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WSU-ASU notes: Robert Taylor’s kickoff return for TD first for Washington State since 2003

Washington State’s Robert Taylor’s earned Pac-12 special teams Player of the Week honors after his 100-yard kickoff return against Ariozona State on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. (Joe Camporeale / Associated Press)

TEMPE, Ariz. – Robert Taylor’s teammates have been ribbing him all year about his preferred social media psuedonym: “Run it back Rob.” After all, the Washington State return man had yet to run one back for a touchdown.

Finally, the nickname fits.

A spin long enough to dry a rain-soaked pair of jeans, an extra burst of speed and needlepoint footwork were what Taylor used to end Washington State’s 13-year kick return scoring drought.

“Man, to be honest it goes by like a blur,” Taylor said. “We had a good game plan going in for kick return, and when I saw that green grass I had to hit it. It was a blur, but it was a blessing.”

Taylor’s 100-yard kickoff return was all about opportune timing. The Cougars were overdue for a score, with a sputtering offense and the Sun Devils having just taken a 14-3 lead. And the Cougars were overdue for their first return touchdown since Sammy Moore ran one back 97 yards against Colorado in 2003.

Taylor, a junior, joined the Cougars this offseason after transferring from the City College of San Francisco. He slowly assumed kick return duties from sophomore receiver Tavares Martin, and has emerged as a starting free safety as well.

Though WSU had gone 13 years without scoring on a kick return, the Cougars have not been entirely deprived of special teams touchdowns. Both Marcellus Pippins and Gerard Wicks recovered fumbled and returned them for touchdowns during WSU’s 56-6 win over Idaho earlier this season.

Mike Leach respectfully declines to comment

A $10,000 fine from the Pac-12 for criticizing a fellow institution was enough to make Mike Leach err on the side of respectfullness to the point of hyperbole. After WSU’s 37-32 win over ASU on Saturday, Mike Leach was asked over and over about ASU’s adjustments, how the Sun Devils found success and whether or not his opponents were actually pilfering signals, as he suggested they would earlier in the week.

In response to each question Leach gave the same lyrical, rhyming, and very respectful answer.

“I respectfully decline to answer at the risk of being publicly reprimanded or fined,” Leach said over and over.

Graham cusses out Leach

ASU coach Todd Graham shook hands with Leach after the game, but was caught on live TV calling out the WSU coach.

“What you did in the newspaper was chicken(excrement),” Graham told Leach. “I always respected you (but) that was bull(excrement).”

Leach just kept walking.

Sun Devils missing starters

Arizona State starting quarterback Manny Wilkins played on Saturday, despite not practicing during the public practices leading up to the game against Washington State.

However, Wilkins appeared to be injured when he was sacked by Shalom Luani on the game’s second drive. He did not return.

Wilkins, who sat earlier this year because of an injury to his lower left leg, did not participate in practice on Tuesday or Wednesday. Thursday’s practice was closed to reporters.

The Sun Devils were not cautious with Wilkins, calling three designed runs for the quarterback on the game’s first drive, including his three-yard touchdown run in which he hurdled WSU cornerback Marcellus Pippins as the defender tried to tackle him in the backfield.

However, the quarterback played behind a makeshift offensive line. Starting center A.J. McCollum and starting left guard Sam Jones were both out for Saturday’s game, leading to a new alignment in which right guard Stephon McCray slid over to left guard. He was called for a false start penalty on the game’s first play.

Right tackle Quinn Bailey slid inside to replace McCray at right guard, while backup Zach Robertson got the start at right tackle.

McCollum, a junior, is a first-year player for the Sun Devils, having previously been the No. 1 ranked junior college center in the country by ESPN and He played at San Francisco City College, where he was a teammate of starting WSU’s Taylor and backup quarterback Aaron Gordon.

Furthermore, starting ASU free safety Armand Perry did not play against the Cougars. Leading receiver Tim White returned the opening kickoff 41 yards, but was leveled at the end of the return and taken to the locker room.

Seahawks in the building

Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider was spotted taking notes on the sideline prior to the game. The Seahawks play nearby on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. The team has drafted only one player from either school during Schneider’s seven drafts at the helm: seventh-round pick Dexter Davis whom the Seahawks drafted out of ASU in the seventh round of the 2010 draft.

Keith Harrington returns

Keith Harrington, the wide receiver turned running back turned back into a wide receiver, suited up for WSU for the first time since the season-opener against Eastern Washington. Harrington had been out with an undisclosed injury.

Hard to beat at home

Entering Saturday’s game, ASU had the third-best home record in the Pac-12 since Todd Graham arrived in 2012. The Sun Devils had won 80.6 percent of their home games, trailing only Stanford (86.7 percent) and Oregon (81.3 percent).