The Early Glimpse: Cougs vs. Portland State

YOU MIGHT RECALL that a week ago in this space, it was written that I don’t overreact to the season’s first game. It’s reasonable to expect in the opener to see plenty of mistakes, jitters and things you won’t see the rest of the season.

Game Two, that’s another matter.

Fan reaction after Washington State’s 24-13 loss at Nevada was pure outrage, and just short of sky-is-falling stuff. No one was spared, not the offense, not the defense, and certainly not coach Mike Leach.

Short of saying it’s time to chuck the whole program and start over, I don’t think you can overreact to the 0-2 start to this season. It’s embarrassing. And I’m someone with no dog in the Cougar fight.

Yes, we knew this team had holes. The offensive line was inexperienced. The defense had some growing up to do, particularly in the secondary. But there was plenty to like about the 2014 Cougars. This defensive line was supposed to be as formidable as it’s been in years in Pullman. The receiving corps, as good as it gets in the Pacific-12. A experienced, record-setting quarterback.

And for this, with a game under their belt, the Cougars score 13 points against a Nevada squad that gave up at least 38 points six times last year, including 58 to UCLA and 51 to San Diego State. With WSU’s current offensive makeup, the Cougars should win 10 times out of 10 against Nevada when it gives up 24 points to the Wolf Pack. Thirteen points is unacceptable.

When Leach says a lot of the team’s early problems are on the coaching staff, he’s right. There’s no reason for the Cougars to be this bad.

Clearly, the Cougars have yet to turn the corner based on these two games, even if they played in a bowl game last season. Is a 7-5 or 6-6 season still out there? As many have pointed out, Washington State has to beat Portland State this Saturday, then go at least 5-4 in the Pac-12. At this point, that seems hard to see.

Portland State is not just a must-win game. It’s a must-pound game. It’s a game where WSU has to regain some swagger, and feel like it’s a Pac-12 team again. Winning ugly won’t cut it. The offense has to be sharp, like it was at times against Rutgers. The defense has to dominate the Vikings, particularly up front.

Then we’ll see about the Pac-12 season.

The kickoff: Portland State (1-1) at Washington State (0-2) 5 p.m. Saturday, Martin Stadium. Game televised on Pac-12 Network. Betting line: no posted line due to FCS school opponent.

Cougs vs. Vikings


The kickoff: 5 p.m. Saturday, Martin Stadium.

TV: Pac-12 Network

The line: No current line

The series: Cougars lead, 1-0


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About Portland State: The Vikings, of the Big Sky Conference, are 1-1 following a 45-38 win over Western Oregon, a Division II school. This is Portland State’s second game against a Pac-12 school this season. In the opener, the Vikings lost to Oregon State 29-14. While the OSU score appears close, the game was not. The Beavers defense forced five turnovers and held PSU to 215 yards. PSU’s two touchdowns came on long runs by back-up quarterback Paris Penn.

The Vikings coach is Nigel Burton, the former Washington Husky who spent several seasons as an assistant at Oregon State before taking over at Portland State five years ago.

Sophomore quarterback Kieran McDonagh, who had an effective freshman season but is off to a bit of a rocky start in 2014, leads the Vikings. McDonagh has completed 20 of 41 passes for 218 yards through two games. He’s somewhat of a threat to run, but more dangerous with his feet is Penn, who gets liberal action and is PSU’s second-leading ground gainer with 170 yards this season.

Portland State’s offense is reasonably balanced. Shaquille Richard is the Vikes’ top running back, with 24 carries for 175 yards and a touchdown. Kasey Closs is PSU’s most prominent receiver, with 10 catches for 147 yards through two games. Last season, Closs caught 63 passes for 1,167 yards and eight scores.

Defensively, watch out for Brandon Tobias and Sadat Sulleyman, defensive ends who have combined for 4½ sacks this season. Cornerback Xavier Coleman, safety Patrick Onwuasor (an Arizona transfer) and linebacker Brandon Brody-Heim are other Viking defenders to watch.

The series: Though these are Northwest schools, this is only the second time Washington State and Portland State have played. In 2008, the Cougars won 48-9 in Pullman. The Cougars went through three quarterbacks that day, as Kevin Lopina and Gary Rogers left the game with injuries. But Marshall Lobbestael saved the day, throwing two second-half touchdown passes that helped fuel a 24-point third quarter. It marked Paul Wulff’s first win as head coach at WSU.

Familiar faces: There are many Washington faces on Portland State’s roster, as one might expect from a school located a few miles from the Washington border. Too numerous to mention all of the Vikings’ Washingtonians, but here are some of the prominent ones: left guard James Seuma’ala (Federal Way), center Cornelius Edison (Tacoma), McDonagh (Vancouver), Sulleyman (Spanaway Lake), and Brody-Heim (Vancouver). The staff includes a former Coug, offensive line coach Steve Morton,. who played and coached at WSU, and Malik Roberson, who was the Cougs’ d-line coach from 2008-10.

Notable stat: The Cougars have never posted a winning season during the modern era after starting 0-2. Since 1938, Washington State has started 0-2 15 times, and the closest the Cougars came to a winning season was 1973, when they went 5-6.

Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel

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