Last week it was quarterback Luke Falk. This week it was Peyton Pelluer.
Washington State’s two fifth-year senior leaders didn’t finish the Cougars’ last two games.
Falk left the triple overtime win against Boise State in the second half. Tyler Hilinski led the three-touchdown comeback.
Pelluer, whose interception return for a touchdown keyed that rally and helped him win the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the week award, left the 52-23 win over the Beavers late in the second quarter. He never returned.
What Falk is to the offense, Pelluer is to the defense. Not just the brains, but the heart as well.
The middle linebacker is a classic over-achiever, a fourth-generation legacy who used to run around the broadcast booth when his dad Scott, one of the better linebackers in WSU history, was doing radio.
He was third in the Pac-12 in tackles last season and is fourth this season.
But he wasn’t on the field when Ryan Nall broke four tackles in the middle of the field en route to a 45-yard, third-quarter rushing touchdown, the longest – by 26 yards – the Cougars have yielded this season.
Pelluer isn’t just a sure tackler. He’s also an always-in-the-correct-gap type of guy. And the defender who makes sure his teammates are in the right spot as well.
The defensive quarterback, if you will.
As per usual, Pelluer’s status wasn’t made readily available, if it ever will. All we know is he wasn’t in the game after halftime and was not visible on the sidelines.
Nate DeRider, the former walk-on, filled in before halftime. After, coordinator Alex Grinch made some adjustments and WSU showed some different looks, with usual backup weakside backer Jahad Woods in the middle.
In most cases, the adjustments worked. But Pelluer was missed.
Luton leaves with injury
Jake Luton’s return to the Palouse was going pretty well until he scrambled with 11 minutes, 40 seconds left in the game. He was hit by Jalen Thompson, with the WSU’s safety’s shoulder making contact with Luton’s head.
Luton was down and didn’t get up.
The medical staffs from both teams rushed out. After more than 10 minutes of work on the field, Luton was immobilized and taken off on a cart, his family walking behind.
The former Idaho quarterback was 22 for 35 passing for 179 yards. He also rushed for 22 yards despite being sacked twice.
Offensive line greases the way
The week began with Cougar coach Mike Leach calling out his highly touted offensive line. The term “grease spot” was used, as in what would be left if the toughest Cougar lineman were in a brawl.
So Leach allowed his offensive line the opportunity to prove him wrong against Oregon State, right?
Not in the usual sense. The normal narrative with O-lines is they prove their mettle in the mano-a-mano running-game battles. Line it up and shove the defense back time and time again.
But that has never been the Leach Way.
Against OSU, the Cougars threw 16 passes before they ever tried a run. And that’s against a Beaver defense that came in 116th out 129 NCAA FBS teams in rush defense.
Still, the first WSU run came with 10:45 left in the second quarter. Andre Dillard and Cody O’Connell greased the way and James Williams exploded for 27 yards down the left sideline.
In all the Cougars running backs carried the ball three times for 31 yards before halftime. They finished with 76 yards on 13 carries, most after the game was decided.
Leach continues tradition of winning the third game of the season
Much was made before the season of Leach never having won an opener in Pullman.
That ended with the 31-0 rout of Montana State two weeks ago.
The flip side of that? Leach’s Cougars have never lost the third game of the season.
Some have been close, like his first year when WSU held off UNLV 35-27 in Las Vegas.
But most have been blowouts, including last year’s 56-8 destruction of bowl-bound Idaho.
The average margin? 45-16. Up until Saturday’s relatively easy win, they all had been non-conference games.
The win-the-third-game tradition may have begun when Leach was at Texas Tech.
In his 10 years at Tech, Leach never lost the third game of the season. In Lubbock. The Red Raiders won all five times they played at home in his tenure.
Overall, Leach’s TTU squads won six and lost four, all but one of the losses against ranked teams.
Twice the Red Raiders lost at Texas, both times when the Longhorns were ranked in the top five. They also lost non-conference battles at 20th-ranked TCU and at North Carolina State.