Aug 31, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach talks with referees during the second half against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium. The Tigers defeated the Cougars 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
Washington State (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) continued their march toward respectability with a solid showing Saturday night shutting out the Idaho Vandals (0-4) by a final score of 42-0.
By any and all measurement, the Cougs played well.
This shouldn’t have been a close game…and it wasn’t.
Sure, the Vandals played with emotion holding out hope to compete with a WSU roster which is clearly superior in terms of athletic ability. But in the end Idaho looked like a team yet to win a game in 2013.
Coach Mike Leach had his team prepared to play 60-minutes of football and his team did just that.
There were palpable emotions emitting from both teams. The way players reacted when it was time to snap the football was significantly different.
Where the Cougars played under control, Idaho showed immaturity as witnessed by the 12 penalties they were flagged for.
Demonstrative emotions weren’t limited to the guys suited up to take the field. There was a significant verbal exchange between the two head coaches when they met midfield after the final whistle blew.
What typically is a congenial moment of mutual respect where combating head coaches shake hands as a gesture of sportsmanship after a ball game turned into something ugly.
It appeared first year Idaho head coach Paul Petrino took exception to Leach putting some of his defensive starters back in the game ostensibly to preserve the shutout. No question Leach wasn’t interested in instigating a war of words. But after Leach offered Petrino, “Good game,” the fireworks began.
This wasn’t a game decided by the coaches, rather the outcome was determined by players.
Specifically, the Cougar defense played aggressive yet controlled football each and every series they were sent out on the turf of Martin Stadium. Once again, the attitude of the WSU defense left no doubt about why they put on the pads.
Fans reacted strongly to the play of their guys who took away virtually every way Idaho attempted to move the ball. The Cougar ‘D’ limited the Vandals to just 253-yards of offense, 82 of which came on their final drive.
And in a game that was a 42-0 blowout, the crowd responded with deafening noise in support of a memorable goal line stand in the waning seconds.
How important was it to stop Idaho from scoring on their final possession with the clock running down?
“I think it’s really important to the players and the coaches,” explained Leach. “Thought they deserved a shutout.”
Coach Petrino probably doesn’t share Leach’s view.
But from a historical perspective, Washington State isn’t known for blanking opponents. Ironically, the last team to by shutout by the Cougs was Idaho in a game played in Seattle back in 2003. And WSU hasn’t shutout anyone in Martin Stadium since beating Louisiana-Lafayette 44-0 in 1999.
“It was electric to play in,” described WSU quarterback Connor Halliday during a post game radio interview when asked by Cougar broadcaster Bud Namek what it was like to hear 31,521 screaming fans who turned out for homecoming. “I’ve never heard it that loud since I’ve been here.”
Halliday was rocky to begin the game, completing just 4 of his first 10 passing attempts. Despite getting four possessions in the first quarter, the Cougar offense produced just one touchdown on a 43-yard catch-and-run by sophomore Gabe Marks who finished the game with career bests of 11 receptions good for 143-yards.
Senior center Elliott Bosch put in plain words the reason the offense sputtered in the opening quarter. “We were trying to score twice on every drive.”
Washington State now has won three of the first four games for a couple of basic reasons. Their defense flies to the ball frustrating opponents and the offense is getting more comfortable with Coach Leach’s Air Raid.
Now having already won more games in 2013 than they did all of last year, what has changed in Pullman?
“I think the biggest difference is our confidence,” explains sophomore running back Jeremiah Laufasa who scored two touchdowns against Idaho.
The understatement analyzing this Cougar victory was voiced by the WSU head man.
"“I thought we got a week better.” – WSU Coach Mike Leach"
Should WSU be able to maintain their focus and work ethic, let the rest of the Pac-12 be placed on alert.
WASHINGTON STATE NOTES
- Connor Halliday tossed four touchdown passes, he now has 34 career touchdown passes, pushing him past Jeff Tuel (33) and into seventh place all-time, Halliday recorded his sixth career 4-touchdown game, tying Ryan Leaf for most all-time. And he recorded his eighth career 300-yard performance, third-most all time by a Cougar quarterback.
- Darryl Monroe made a game-high and career-high 12 tackles
- Xavier Cooper recorded his first sack of the season, finished with 1.5 sacks, now has 4.5 in his career. Cooper made a career high 3.5 tackles-for-loss.
- Leon Brooks had a career-long 51-yard punt return
- Deone Bucannon made five tackles to up his career total to 305, tying Artie Holmes for ninth-most in WSU history. He made three solo stops to up his career solo total to 209, fifth-most in school history. Bucannon recorded his 11th career interception to move into WSU’s all-time top-10, now tied at eighth for most. He also forced a fumble that led to a Cougar touchdown.
- Dom Williams has caught a pass in 10 straight games