Cougar Post-Game Notebook

PULLMAN – Martin Stadium was the scene of the world’s longest exhale Saturday evening. An 0-2 start had Washington State football fans grinding their teeth. And the notion of dropping one to FCS Portland State of the Big Sky Conference no doubt had Cougar fans holding their breath going into Saturday evening's contest with the Vikings.

Perhaps those fears would be better utilized next week, when second-ranked Oregon comes to town for a Pac-12 opener (7:30 p.m., ESPN). The Cougars, riding the sturdy right arm of senior quarterback Connor Halliday, racked up a school-record 706 total yards against PSU in a 59-21 romp.

“It’s a starting point today,” offensive guard Gunnar Eklund said afterward in the media room at the new Cougar Football Complex. “We’ve got a big one next week.

“We’ve got to enjoy the win for right now, then as soon as we step in this building tomorrow, it’s Oregon.”

The Cougars set Pac-12 and school records with 630 passing yards, including an 84-yard touchdown pass by redshirt freshman Luke Falk on his second collegiate pass. Halliday tied a school record for the second time in four games (dating back to the New Mexico Bowl) with six touchdown passes. He completed 41 of 62 passes for 544 yards, which ranks second only to the conference and school record of 557 yards he recorded last year at Oregon.

Halliday so routinely puts up monster numbers that no one, including himself, seemed all that excited about his latest record-breaking performance.

“He played good,” coach Mike Leach said. “I though he forced two balls (on his two interceptions). Other than that, I thought he played pretty good.”

Halliday, who tied Jason Gesser for second in WSU history and 13th in Pac-12 history with 70 career touchdown passes, seemed more excited about Falk’s touchdown pass than any of his own.

“That was absolutely awesome to see that for Luke,” Halliday said. “A great kid. He deserves it.

“He works so hard in the film room, weight room and everything. The program will be in good hands with Luke.”

Halliday also passed Gesser in career passing yards. Halliday now ranks 19th in Pac-12 history with 8,896. Alex Brink holds the WSU career records of 10,913 passing yards and 76 touchdown passes.

The primary beneficiary of Halliday’s big night was senior wide receiver Isiah Myers. He set career highs with 11 catches, 227 receiving yards and three touchdown catches.

“He’s the best route runner I’ve ever seen,” Halliday said. “I’ve always been in Isiah’s corner. I’ve been kind of waiting for a game like this (from Myers).”

Halliday said his “eyes light up” when he sees teams play “press” man-to-man defense. Myers expressed similar thoughts.

“I respect them for that (defensive strategy),” Myers said, “but if you’re going to play a team that throws it 60 or 70 times a game, bad things are going to happen to you.”

The three touchdown receptions tied a school record. The 227 receiving yards ranks sixth in WSU history.

The pass-happy Cougars set season bests by running the ball 23 times for 76 rushing yards. WSU ran the ball on eight of 14 plays during their first scoring drive, which was capped by redshirt freshman Gerard Wicks’ first touchdown. It was WSU’s first rushing touchdown of the year.

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

“The emphasis this week is, we’ve got to get better at running the ball. If we don’t run the ball well, we’re going not going to win games.”

Wicks led the ground game with season bests of 12 carries and 50 yards. Halliday, who said he “didn’t do a very good job” of calling run plays last week at Nevada, said he tried to get the run game going early in Saturday’s game, and it had a “huge” impact on WSU’s offense overall.

The Cougars gave up season lows of 93 rushing yards and 362 total yards. The WSU defense yielded just two touchdowns; Halliday’s second interception was returned 56 yards for a touchdown.

Rickey Galvin provided an early spark with a 44-yard punt return. Quentin Breshears nailed his only field-goal attempt and all eight extra points, and punter Jordan Dascalo averaged 45 yards per kick.

The Cougars barely missed making any number of big plays that would have pushed their total yardage past 800. Junior wide receiver Dom Williams caught Falk’s 84-yard TD pass and finished the night with four catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns.

WSU also experienced déjà vu from the season opener with Rutgers when the Vikings just missed connecting on a long bomb on the first play from scrimmage. Backup quarterback Paris Penn lined up at receiver and was wide open, but dropped the ball at midfield.

Cornerback Daquawn Brown said the Cougars identified that Penn was on the field, but they didn’t expect the Vikings to go deep.

“We didn’t know he was that fast,” Brown said.

Brown racked up 10 tackles and five pass breakups. Linebacker Cyrus Coen led all players with a career-high 12 tackles, and he had one of WSU’s three quarterback sacks.

Leach said Coen is “the toughest one” among WSU linebackers.

Wide receiver River Cracraft, who missed the Nevada game with an undisclosed injury last week, caught seven balls for 88 yards and a touchdown. Robert Lewis again started ahead of Cracraft, and Myers assumed Cracraft’s holder duties.

Kristoff Williams, who started the first two games at wide receiver, did not play. As usual, the Cougars provided no information on his presumed injury.

WSU failed to sell out the home opener, but the Cougars announced that the Oregon game is a complete sellout after all 200 standing-room-only tickets were sold this week.

The Portland State contest drew 30,874 on a gorgeous evening. The stadium’s new listed capacity is 33,952. As usual, thousands of fans left at halftime.

Leach said the energy in the renovated stadium “was really good. The new look’s incredible. We have an incredible student sections.”

NOTABLE:

  • While Myers dominated the yardage stats, running back Jamal Morrow (pictured above) and receiver Dom Williams also hit triple digits. They both had 112 hashes -- Williams all through the air and Morrow on 73 receiving and 39 rushing.

  • Second-ranked Oregon and No. 9 USC (Nov. 1) are among the five teams left on the home schedule. The Cougars face two current Top 25 teams on the road: No. 10 Stanford (Oct. 10) and No. 16 Arizona State (Nov. 22). The Cougars (1-2) have lost seven in a row against Oregon (3-0) since a 34-23 victory in Pullman in 2006.

  • Legendary college football broadcaster Keith Jackson received a warm ovation prior to the game Saturday. He raised the WSU flag and was saluted in a video by fellow sportscaster Bob Costas, who said Jackson’s folksy voice was “the voice” of college football. Jackson, nearing his 86th birthday, briefly addressed the crowd in a halftime recording. Noting the many recent improvements at new-look Martin Stadium, Jackson asked, “Who wouldn’t want to go to school here?” A WSU broadcast building was named in Jackson’s honor Friday. Jackson graduated from Washington State in 1954 and has donated $1 million to the school over the years.

    Leach met Jackson for the first time Friday. “That was fascinating … he’s an incredibly impressive guy,” Leach said.

  • None of the 18 previous WSU teams that started 0-2 finished with a winning record, and the outlook is only slightly more promising for Cougars teams that started 1-2. Just three of the previous 25 WSU teams that were 1-2 wound up on the plus side at season’s end, and none went to bowl games. The 1984 squad rebounded from a 1-2 start to finish 6-5, but the last five teams that started 1-2 failed to reach .500.

  • The Cougars, outscored 14-3 in the first quarter of their first two games, opened the scoring against Portland State (1-2) with a first-quarter touchdown. That marked the first time WSU has led in the opening half.

  • WSU improved to 18-0 against current Big Sky Conference teams since losing at home to Montana in 1947. The Vikings, who led Oregon State 14-13 at halftime of a 29-14 loss two weeks ago, fell to 0-14 all-time against current Pac-12 teams.

  • Cougfan Top Stories