Cougars' defense finally makes some strides

IT WASN'T PERFECT. But it was far better than it has been in a season of pain and poundings. And in the end, Washington State's defense put in a performance decent enough to give Luke Falk the time he needed to piece together his first win as the Cougars bested Oregon State 39-32 in Corvallis.

Oregon State entered Saturday's game ranked 88th in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 26.1 points per game. Hardly impressive -- but consider that Washington State's defense was ranked an abysmal 103rd and allowing opponents to score an average 38.7 points per game.

So basically, it was anyone's game in the battle for the bottom of the Pac-12 North.

But on this night, the Cougars emerged victorious. They did it for their fallen hero, Connor Halliday -- and they did it for themselves.

"Basically, Coach Leach (put) a fire under us," said junior linebacker Jeremiah Allison, who tallied 12 tackles and a sack, in a postgame interview. "We had a relentless determination to get there."

"It's the era of Luke Falk."

As for Leach, he was complimentary of his team as a whole, praise that hasn't come easily in a season of more downs than ups.

"I thought we got contributions from all sides of the ball," he said in a postgame radio interview. "I thought we did a good job of competing on each isolated play."

A year ago, the Beavers scored five unanswered touchdowns, including four in the fourth quarter, as they trounced the Cougars 52-24 in Pullman.

THAT WASN'T THE CASE Saturday, as Oregon State, led by Sean Mannion, the same quarterback who torched the Cougars three years in a row, including a 376-yard, four-touchdown outing as a redshirt freshman in the 2011 Seattle game, struggled to put together complete plays culminating in the end zone.

The Beavers struck first with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Mannion to a wide-open Connor Hammlet on an opening drive that included a deep pass from Mannion to Washington State transfer Rahmel Dockery. But their second possession stalled inside the 15-yard line, forcing backup kicker Garrett Owens -- playing in place of the suspended Trevor Romaine -- to kick a 24-yard field goal.

Despite trailing 10-0, the Cougars did not give up and head for the airport. Instead, the defense dug deep and went Beaver hunting. Among their most notable moments was using one of their four sacks on the night to quash a second-quarter drive that made it to the Cougars' 15 and resulted in another field goal.

Junior linebacker Kache Palacio, who recorded two sacks, and now leads the team with 5.5, said the defense tried some specific moves that paid off.

"We did a lot of line twists and more blitzes," he said. "Safety blitzes."

IN THE SECOND HALF, the Beavers' running game started to show signs of life after gaining just 11 yards in the first half, and they scored on Terron Ward's 1-yard touchdown run. But in an odd decision given how much time was left in the game, Oregon State elected to attempt a 2-point conversion -- and it failed, keeping their deficit at 24-22.

And with the Cougars leading 32-25, senior linebacker Cyrus Coen forced a Mannion fumble, which was recovered by Victor Bolden for a 14-yard loss to the Beavers’ 14. The Beavers were forced to punt after a pair of incompletions.

Largely thanks to a pass rush that was able to bring Mannion to the ground a total of four times, the Beavers were held to a total of four field-goal attempts, and the Beavers also moved the ball just 7.0 yards per play.

"Our defense stepped up and did some good things," Leach said. "It was a good team win."

Following his debut as starting quarterback, Falk also credited the team for one heck of a coming-out party.

"It was a great performance," he said.

NOTABLE NOTES
  • Long-snapper Joe Lang and cornerback Marcellus Pippins played in their first game, which means that 28 players have made their debuts for Washington State this season, including 20 freshmen (nine true freshmen).

  • Freshman cornerback Kevin Griffin made his first career start.

  • Isiah Myers caught his 11th touchdown pass of the season, which ties him for the fourth-most in a single season at Washington State. He also caught his 18th career touchdown, tying him for the fifth-most in school history.

  • Dom Williams caught his seventh touchdown catch of the season and the 17th of his career, tying him for the ninth-most in school history.

  • Tyler Baker had his first 100-yard game, catching nine passes for 113 yards.


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