USA Today Sports/Snook

Tyler Hilinski makes a statement in WSU debut and Jason Gesser takes notice

JASON GESSER put it succinctly before Saturday's Battle of the Palouse: the measure of how well the Cougars perform will be Tyler Hilinksi. More specifically, if the second-year freshman quarterback makes his collegiate debut, you can bet a nice WSU victory is at hand. And so it was midway through the fourth quarter of the 56-6 rout. But this was no mop up. Hilinski was out there slinging.

With the Cougars up 49-6, the 6-3, 187-pounder from Claremont, Calif., stepped onto the Field Turf at Martin Stadium with 6:58 left on the clock for his first snap in a college game -- and proceeded to march the Cougars on a 9 play, 67-yard drive that consumed more than 3 minutes.

Yes, the drive ended with an Idaho interception at the goal line. And yes, he may have had a bout of happy feet initially. But that was beside the point. Hilinski was out there with the live bullets and he looked right at home.

That's not to say things started smoothly.

Shortly after releasing his first pass -- an incompletion intended for Robert Lewis -- he took a big-time hit. Gesser, calling the color on the radio, noted that absorbing a blow like that right out of the gate was probably good for him because as a redshirt last season and a backup this season, he probably hasn't taken a real hit since high school.

The pummeling continued on Hilinski's second pass -- a 19-yard completion to Dezmon Patmon for Patmon's first-ever WSU catch. Hilinksi was drilled again after releasing the ball. Gesser really liked it. Back when the newly inducted Hall of Famer was winning more games than any quarterback in WSU history, the ol' juices didn't really get moving for him until he took a good hit or two, he intoned.

He was downright tickled for Hilinski.

The young QB then completed his next four passes: two to River Cracraft, another to Patmon and then a 13-yarder to C.J. Dimry (also making his WSU debut) to bring the ball to the Idaho 17.

Who knew that serving as a punching bag helps with accuracy?

Jayshawn Jordan, the pride of O'Dea High in Seattle,  put a bit of a damper on Hilinski's coming out party with an interception of a Dimry-intended pass at the lip of the end zone.

But no matter.

The Vandals couldn't move the ball, so Hilinski was able to squeeze in one more series. On the first snap he fired a 13-yard completion to Cracraft. Three running plays later WSU scored a TD with another debuting Cougar -- walk on running back Alijah Lee -- doing the honors.

Hilinski finished his day completing 6 of 8 passes for 55 yards.

Gesser was impressed. When Hilinski arrived at WSU he had an elongated, wind-up-type of throwing motion that had Gesser wondering if he could compete in the Pac-12. No longer, Gesser said, Hilinski's motion is much tighter and his release quicker.

And that, he concluded, means WSU has a backup QB who can play in the Pac-12.


  • In addition to Hilinksi, Dimry and Lee, offensive lineman Frederick Mauigoa made his collegiate debut.
  • Marcellus Pippins' 72-yard touchdown return of a blocked field goal was the first such score at WDSU since at least 1983 and perhaps in school history. It also marked WSU's first touchdown on special teams since 2005 when Michael Bumpus returned a punt for a TD at Nevada. The blocked field goal was the first for WSU since 2015 against Wyoming -- Robert Barber accounting for both. 
  • WSU's  228 rushing yards was the most under Mike Leach and the most since tallying 289 against Idaho State in 2011 
  • DE Nnamdi Oguayo and LB Frankie Luvu each recorded their first career starts 
  • James Williams two-yard touchdown run was his first career touchdown. Williams rushed for 126 yards, the most by a Cougar since Dwight Tardy ran for 214 at UCLA in 2007  Williams is the first freshman RB to tally a 100-yard game since Tardy piled up 105 in the 2006 Apple Cup 
  • Luke Falk threw for 226 yards, upping his career total to 7,549, passing Drew Bledsoe and Ryan Leaf for fifth in WSU history  And Gabe Marks caught his 28th career touchdown, third-most in WSU history and tying him for 11th-most in Pac-12 history Marks caught seven passes for 59 yards, pushing his career reception total to WSU-best 254, fourth-most in Pac-12 history
  • The Cougars have a bye next week and then take on Oregon, which lost at Nebraska today, 35-32. The game will be in Pullman. WSU is 1-2 and Oregon 2-1.

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