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WSU-PSU notebook:

Running back Jamal Morrow ran the ball on two of WSU’s first three plays, and the Cougars finished with 22 handoffs to running backs. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Running back Jamal Morrow ran the ball on two of WSU’s first three plays, and the Cougars finished with 22 handoffs to running backs. (Tyler Tjomsland)

PULLMAN – Washington State’s running backs never carried the ball more than a dozen times in either of the team’s first two games. Against Portland State they did it by halftime.

The Cougars coaches had expressed a desire to get the backs more involved during the week leading up to the game, and quarterback Connor Halliday – who calls run plays from the line of scrimmage – wasted no time getting the ground game established.

“I’ve done a pretty good job of that in my career but I think last week I didn’t do a very good job,” Halliday said. “That’s my fault so I was going to make it a point to keep them involved early and I think that helped.”

Freshman running back Jamal Morrow ran the ball on two of the team’s first three plays, and the Cougars finished with 22 handoffs to the running backs, 13 of them before the half.

“As a running back that’s the best thing to do is get touches and get into a rhythm,” Morrow said. “So when you get into rhythm the offensive line gets into a rhythm, too, and that’s when the running game becomes dangerous, especially in this offense where we have a dynamic duo between the passing game and the running game.”

The team showed more willingness to rely on the running backs in the red zone than in previous contests. With first-and-goal in the first quarter the Cougars ran the ball on three consecutive plays, with freshman Gerard Wicks finishing the drive with a one-yard touchdown run.

The Cougars added a new wrinkle on those final runs offensively, bringing in offensive linemen B.J. Salmonson and Jacob Seydel at tight end in order to give the backs more blockers.

“It’s always fun to run the ball as an offensive lineman,” left guard Gunnar Eklund said. “That’s what we like to do – run around and push people off the ball. That’s kind of been the emphasis this week is we’ve got to get better running the ball. If we don’t run the ball better we’re not going to win games and it starts up front with us.”

The red zone may be Wicks’ domain, in the way that Jeremiah Laufasa became the team’s go-to ball carrier last season once the Cougars were inside their opponent’s 20-yard line. Wicks got two of three red zone carries for the backs, and was rewarded with the first career touchdown by either of the freshmen.

Morrow added a 53-yard reception. He also had what appeared to be a 20-yard catch-and-run negated by a holding penalty.

Falk’s first pass

Backup quarterback Luke Falk entered the game when it was well in hand late in the fourth quarter, and while the freshman former walk-on played one snap against Rutgers – a handoff – Saturday was his first chance to throw a live pass.

It was OK, a two-yarder to Rickey Galvin. But with that out of the way he made his next memorable, an 84-yard bomb to Dom Williams who was streaking downfield and ran untouched into the end zone.

“It was funny because Dom and I were joking that if we get in I’m going to throw him a vertical and it just so happened that that was the guy I went to and it was a good play by him,” Falk said.

Cracraft returns

Receiver River Cracraft missed the Nevada game with an undisclosed injury but showed no rust against the Vikings, starting the game and making seven catches for 88 yards and a touchdown.

His backup, Robert Lewis, played well against the Wolf Pack in his first career start. On Saturday he finished with four receptions for 26 yards.

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