PULLMAN – The first half of Saturday’s 52-31 win over Oregon State was absolution attained for Washington State.
The second half was merely survival.
When it was over and the 32,952 fans in attendance were customarily clogging U.S. Route 195, the Cougars had attained an imperfect victory that was perfectly timed for the home team and its fans.
The WSU (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) offense gorged throughout the first half, roaring its way to 45 points before heading to the locker room recess. A second-quarter series that ended with a field goal was the team’s worst drive before halftime.
“You’ve got to be able to do it for 60 minutes,” Mike Leach said. “But it was pretty explosive there for a while. I thought that was really good and I thought the defense was playing together. That first half, other than the kick return –offense, defense and special teams all played together very well.”
Oh, there were blemishes. There was another kickoff returned for a score against the Cougars, a WSU punt was blocked and there was even, rarely, an incomplete pass.
But the mostly domi
Oregon State’s last unanswered prayers during Saturday’s first-half onslaught were spent in the second quarter, when the Beavers desperately tried to surprise the Cougars with a fake punt and an onside kick, both of which failed.
The issue for the Cougars is that when OSU realized the outcome was effectively decided, the home team did, too. While the Cougars were never in danger of losing the game, by being outscored 14-7 in the second half they missed a valuable opportunity to improve.
“I think there’s a sense of relaxation,” Leach said. “That’s human nature that we have to have the discipline and mental toughness to avoid.”
All of WSU’s offensive characters were in on the first-half binge. Running backs Keith Harrington and Gerard Wicks each had carries go for 18 yards. Fellow back Jamal Morrow caught a pair of touchdown passes.
Falk, who was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week after making his starting debut against OSU last season, again binged on the Beavers. He completed 39 of 50 passes for 407 yards and tied the school record with six touchdown passes, all in the first half.
His favorite target was Dom Williams, who had 11 catches, 158 yards and two touchdowns, accounting for a sizable fraction of Falk’s superlative statistics. Williams also keyed downfield blocks on big plays such as Morrow’s 22-yard touchdown reception early in the second quarter.
Gabe Marks, who earlier this week was named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list, had a typical, productive day with six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.
While Falk and his fellows were pushing the score, hard-hitting safety Shalom Luani continued to put opponents on notice that the back end of the WSU defense is unfriendly territory. Luani was second on the team with 10 tackles, typically punishing ones, and had two fourth-quarter interceptions.
WSU’s disappointing field goal in the first half would have been the offense’s most successful drive in the second. The Cougars averaged a blistering 8.9 yards per play in the first half and a meager 4.2 in the second.
After throwing 11 career touchdowns against OSU, Falk finally threw a pass that was intercepted by the Beavers. WSU’s offense, so blisteringly effective through one half, was shut out in the second.
“You can feel it,” Marks said. “You have to try to force the energy to get back up in whatever way you can, but you can definitely feel it when everyone’s just trying to go through the motions and stuff and the intensity’s not the same as it was in the first half.”
OSU quarterback Seth Collins was 17 for 30 for 176 yards and a touchdown, with two interceptions. But the true freshman showed his moxie, netting 124 yards on 23 carries, including a sack, and scoring a touchdown with his feet.
“He’s a stud,” WSU linebacker Peyton Pelluer said. “They put him in position to make plays and he made some on us. He’s a great player and it was fun to play him and that Oregon State offense for the rest of the season.”
Neither team scored in the third quarter. Because rushing the ball was OSU’s only effective offense, the clock ticked quickly in the second half. The Beavers were on the doorstep of the end zone with 10:50 left in the game, but WSU’s defense held on fourth down, celebrating as they sprinted off the field.
Falk’s special day was diminished somewhat when he threw second-half interceptions to linebacker Rommel Mageo and safety Brandon Arnold. OSU cut the lead to three scores with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Collins to Jordan Villamin following Falk’s second giveaway.
After the pickoff, Leach made Falk, Marks, and offensive linemen Riley Sorenson and Joe Dahl do up-downs.
“It’s just skill development,” Leach said. “You’re always working on your skills … no time like the present.”
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