, but they lost a fourth when a holding penalty against Bucannon cost sophomore BUCK linebacker Kache Palacio his first interception late in the third period. Palacio made his first start, filling in for the injured Destiny Vaeao.

"It hurts to take away … my teammate's moment," Bucannon said.

On the next play, Bucannon made an interception of his own. Naturally, he heard all about it from coaches and teammates when he got to the sideline.

"They said I was selfish," he said with a laugh. "They were all just playing around. I apologized to K.P."

"He probably owes me dinner," Palacio joked.

Bucannon, who fancies himself as quite the chef, said he "might" cook dinner for Palacio.

WSU senior cornerback Damante Horton returned an interception for a touchdown for the second time in as many games.

After scoring on a 70-yard return in last week's win at No. 25 USC, Horton tied Jason David's school record of three career interception returns for TD's by zooming 72 yards untouched with 38 seconds left in the second quarter.

"Damante was unbelievable out there," Bucannon said.

One school record was broken, at least temporarily. WSU senior Andrew Furney converted both his field-goal tries to improve his career percentage to .783 (35 for 45). Drew Dunning held the record of .773.

The Cougars outgained Southern Utah 464-219 in total yards, including 222-61 in the second half. WSU has held two consecutive opponents to less than 225 yards for the first time since 1994.

Horton said the defense "started playing together towards the end (of the first half). We had little issues, but we worked it out. Just focusing on our jobs, doing what we're supposed to do."

Bucannon added, "We came out in the first half kind of complacent … we came out in the second half, we were flying around."

Bucannon's eight tackles were two less than the game-high 10 of WSU linebacker Cyrus Coen. Bucannon's 300 career tackles leave him two behind Ron Childs for 10th in school history. Bucannon's 10 interceptions leave him one away from a four-way tie for eighth.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Austin Apodaca made his college debut when he replaced Halliday for most of the fourth quarter.

"It was great for Austin to get some time, lose his virginity out there," a beaming Halliday said.

"Austin's got a heck of an arm. Austin's a very mobile quarterback. Austin's a heck of a quarterback, and look for big things from him."

Apodaca completed 3 of 7 passes for 27 yards.

The Cougars gave up 10 or fewer points for just the second time in the past five years. Washington State defeated UNLV 59-7 in 2011. The 48 points scored by the Cougars was the most in Leach's two years at the helm.

"Give credit to a Washington State team that appears to be improving year by year and game by game," Southern Utah coach Ed Lamb said.

"I'm sure the coaches are all happy," Marks said. "I mean, Leach is probably already thinking of things we did bad and we need to fix tomorrow at practice, but that's his job."

Assistant coaches Eric Russell and Joe Salave'a, whose contracts had not been finalized at last report, have signed their new contracts.

Like most of the returning assistants, Russell and Salave'a received $1,500 salary increases. Russell, the assistant head coach and special teams coordinator, now makes $226,500. Salave'a, the defensive line coach, was bumped up to $176,500.

WSU's nine full-time, on-field assistants, who made a school-record $1.8 million last year, now earn $1,843,500. Leach makes a school-record $2.25 million per year.

A lot of those salaries were covered by the $1.15 million Auburn paid the Cougars to visit two weeks ago. Southern Utah made $465,000 for coming to Pullman.

Idaho will receive $550,000 for making the 8-mile bus ride to WSU next Saturday. The Cougars would love to offset some of that cost through increased season ticket sales, since they're nearly 1,000 down from last year's total of 13,460.

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