PREDICTION: Cougs will end TD return drought

PULLMAN – For a school that hasn't returned a punt for a touchdown since 2005 or a kickoff for pay dirt since 2003, you may find my first prediction for tomorrow's Washington State-Portland State game to be highly suspect.

Yet after watching a month of practices in Lewiston and Pullman, I believe it will happen Saturday when the Cougs host the Vikings (11 a.m., Pac-12 Networks)..

Three Bold Predictions
1. The Cougars will return either a kickoff or a punt for a touchdown. Kyrin Priester and Tavares Martin (pictured above, L-R) are the new return specialists, and both have shown great speed and elusiveness. (The last WSU punt return for score was in 2005 by Michael Bumpus. The last kickoff return for a TD was in 2003, when Sammy Moore ran one back).

2. WSU running backs -- Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and Keith Harrington -- will combine for over 250 all-purpose yards. (Last year against PSU the WSU ‘backs racked up 165 all-purpose yards). I’ve seen every practice this fall and Wicks is more explosive. Morrow is still the best all-around guy and when you add Harrington’s receiving and never-ending quicks, I see more all-purpose yards from this group than a year ago.

3. The Cougars will have three takeaways. The Cougs have been flying to the football since practice began this fall and expect new DC Alex Grinch’s message “GET ME THE BALL” to show against Portland State through forced fumbles, interceptions or both. Three takeaways against the Vikings will be just the right medicine headed into Rutgers (and revenge). Look for true freshman corner Darrien Molton to log his first collegiate interception -- just like Charleston White did last year against PSU.

TRYING TO PREDICT the Cougar wideouts’ receiving totals against Portland State would be like trying to predict what Mike Leach will say on any given occasion – Leach tends to rotate eight at the four spots. But that isn’t going to stop me from making these predictions either:

  • Gabe Marks will have a big game in his return to the college stage. He’s been itching to play for nearly a year, and his fall camp shows that he’s ready to go. Even though inside receivers tend to have the most catches in Mike Leach’s Air Raid, I see Marks, an outside wide receiver, (Z) leading the Cougars in receptions (8-10) and touchdowns (2-3) against PSU.

  • On the inside, River Cracraft (Y) won’t be left out -- I see at least one score for the sure-handed junior.

  • I’m leaving some WRs out, but I do expect Dom Williams, Priester, Martin and Robert Lewis to make an impact whether it be receptions, blocking or otherwise.

  • My prediction for Luke Falk? Around 500 passing yards and 4-5 touchdown passes.

    Final Score Prediction
    The Cougar offense will get bring it, but I think there will be less scoring than last year. Falk will lead methodical drives with short, precision passes all over the field and check to runs, which will chew up more clock. Defensively, the Cougs’ improvement will show markedly against an FCS team - WSU will force punts and, in the red zone, field goals. Along with three takeaways, watch for the defensive line to bully the PSU o-line and get their sacks. COUGS WIN 49-13.

    NOTABLE NOTES:
    Falk’s first WSU action came against Portland State a year ago. He came in midway through the fourth quarter, completing the two passes he threw for 86 yards (with an 84-yard touchdown to Dom Williams to cap off the 59-21. The Cougars led 28-0 at halftime.

    Portland State is 0-14 against Pac-12 schools, 0-2 against WSU and 2-32 against FBS schools all-time. Last year they had Oregon State on the ropes, leading 14-13 at the half. If not for PSU’s four turnovers in the third quarter, the 29-14 final score in favor of the Beavers might have wound up reversed.


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