After disappointing back-to-back losses to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Nevada Wolf Pack WSU took care of business at home beating Portland State 59-21 in front of an energized crowd at Martin Stadium. Connor Halliday torched the Viking’s defense completing 41 of 62 passes for 544 yards, six touchdowns, and two interceptions. To be technical, Halliday averaged one interception after 30 passes. Nine receivers accounted for a total of 544 yards through the air; however, senior wide receiver Isiah Myers and junior wide receiver Dom Williams combined for a total of 339 yards and 5 touchdowns.
The passing game is the primary reason why WSU won. However, the running game kept the defense off balance to open the passing game. A pair of freshmen running backs Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow rushed for 88 yards producing a touchdown, Wicks accounted for the touchdown.
WSU’s defense is a tale of two halves. The first half telling the story of zero points. PSU quarterback Kieran McDonagh had no answer to WSU’s defense. The second half PSU won the battle earning 21 points. McDonagh and senior wide receiver Alex Toureen matched each other for seven catches ending with 100 yards and one touchdown. McDonagh’s final stat line, 31 completed passes in 51 attempts for 269 yards, one touchdown and one interception caused by freshman corner back Charleston White. Senior running back Shaquille Richard ran the ball for 68 yards including one touchdown off of 11 carries.
Instead of heading into week four against Oregon 3-0 as many cougar fans suspected, the reality is a 1-3 record. Despite having one win, WSU improved in certain areas to pick up not only a much needed win but perhaps optimism heading into the coming weeks of college football. The passing game will receive all of the headlines however; the running game is a huge reason as to why the passing game became effective against Portland State. Through the first two weeks WSU earned a total of 44 rushing yards. No matter the type of quarterback and the arsenal he provides, a running game needs to be present. By not establishing a running game an offense will be predictable and vulnerable. If WSU is to have any chance of upsetting Oregon the running game has to be established.
WSU’s defense is very young. Viewers may already have observed this due to the amount of penalties caused. The Nevada and Rutgers game resulted in 19 penalties for 149 yards. The Portland State game provided progression of improvement with seven penalties for 70 yards. If WSU keeps the penalties down by not giving up free yards that is a second box to check in preparation for the Oregon game next week. On the subject of free yards, WSU did not provide PSU any second chances in the fumble category. Should WSU keep the momentum in that category a third box is checked for the Oregon game.
After reading the three areas of improvement: established a running game, cut down on penalties and zero fumbles, readers may wonder, “When is he going to talk about the interceptions?” Interceptions are crucial toward tipping the momentum in a favor of a team. However, interceptions are expected to happen in an Air Raid offense. It is expected for Halliday to throw one or two interceptions a game when he throws the ball sixty or seventy times a game. How do you cut down the interceptions? This goes back to my point of establishing the running game. If the running game is clicking the offense does not become one-dimensional. Doing so, Halliday will be less prone to interceptions and trying to do too much at once.
If all three areas are checked off next week maybe WSU still ends week four 1-4. When playing the number two team in the country you need a lot of things to go your way and a lot of luck. However, a win against other PAC-12 opponents is not out of the question. Turn back to last year when WSU stunned the city of Los Angeles beating #25 USC 10-7, or wins against Arizona and Utah. If you start to look at the cougar’s situation in this scenario then a bowl game is still possible. Perhaps a game against Oregon is too to a lesser extent.
Written By Matthew Segal