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Cougars come together to thump Portland State in Pullman opener

UPDATED: Sat., Sept. 13, 2014

PULLMAN – Whether or not the offense or the defense played better on Saturday night will be a subject of debate in the Washington State locker room this week. Ultimately, the Cougars coaches will just be glad the two sides finally played well in the same game, combining to give WSU a 59-21 victory over Portland State before 30,874 fans attending the team’s home opener and first win of the season. The Cougars have shown the ability to play well enough to win on both sides of the ball. But when the offense excelled, the defense struggled in the loss to Rutgers. Against Nevada the opposite was true. “I thought we took a step today. We have to keep getting better but the biggest thing is we had a game and it looked like what we see in practice every day,” coach Mike Leach said. “So we’ve got to keep maintaining that just focusing on single plays, individual plays, individual effort and individually competing on each snap, which I thought they did. Nothing about it was perfect and it very much resembled practice.” Washington State (1-2) traded punts with the visitors to start the game, then put together a methodical, 14-play drive that culminated in a one-yard touchdown run by running back Gerard Wicks. The Cougars scored the game’s next 21 points on touchdown passes to River Cracraft, Dom Williams and Vince Mayle, taking a 28-0 lead into the half. Against an admittedly overmatched Big Sky opponent, the Cougars had the upper hand in every phase of the game. Washington State’s defense held the Vikings to 14 points, PSU collecting its other score on an interception that was returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Rickey Galvin’s 44-yard punt return was the special teams highlight of the day, and freshman punter Jordan Dascalo continued his steady play with a 45.0 yards-per-punt average and a pair of kicks downed inside PSU’s 20-yard line. “Every team, offense, defense, special teams and the sideline, you all feed off each other,” offensive lineman Gunnar Eklund said. “On offense, when we do something good it pumps up the special teams and when the special teams does something good the defense gets rolling and when we get rolling that’s when we have things go like they did tonight.” While the Vikings, who bussed back to Portland immediately after the game, looked every bit the overmatched opponent against a Pac-12 school, that wasn’t the case two weeks ago when PSU had Oregon State on upset alert well into the third quarter. Quarterback Connor Halliday put up gaudy numbers indicative of an offense that completely figured out its opponent, or at least one with a receiver having the kind of night that Isiah Myers did on Saturday. Portland State’s defensive backs challenged the WSU receivers at the line of scrimmage on passing plays, attempting to throw off the timing between Halliday and his receivers. It didn’t work. Halliday finished 41 of 62 for 544 yards and six touchdowns, with two interceptions, including one on a deep throw with 12 seconds left in the half. “Their (way of playing) is come up and press man and I respect them for that, but if you’re going to play a team that throws it 60-70 times a game and is successful, bad things are going to happen for you,” Myers said. Myers had 227 of those receiving yards, and three of the touchdowns. His final score, the last of the game, was a 55-yard catch that saw him beat out cornerback Aaron Sibley in the air for the ball, then hurdle the fallen DB before out racing the defense to the end zone. The only complaint for the Cougars is that they allowed Portland State a little momentum to start the second half. The Vikings scored on their first drive of the third quarter to get on the scoreboard, and then scored again after forcing a three-and-out. A Xavier Cooper sack ended PSU’s next drive and the Vikings offense didn’t enter the end zone for the rest of the game. “It’s big for us but we’re not satisfied,” said cornerback Daquawn Brown, who had 10 tackles and broke up five passes. “We gave up one fluke touchdown where we just had a blown coverage. Stuff like that isn’t supposed to happen … it’s just the small things we have to fix and those points could easily be erased off the scoreboard.” Halliday now has 70 touchdown passes in his career, which ties him with former WSU quarterback Jason Gesser at No. 14 on the Pac-12 all-time list, and No. 2 in school history. While catching Matt Barkley’s 116 career touchdown tosses may be difficult, Halliday just needs eight more this season to overtake John Elway for No. 2 in career touchdown passes among conference quarterbacks.
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