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Cougars' offensive line strong again as Wicks rushes for 123 yards in 27-3 win Saturday against Colorado at Martin Stadium

ONE HIT WILL OVERSHADOW their overall performance. And that is a shame. Because No. 24 Washington State's offensive line was a significant factor in the Cougars' 27-3 win Saturday against Colorado at Martin Stadium.

Sophomore quarterback Luke Falk, who completed 27 of 35 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown, left the game midway through the third quarter when he was sacked by Samson Kafovalu. Because of Falk's performance this season, which has led many to opine that he should be in the Heisman Trophy conversation, the hit that resulted in him being taken off the field in a stretcher will be the indelible memory of the game for some.

That is unfortunate.

After all, the Cougars' line mostly did an impeccable job in pass protection. And their run blocking was even more impressive. The running backs, particularly sophomore Gerard Wicks, took advantage of open spaces created throughout the game by the linemen. Wicks, who finished with 123 yards on 13 carries, became the first player within the program to rush for 100 hashes in a game since James Montgomery in 2010.

Perhaps the most impressive part was that WSU (8-3 overall, 6-2 Pac-12) accomplished that without its best pass blocker for a third consecutive game, left tackle Joe Dahl, and starting center Riley Sorenson. For much of the decade preceding Mike Leach's arrival in Pullman, that would have been a disastrous scenario for the Cougars. Just six years ago, WSU was forced to start Alex Reitnouer as a 6-foot-5, 242-pound true freshman four times when injuries stuck.

Credit Leach's recruiting philosophy for ensuring that injuries on the offensive line have not derailed the Cougars' most promising season since 2003. While the "Air Raid" is synonymous with quarterbacks and receivers producing arcade-like numbers, Leach's roots in college football were as an offensive line coach in 1987 at Cal Poly. He never has downplayed the importance of that unit.

That is not uncommon among coaches. But sometimes their actions result in a different reality on signing day.

Not with Leach.

After he was hired on Nov. 30, 2011, at WSU, Leach was clear that he would sign five offensive linemen in most recruiting classes. Because of that strategy, the Cougars have quality depth up front for the first time since 2003, when then-coach Bill Doba shifted mammoth Josh Parrish to guard because he had a pair of standout tackles in Calvin Armstrong and Sam Lightbody.

A dozen years later, WSU again has quality depth. Sam Flor, a fourth-year junior, stepped in for Sorenson. Redshirt freshman Andre Dillard, who replaced Dahl, is the youngest offensive lineman in the two deeps.

The impact of Falk and a veteran receiving corps led by junior Gabe Marks and senior Dom Williams -- that duo combined for 181 yards and two touchdowns on 17 receptions against the Buffaloes -- cannot be understated. But it is not a coincidence that the Cougars are enjoying their most success in a dozen years behind a talented and deep offensive line.

And that -- rather than a breakdown that resulted in the one sack they allowed against Colorado -- is how they should be remembered.


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