PULLMAN – Who would be able to mitigate the slop the most?
That was the question of the hour by the time Colorado’s Davis Price teed up the opening kick Saturday night and it only became more pressing and pertinent as stormy got stormier, putting a literal damper on Washington State’s Homecoming game.
Nasty wind and buckets of rain formed quite the combination on a night when the Cougars already another dual-threat to worry about: Colorado quarterback Steven Montez.
But by the start of the third quarter, Montez was no longer a concern for WSU – Alex Grinch’s “Speed D” was playing with such vigor, CU coach Mike MacIntyre yanked the only QB who’s started for him this year – and the Cougars had all but conquered Mother Nature, as well. Not completely, but at least more than the Buffaloes, and that’s really all that mattered as WSU ran off with its seventh win of the year, 28-0, in front of an announced crowd of 31,461 that probably teetered between 1,000-2,000 by the time the game ended.
“The first half, I thought (the weather) affected it a lot,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “I thought the first half it did a lot of swirling rain and when the wind laid down a little bit – the second half was like some practices around here. The first half was pretty extreme.”
The Cougars improved to 7-1 overall, 4-1 in the Pac-12 and 6-0 inside Martin Stadium, which had hosted WSU five times in the month of September but not in 24 days since the upset of then No. 5 USC.
For the Cougars offense, it was a game of ups and downs. Or rather, it was one of up-downs. After consecutive three-and-outs in the third quarter, Leach ordered every offensive player not named Luke Falk to perform football’s least favorite exercise on the sideline. Falk struck a nice deal with his coach and only had to do crunches.
“You go three-and-out two times in a row, you’ll probably do up-downs again,” Leach said. “As a matter of fact, we might even multiply them since we had to do them today.”
Luckily, the Cougars didn’t need to hit too many high notes on offense to come out with No. 7. Granted, there were still a few.
Falk wasn’t terribly accurate, completing just 17 passes – four fewer than his previous career-low (Idaho, 2016) – while attempting only 34, which matched a career-low (Boise State, 2017). But even while passing for only 197 yards, the second-lowest total of his four-year stint at WSU, the senior broke a few conference records, becoming the Pac-12’s all-time leader in both total offense – his legs helped him get there on this night – and pass attempts.
Those accolades aren’t as near and dear to Falk as becoming the Cougars all-time winningest QB, which he also did on Saturday, leaping Jason Gesser with victory No. 25.
Falk will no longer be available to WSU after this season, and he’s doing his best to ensure the Air Raid offense is still humming once he leaves. So it didn’t hurt that his three touchdown passes were caught by a true freshman, a redshirt freshman and a redshirt sophomore.
Tay Martin is the true freshman. He caught four passes for 78 yards and scored his first career touchdown in the second quarter, shaking off the Colorado defender assigned to him and outracing another for a 50-yard scoring catch.
“He just goes 100 percent all the time,” Falk said of Martin. “In practice, it’s going to be just like game speed. There’s no dropoff and he’s a fearless guy. He goes out there and just lays it all on the line. The touchdown I had to him is just the same look I get in practice.”
Martin’s spent most of the season in the shadow of another outside receiver with the same first initial and identical last name. Tavares Martin Jr., the junior wideout who leads the Cougars in most receiving categories, was serving a one-game suspension Saturday, and his backup, C.J. Dimry, didn’t rise to the occasion soon enough. That’s when Martin pounced.
Then walk-on Brandon Arconado decided he wanted in, hauling in an 18-yard touchdown five minutes before halftime, and Renard Bell made it three TDs for underclassmen receivers, corraling Falk’s pass on an end-zone slant in the fourth quarter.
In this particular game, Falk was not the quarterback expected to casually leg out first downs, but he took off a few times on Saturday and broke off a career-long rush of 16 yards, while running six more times for 56 total yards gained.
“It felt good, the holes just kind of opened and it felt like I had 4.4 speed back there at times,” Falk laughed.
The natural scrambler on the opposite sideline had a much rougher go of things.
Montez completed 4-of-13 passes, but to do that he had to salvage an especially awful start that saw him miss on his first seven attempts. Often times, his balls were caught up in the windy rain and spit out nowhere near the intended target. The Cougars closed up the running lanes CU’s QB usually escapes through and filled up the box with defenders – a tactic that also helped WSU cool off Buffs tailback Phillip Lindsay.
Lindsay entered Martin Stadium with 11 touchdowns and left with that many after the Cougars held him to 98 yards on 25 carries. In his previous two games, the senior had amassed more than 460 yards.
“We talk about playing downhill football and making sure we get both disruption and production,” defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “Obviously in conditions like that, I think it’s important to start fast that way, to kind of establish yourself defensively in terms of playing physical and being in the backfield.”
WSU held the Buffaloes to just 94 yards in the air and 125 on the ground. Colorado finished with 174 yards of offense, but 406 punting yards.
“I guess maybe it’s safe eight games in to give them some credit,” Grinch said of the defense.