With Mayle doubled up, Myers lights the night

PULLMAN — Washington State demonstrated the three Rs of football Saturday night: red-zone efficiency, receiving proficiency and rushing respectability. Together, it added up to a 59-21 Cougar rout of Portland State. That second R -- receiving -- should have an exclamation mark behind it given the fireworks produced by senior Isiah Myers.

Myers tied the WSU record for touchdown receptions in a game with three, and came close to tying single-game records in receptions and receiving yards. When the night concluded, Myers had 11 catches for 227 yards. He was mostly unstoppable as Connor Halliday’s primary target.

“Me and Connor have been on the same page for awhile now so in practice, we’ve been throwing in tight windows and obviously in the last couple of games, we’ve been throwing in tight windows,” Myers said. “It’s just something that comes natural now after being together for a couple years now.”

The victory improved WSU to 1-2 on the season.

Halliday said he was glad that everyone got a chance to see Myers produce like he did on Saturday night. Halliday went so far as to say Myers is the best route runner he has ever seen, and he capitalized on the fact that Portland State paid most of its attention to Vince Mayle, who came into the game with 20 catches for 210 receiving yards. Mayle was limited to 35 yards on Saturday, and that was in large part because the Vikings chose to defend him with double coverage. But that also opened up the right side of the field for Myers, Halliday said.

Halliday sprayed the entire field with a total of 62 passes, 41 of which he completed. He threw six touchdowns on a day he came out midway through the fourth quarter, and he divided those scoring strikes among four different receivers. At times, he hit his targets somehow sliding the ball through the smallest of spaces in the defense.

Oddly enough, with all the passes flying around, the first touchdown of the game was on the ground, and that score happened to be the first career touchdown for Wicks.

The redshirt freshman was the only captain to run out onto the field for the coin toss before the game, and he came up big for the Cougars in an area where they had struggled on the few times they had run the first two games.

Wicks said after the game that he could not describe the feeling of that first touchdown, but it certainly was important for the Cougars. Wicks and Morrow combined for 88 rushing yards, a season-high for the Cougar running backs. The two also had 22 touches total - considerably more than in the first two games.

“As a running back, that’s the best thing you can do is get touches and get into a rhythm, and so when you start getting into a rhythm, the offensive line starts getting into that rhythm too,” Morrow said. Notice that Morrow said "touches." As noted in our 2-minute drill article, Morrow caught four passes for 73 yards, giving him 111 all-purpose yards.

Back to the ground game. Left guard Gunnar Eklund enjoyed the heck out of that.

“It’s always fun to run the ball as an offensive lineman. That’s what we like to do, push people around and get off the ball,” Eklund said.

On several occasions, Eklund also looked up after blocking and saw Myers either in the end zone or deep down the field after hauling in one of the many passes from Halliday.

“It’s awesome when all your receivers are working their tails off,” Eklund said. “It’s pretty unique, and they busted their butts tonight, and they did really well. Isiah especially had a really good night and it was fun to see, guys jumping over people. It makes it fun to play the game.”

Myers literally did jump over a defender at one point, then ran the ball the rest of the way for a 55-yard score. He also was loving the running game himself, because not only did Mayle keep defenders off of him, but the running backs helped him get open too.

“I love our run game, so when we’re actually clicking in our run game, it actually opens up our entire passing game, but when we’re being successful in the run game, it makes me pretty excited,” Myers said. Ultimately, the whole offense was clicking and other than the beginning of the third quarter when Portland State scored 14 unanswered points, Mike Leach was happy with the team’s performance and said it functioned as a collective unit for significant periods of time.

“The biggest thing is that we had a game that looked like what we see in practice every day. We’ve got to keep maintaining that and focus on individual plays, individual effort and individually competing each snap, which I thought they did,” Leach said. “Nothing about it was perfect but there were a lot of good things, and it very much resembled practice.”

Another area where the Cougars vastly improved on Saturday was the red zone.

The Cougars capitalized on all seven of their trips inside the Portland State 20-yard line, a stark difference from this first two games. The Cougars were 7 of 7 in the red zone against Portland State and six of those resulted in TDs.

The Cougars rattled off three touchdowns in the second quarter, integral in taking the wind out of the Vikings’ sails. On the first drive of the game, Halliday was sacked on third down and the Cougars had to punt, giving Portland State a chance to score first. They damned near did, but a spot-on pass to Paris Penn was dropped. Penn is normally a quarterback, and it took the WSU defense by surprise that he went deep.

Cornerback Daquawn Brown said that play was one of the biggest mistakes the defense made on the night, and even though they called out the fact that Penn was out on the field, they still were not expecting him to take the vertical route.

Cyrus Coen led the defense with 12 tackles, and Leach said after the game he is the "toughest" of the Cougar linebackers. Indeed, if anyone else wants to rise to the top at the SAM, they will have to whip Coen, Leach said, and nobody can do that at this point.

One other encouraging note: WSU kept its collective foot on the gas pedal by scoring in all four quarters, and only settled for a field goal attempt once all night. In the fourth quarter, with a comfortable lead, the Cougars scored 24 points, one coming on a pretty touchdown pass from Luke Falk to Dom Williams for 84 yards.

And although the offense didn’t seem to need any extra help, Kristoff Williams and Theron West were not on the sideline. Williams had been inactive in practice for most of the week, and Leach gave the typical answer that he was doing great things elsewhere. As for revealing that information, he said it might jeopardize world peace if he did.

Notably, Charleston White also recorded his first career interception in his second career start on Saturday.

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