PULLMAN – Well, what can these Cougars do for an encore?
Last week’s triple-overtime win over Boise State – Washington State came back from 21 in the fourth quarter to stun the Broncos, if you happened to be off the grid – churned the heart more than the heart is meant to be churned. The season is only two weeks old, but already the Cougars could probably use one of those low-key afternoon games against a lesser opponent to iron out the kinks and reset before things ramp up again.
Even better, they have two of those very games on the docket – and in succession.
First up is Oregon State (1-2, 0-0). The Beavers are seemingly free-falling into Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. game against the No. 21 Cougars (2-0, 0-0) and are pegged by Vegas oddsmakers as a three-touchdown underdog.
So if you want some more suspense on your Saturday, Village Centre Cinemas down the road might be a better bet than Martin Stadium.
The Beavers have yet to see any of the conference’s “Fab Four” quarterbacks and already they’re allowing teams to score 46 points per game. So this would seem like a mighty good time for the Cougars to fix the mechanical issues that have precluded Luke Falk and his receivers from enjoying the downfield passing success that’s always been second-nature for their offense.
Falk, now the school’s all-time leader in passing yards and total offense, managed just 193 yards through the air last Saturday against Boise State. He threw an interception and, for the second time in his career, he didn’t contribute a touchdown.
But one of the senior’s best assets is his ability to flush the worst moments and move on to better ones. The Beavers have had a field-side view for some of Falk’s best. The WSU gunslinger has thrown for 400-plus yards in each of his three games against OSU, is stunningly accurate (77 percent) against the Beavers and has tossed 16 touchdowns with just two interceptions.
“He’s focused on this game now and it’s been that way since (Monday) night,” said senior linebacker Peyton Pelluer, a roommate of Falk’s.
“Luke is pretty much level-headed no matter what type of game he had,” said junior inside receiver Kyle Sweet, another roommate. “You’d never know.”
But the onus to get the offense right isn’t squarely on the shoulders of QB1.
Mike Leach, after verbally roasting the offensive line during his Monday press conference, is hopeful the unit can adjust its toughness meter this week. Saturday’s game presents a fine opportunity to do so. Oregon State has allowed opponents to rush for 245 yards per game and the Beavers are some of the worst in the country at penetrating the quarterback. Three games in, they’re still looking for their first sack.
If WSU’s O-line becomes the subject of another Leach rant this coming Monday, then the Cougars are really having issues.
“Last year… we didn’t hit stride until game three,” WSU offensive line coach Clay McGuire said. “You could say game three, even game four, is when we really hit stride as a unit. This group, they have a lot of experience, but they haven’t played together. This is a new O-line.”
The Cougars are far from a finished product, but they’re 2-0 and in that regard, everything they expected to be through two weeks. The Beavers are 1-2 and have been outgained in all three of their contests. Really, they were one Portland State self-destruction away from being 0-3 with a loss to the FCS.
It’s a full-on identity crisis in Corvallis right now.
“I would say right now offensively, we don’t have a tremendous identity,” OSU coach Gary Andersen said Monday. “We don’t have the ability to consistently throw it or consistently run it and we’ve got to be able to find that and get the right kids in the right spots to get better.”
Getting better is awfully difficult when, in a four-week span, you see No. 21 WSU, No. 6 UW, No. 4 USC and Colorado (receiving Top 25 votes). That’s what the Beavers have to look forward to.
And WSU? Well, OSU and Nevada should at least help bring the heart rate down before the Trojans come to town in a few weeks for another potential thriller.