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Three takeaways: Washington State’s Mike Leach gets his first season-opening win with Cougars

Washington State quarterback Luke Falk (4) listens to coach Mike Leach during the first half against Montana State on Saturday. Falk has demonstrated a mastery of the relatively simple shovel pass, but not all of the coach’s quarterbacks have. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State quarterback Luke Falk (4) listens to coach Mike Leach during the first half against Montana State on Saturday. Falk has demonstrated a mastery of the relatively simple shovel pass, but not all of the coach’s quarterbacks have. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Mike Leach has won 114 games in his head-coaching career. There have been upsets, routs, last-second wins, tough comebacks.

But up until Saturday night, his teams at Washington State had yet to win a season opener. Call it the most glaring hole in his WSU resume.

Leach has been successful in Pullman – yes, his record is just 30-34 but he has taken the Cougars to three bowls in six seasons. Yet he was 0-5 in openers. And some of the defeats, including home losses to Big Sky Conference schools the past two years, have been downright embarrassing.

A solid 31-0 win over Montana State doesn’t wash all that away, but it does cleanse the palate some. And may set up the Cougars for an even more successful 2017.

Though there has been an argument to be made the success WSU experienced the last two seasons was in some part fueled by the season-opening losses.

There won’t be that sour-taste motivation to tap this year.

The #SpeedD #ShowedUp

When WSU’s defensive coaches sign off their tweets, they use the hashtag SpeedD. It underscores defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s commitment to playing fast.

And that doesn’t mean being able to run like Usain Bolt, though that’s part of it.

The Cougars have recruited faster players since Grinch’s took over three years ago. That’s a given.

But he expects them to make quicker decisions as well, and then use their speed to sprint to the ball.

They did that against the Bobcats. The reactions came quickly and, for the most part, to the right spot.

Against a run-first quarterback like MSU’s Chris Murray, staying true to your assignment is crucial. As one might expect from a team with nine upperclassmen starting, the Cougar defense did a good job containing Murray’s lanes.

The sophomore, who was the Big Sky freshman of the year, struggled to find gaps to exploit. His longest run was 17 yards – he finished with 55 on 17 carries – and that came only after new nickelback Hunter Dale whiffed a tackle in the backfield.

There weren’t many of those. Grinch’s speedy defense limited the Bobcats to 143 yards.

FS1’s busted coverage

Finally, one of the main reasons the Pac-12 plays as many night games as it does is for better television exposure. It’s an understandable goal, even if it cuts into the live crowds throughout the conference.

Fox Sports had Saturday night’s game, scheduling the nonconference matchup for a 7:30 start on its cable channel, FS1.

That was the plan anyway.

Scheduled in the time slot before was the baseball game between the Los Angeles Angels and the Texas Rangers. Baseball is a sport that prides itself on not having a clock.

Or keeping to one. The Angels scored twice in the top of the ninth inning to tie the score at 4, extending an already lengthy game. The FS1 audience wasn’t leaving.

The Cougar game, which started at 7:35 p.m., was moved to FS2, which has about as much coverage as a broken umbrella.

As Luke Falk shoveled an 11-yard touchdown pass to James Williams to tie Connor Halliday’s school record of 90 in a career, many Cougar fans were unable to watch it.

Nor did they see Falk’s 6-yard toss to Tavares Martin Jr. that broke the record with about 11 minutes before halftime.

Ironically, DirectTV, which doesn’t have a carriage agreement with the Pac-12 Networks, does carry FS2. So folks with that provider could see the opening minutes. Others? Not so much.

So where did the jilted Cougar fans go to complain as the Angels worked for their 7-4, 10-inning victory? Social media, of course.

It’s the new American way. Unlike the past two years, however, they weren’t complaining about a WSU season-opening loss to a FCS team.