Washington State (2-1, 1-0 Pac-12) showed respect for their opponent Saturday with another four-quarter effort as they outscored Southern Utah (2-1), a FCS school, by a final tally of 48-10 in Pullman, WA.
The first two games of the 2013 season for the Cougs were emotion filled efforts which resulted in a tough loss to Auburn on the road and scratching out a win over USC in their Pac-12 opener. Some of the promise and anticipation of glory on the gridiron when Mike Leach took over Cougar football is beginning to show up in terms of effort and performance.
The euphoria for Cougar Nation from the victory last Saturday on the road against a nationally ranked opponent fueled expectations for an easy win over the Thunderbirds. How else would WSU play their third game of the season in front of their fans in Martin Stadium?
Many were concerned WSU might have a let down going into this game against a lower division ball club.
Coach Mike Leach had his team ready to play and zeroed in on getting the job done.
Despite coming into this game as a substantial underdog, the SUU Thunderbirds, who play in the Big Sky Conference, gave WSU out of the Pac-12 all they could handle for much of the first half.
Washington State took the opening kickoff 80-yards down the field with just 5-plays in under two minutes.
After both teams settled into their respective rhythms, the score was 14-10 in favor of the Cougs with 4:22 left before halftime.
Playing within themselves for most of the first half, the wheels began to come off for the T-Birds after they scored their only touchdown of the game on their third possession.
The ensuing kickoff after SUU closed to within 4-points, junior quarterback Connor Halliday drove the ball down to the SUU 19-yard line looking to help his team wrest back control of the scoreboard. He saw coverage that would exposed to a post pattern.
“We busted a route and that was going to be a touchdown,” said Coach Leach during his post-game comments.
Junior Isiah Myers pulled up on his pattern allowing Halliday’s pass to sail right into the arms of defensive back LaShaun Sims for an easy interception.
Halliday went deep three plays later to sophomore Dom Williams who hauled it in for a 55-yard TD.
WSU basically drained the life out of SUU before halftime when junior quarterback Aaron Cantu overthrew his intended receiver hitting the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week, Damante Horton, right in his hands. For the second week in a row, Horton took the pick all the way back for a TD covering 72-yards in the process.
That was the ball game.
Following a pair of senior kicker Andrew Furney field goals to begin the second half of play, the Cougs showed their pride on four consecutive plays.
First, it appeared sophomore linebacker Kache Palacio earned his first career interception only to have the play nullified by a defensive holding penalty on senior safety Deone Bucannon allowing the T-Birds to maintain possession.
Next play Bucannon earned redemption by making a solid play on the ball for a pick.
Lining up on the SUU 18-yard line following the turnover, Halliday connected with Myers for a near-touchdown, getting the ball down to the 1-yard line.
One the fourth play, Halliday floated a beautiful fade ball to sophomore Gabe Marks who stretched to haul in yet another Cougar touchdown. “That’s the first time that a check (in the red zone) was successful,” admitted the WSU QB.
41-10 Washington State.
Time for Coach Leach to get playing time for second and third team players.
Yes, fans got their first look at freshman quarterback Austin Apodaca in a game.
By his third series, Apodoca began to look comfortable playing against a defense that simply wanted to see the clock run out so they could head back home to Cedar City, UT.
No question this Cougar team has improved each week, a significant goal Leach and his staff preach day-in and day-out to his players.
Measurements of progress by Washington State are clear and easy to see.
Turnovers have plagued the Cougar offense in their first two games. Saturday the Cougs turned the ball over just once on the broken play interception.
Though Southern Utah had plenty of size and talent across their offensive line, they managed just 73-yards rushing on 34 carries, averaging just 2.1 yards per try.
While the Cougs amassed 410-yards through the air, SUU could manage just 146.
The WSU offense converted 6-of-13 third down plays and were 2-for-2 when going for it on fourth down. And they scored on 4 of 5 red zone possessions.
Let me do the math for you. WSU defense gave up just 219-yards of total offense, 158 of which came in the first half of play.
In the end, Washington State did what they were supposed to do.
WASHINGTON STATE NOTES
• WSU’s 48 points are the most scored since scoring 59 in a 59-7 win over UNLV in 2011.
• WSU held SUU to 219 yards in total offense, the second straight opponent it has held under 225 yards (USC – 193) in total offense. It’s the first time that has happened in consecutive games since holding Washington to 197 and Baylor to 151 in the Alamo Bowl in 1994.
• Connor Halliday tossed five touchdown passes to up his career total to 30, moving him into eighth in WSU history for career touchdown passes. He passes Marshall Lobbestael (26), Bob Newman (27) and Mark Rypien (28). Jeff Tuel is seventh with 33 career scoring throws.
• Halliday tallied his seventh career 300-yard game and his fifth career four-touchdown game, tying Jason Gesser for second-most all-time, trailing only Ryan Leaf’s six. It was his second career five-touchdown game. Alex Brink holds the WSU record with three career five-touchdown games.
• Vince Mayle made his first career catch and also tallied his first career touchdown catch.
• Kache Palacio made his first career start and registered his first career sack, he recorded a half-sack last season.
• Damante Horton picked off his seventh career pass, recorded his third career interception return for a touchdown, tied for most in WSU history with Jason David (2000-03).
• Cyrus Coen made a career-best 10 tackles.