Cougars start road slate against Oregon - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Cougars start road slate against Oregon

No. 11 WSU looks to move to 6-0 this season. Photo: Washington State Athletics No. 11 WSU looks to move to 6-0 this season. Photo: Washington State Athletics
By Washington State Athletics
5 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 7  •  FOX
Autzen Stadium (54,000)  •  Eugene, Ore.

No. 11 Washington State (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) hits the road for the first time in 2017 for a matchup at Oregon (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) Saturday. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. on FOX.

Oregon leads the all-time series 47-40-7 but the Cougars have claimed the last two meetings including a 51-33 victory in Pullman last season. WSU is 17-20-4 all-time in Eugene after posting a 45-38 double-overtime win in Eugene in 2015. Washington State is looking to defeat Oregon three straight seasons for the first time since 1982-84 and post back-to-back wins in Eugene for the first time since 1982 and 1984. Head coach Mike Leach is 2-3 all-time against Oregon and 1-1 in Eugene. Oregon defensive line coach Joe Salave'a spent the previous five seasons as the Cougars Associate Head Coach/ defensive line coach.

Washington State is 5-0 for the first time since 2001 and enters the week ranked No. 11, its highest ranking since finishing the 2003 season No. 9. WSU owns the nation's second-best passing attack and the country's No. 11 rated defense that has forced 12 turnovers, sixth-most in the country, and recorded 17 sacks, ninth-most in the country. Last season, Washington State went 8-5 overall including a 7-2 mark in Pac-12 Conference play en route to a trip to the Holiday Bowl. WSU rattled off eight-straight wins, seven coming during Pac-12 play. Head coach Mike Leach is his sixth season at WSU, owns a 118-71 mark in his 16-year coaching career including a 34-34 record with the Cougars and is the first coach in school history to lead WSU to three bowl games in his first five seasons.

•  WSU is off to its first 5-0 start since 2001, last started 6-0 in 2001 (started 7-0, finished 10-2 and Sun Bowl win)
•  WSU owns 15 Pac-12 wins in the last three seasons, tied with USC for 2nd-most in the Pac-12 (Stanford-16)
•  Under head coach Mike Leach, WSU has recorded 10 fourth-quarter comebacks in his 5+ seasons
•  WSU's shutout win over Montana State was the first shutout since 2013 (Idaho, 42-0)
•  WSU is one of three Pac-12 teams with two shutouts in the last five seasons (Stanford, Washington)
•  WSU has scored 3 defensive touchdowns this season, tied for 3rd-most in FBS, most by WSU since 2013 (5)
•  WSU owns an 17-3 record when forcing multiple turnovers under defensive coordinator Alex Grinch
•  WSU is tied for 7th in country with 17 sacks, No. 15 in the country with 38 tackles-for-loss (2nd in Pac-12)

•  Head Coach Mike Leach owns 34 wins at WSU, fifth-most in program history (Jim Sutherland - 37, 1956-63)
•  Leach is the first Cougar head to coach to reach three bowl games in his first five seasons
•  QB Luke Falk is the NCAA's active career leader in passing yds (12,611), TD (105), yds/g (350.3), total off (12,308)
•  DL Hercules Mata'afa owns 34.5 career TFL's and 16.5 career sacks, both lead all active Pac-12 players
•  WR Tavares Martin Jr. shares the national lead with seven receiving touchdowns, six in last three games
•  RB James Williams is tied for 5th in the country and shares the Pac-12 lead with 40 receptions (all players)
•  K Erik Powell is fifth in WSU history with 39 career field goals, 3rd in FG percentage at 70.9
•  Powell and LB Jahad Woods each earned Pac-12 Player of the Week, Special Teams and Defense, respectively
•  Keith Harrington paces team with six special teams tackles (4 KR, 2 PR)

Dating back to the beginning of the 2004 season, ESPN's College GameDay has had the WSU flag appear throughout the show. The streak is now at 199 after the appearance at Virginia Tech last weekend. Two flags – Ol' Crimson and Gray – have been flown in the background of the GameDay set by dozens of friends and alumni. The Gray flag was added in 2014 after Whitey was retired in honor of Steve Gleason's "No White Flags." WSU recognized the GameDay flag wavers in a pregame ceremony prior to the Montana State game in 2010. In addition to the flags that fly, there is a traveling flag signed by the holders after each episode. The traveling flag is retired after each season, the first of which is hanging in WSU's Alumni Center.

Washington State moved up five more spots to No. 11 in the Associated Press Top-25 and the Coaches Poll, the highest WSU ranking since finishing the 2003 season No. 9. The Cougars last played a game ranked this high when they entered the 2003 Apple Cup No. 8. The Cougars opened the 2017 season ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press Preseason Top-25, the first time appearing in a preseason poll since 2002 (No. 11). WSU appeared in the national rankings four times last season, reaching as high as No. 20 following the win over California.

Kicker Erik Powell and linebacker Jahad Woods each garnered Pac-12 Conference Player of the Week awards, conference commissioner Larry Scott announced Monday. Powell was named the Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week and Woods as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week, the first time WSU has claimed two conference weekly honors in the same week since Erik Coleman did so in 2003. Coleman earned both Pac-10 Defensive and Special Teams Player of the Week following the Cougars 31-13 win over No. 12 UCLA (10 tackles, 2 INT, 2 FF). Powell earned his first career weekly accolade after connecting on all three of his field attempts (44, 33, 32) with the 32-yarder proving to be the game-winner with 1:40 remaining. Powell, a redshirt-senior from Vancouver, Wash., also tallied four touchbacks on his seven kickoffs to become the first WSU kicker to receive the honor since Andrew Furney in 2012 (Apple Cup). Woods earned his first career weekly accolade after making a game-high nine tackles and forcing a fumble on his sack of Sam Darnold that was recovered by Derek Moore to seal up the win. Woods, a redshirt-freshman from San Diego, was part of a Cougar defense that tallied five tackles-for-loss, forced two turnovers and held the Trojans to a season-low 327 yards of total offense. Woods is the second Cougar to earn Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week this season after Peyton Pelluer earned the award following the win over Boise State.

Washington State received big plays from all three phases to post a 30-27 win over No. 5 USC last Friday in Pullman. It was WSU's first win over a Top-5 team since beating No. 5 Texas in the 2003 Holiday Bowl and first over a Top-5 team in the regular season since beating No. 5 Washington in the 1992 Apple Cup, also in Pullman. WSU saw running back Jamal Morrow rush for 91 yards and score two touchdowns (1 rush, 1 rec) while Luke Falk threw for 340 yards and two touchdowns. The Cougar defense held USC to just 327 yards of total offense, its lowest output since its 2016 opener against Alabama. WSU recorded five tackles-for-loss, picked off Sam Darnold once and forced a fumble off of Jahad Woods' strip-sack to seal up the win. Kicker Erik Powell connected on all three of his field goal attempts (44, 33, 32) with the last coming as the game-winner with 1:40 remaining.

Down 31-10 to Boise State midway through the fourth quarter, Washington State rallied with 21 points in the final eight minutes to send the game into overtime. Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Tyler Hilinski got things going with a 17-yard touchdown strike to freshman Jamire Calvin to make it 31-17. Four plays later, Peyton Pelluer picked off an errant BSU pass and raced 39 yards for the score, cutting the deficit to 31-24. With under three minutes left in regulation, WSU was forced to punt but Erik Powell's punt landed on a Bronco blocker and redshirt-freshman Dillon Sherman jumped on the fumble. Three plays later, Hilinski found Morrow for a six-yard touchdown pass, evening the game at 31. In the third overtime, Hilinski again hit Morrow in the flat and Morrow scampered 22 yards before leaping over the left corner of the end zone for the game-winner. WSU matched the largest fourth-quarter comeback set back in 1984 after WSU trailed 42-21 to start the final period, scored 28 points behind a touchdown run from Mark Rypien, one from Rueben Mayes, a  53-yard scoring pass from Rypien to Mayes and finally a 22-yard touchdown run by Mayes to win 49-42 at Stanford.

Washington State has seen 25 players make their debuts this season. 18 freshmen have made their first career appearance including six true freshmen, Jamire Calvin (WR), George Hicks III (CB), Tay Martin (WR), Zaire Webb (ST), Dominick Silvels (LB) and Will Rodgers III (DL). Four players also recorded their first career starts, Renard Bell (H), Isaiah Johnson-Mack (Z), Fred Mauigoa (C) and Hunter Dale (Nickel), all started the season-opener.

The Washington State Air Raid offense has taken off to new heights the past couple weeks and enter the week with the nation's second-best passing attack (414.0), fourth in 3rd-down conversions (53.8%) and No. 20 in scoring (41.0). The Cougars have scored 30+ points in five straight games for the first time since the 2001 team reached that mark six times. Last season, WSU finished third in the country in passing offense (362.5) and set a program single-season records for the most touchdowns scored (67) and points (496). The Cougar passing attack led the country in passing in 2015 (389.5) and 2014 (477.7), was fourth in 2013 (368.4) and eighth in 2012 (330.4). WSU has led the Pac-12 in passing in all five seasons under head coach Mike Leach, except in 2013 (second behind Cal).

Redshirt-senior Luke Falk entered the 2017 season named to the preseason watch lists for the Maxwell Award (Player of the Year), Davey O'Brien (Top Quarterback), Johnny Unitas Golden Arm (Top QB - senior or 4th year junior) and Walter Camp Player of the Year. Last season, the All-Pac-12 second-team selection was a finalist for the Manning Award, Johnny Unitas, Burlsworth (top walk-on) and was a semifinalist for the Maxwell, Davie O'Brien and Walter Camp Player of the year.

Quarterback Luke Falk opened his redshirt-senior season completing his first 20 passes and going 33-for-39 for 311 yards and three touchdowns against Montana State. His second touchdown pass, a six-yard strike to Tavares Martin Jr. in the second quarter, was his 91st career touchdown pass, breaking Connor Halliday's WSU touchdown passing touchdown record. Against Boise State, Falk passed  Halliday's WSU record for passing yards and Alex Brink's WSU record for total offense. Falk followed with a 6-TD game in the win over Oregon State and 478 yards and five touchdowns against Nevada. He owns WSU records with 105 career passing TD's, 12,611 career passing yards, 12,308 yards of total offense, 27 career 300-yard games, 1,211 completions and 1,741 pass attempts. He also owns the second-most wins by a QB in school history with 23, trailing Jason Gesser's school-best 24. The Logan, Utah native is the nation's active leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns while his 350.3 passing yards per game average is currently fifth-best in NCAA FBS history.

12,611 - Owns WSU record for career passing yards, broke Connor Halliday's WSU record Week 1
12,308 - Owns WSU record for total offense, broke Alex Brink's WSU record Week 2
1,211 - Owns Pac-12 record for career completions, broke OSU Sean Mannion's record Week 5
990 - Needs 990 passing yards to break Sean Mannion's (OSU) Pac-12 passing record (13,600)
105 - Owns WSU record for touchdown passes, tied for 2nd-most in Pac-12 history (Mariota)
74.5 - Falk's 76.9 completion percentage in 2017 is 4th-best in the country
69.6 - Falk's career 69.6 completion percentage in second among active NCAA QB's (Mayfield, 70.1)
27 - Career 300-yard games, most in WSU history including 11 400-yard efforts
23 - In 33 career starts, Falk owns 23 wins, 2nd-most by a Cougar QB (Jason Gesser - 24)
14 - Falk's 14 touchdown passes in 2017 are second in the country (Rosen, UCLA)
12 - Needs 12 TD passes to break Matt Barkley's (USC) Pac-12 record of 116
6 - Career fourth-quarter comeback wins including one in 2016 at Oregon State

Luke Falk is no stranger to leading fourth-quarter comebacks, recording the sixth of his career in the win at Oregon State last season. The first came in 2014 at Oregon State, WSU trailed early in the fourth and Falk led a pair of scoring drives for a 39-32 victory. In 2015, trailing by four with 1:31 remaining at Rutgers, Falk led WSU on a 10-play, 90-yard drive capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds remaining. In the win at Oregon, Falk led a pair of scoring drives late in the fourth quarter that erased a 10-point deficit and sent the game into overtime after an eight-yard touchdown pass with one second remaining. In overtime, Falk rushed for a touchdown and then threw for another before the Cougar defense picked off a pass in the second overtime to clinch the win. Against Arizona State, trailing 24-17 to start the fourth quarter, Falk led the Cougars on three touchdown drives (73, 99 and 75 yards) in the quarter, capping each one with touchdown throws to post a 38-24 victory. His last one in 2015 came at No. 18 UCLA, trailing by three with 1:09 remaining, Falk led the Cougars on a seven-play 75-yard drive, capped by a 21-yard touchdown pass with three seconds remaining. In the win at Oregon State in 2016, WSU trailed by three early in the fourth quarter before Falk led WSU on an 80-yard scoring drive midway through the quarter. Falk capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the game-winner. In the fourth-qauarter this season, Falk is a combined 27-of-32 (84.4%) for 249 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions including 10-of-12 for 90 yards and a touchdown against No. 5 USC.

Luke Falk was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week after going 37-for-49 for 396 yards and tying a school record with six touchdowns in the 52-23 win over Oregon State. It was the fifth career Pac-12 weekly accolade for Falk who is 4-0 in four career starts against OSU. The Logan, Utah native became the first Cougar quarterback to beat a team four times. Falk made his first career start at Oregon State in 2014, throwing for 471 yards and five touchdowns. Against OSU, Falk owns 1,689 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and two interceptions while averaging 422.3 passing yards per game.

Last season, Luke Falk was fourth in the country in passing yards-per-game (343.7) and passing yards (4,468), seventh with 38 passing touchdowns and a Pac-12-best 342.2 yards-per-game in conference play. Falk tied his own WSU single-season record with  38 touchdown passes and finished second behind Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield for the nation's highest completion percentage (.700).

In the win over Arizona last season, Luke Falk completed 32-of-35 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns. His 91.4 completion percentage was a WSU record and a Pac-12 record for 30+ completions, breaking Dick Norman's (Stanford, 1959) previous record of 87.1. Falk completed 21 consecutive passes at one point, one away from Aaron Rodgers' (Cal) record of 22. The Cougars combined for a 90.3 completion percentage to set an NCAA FBS record for 30+ completions after going 47-of-52. Falk opened 2017 completing his first 20 passes against Montana State.

Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Tyler Hilinski stepped in and came up big for the Cougars in the comeback win over Boise State. Hilinski relieved Luke Falk late in the third quarter and passed for 240 yards with three touchdowns, the last one coming as the game-winner in triple overtime. It was career-bests for Hilinski who played the final series against Montana State (7-9, 50 yds) but had only played extensively in the win over Arizona last season (15-17, 163 yds, 2 TD).

The Cougar running backs have settled into their all-purpose roles and have taken the Air Raid offense to new levels. In the week one win over Montana State, redshirt-sophomore James Williams erupted with 208 all-purpose yards and two scores, catching 13 passes for 163 yards and two scores, setting WSU single-game records for catches and receiving yards for a running back. Redshirt-senior Jamal Morrow added 116 all-purpose yards including 89 rushing yards and one touchdown. The backs combined for 354 all-purpose yards on 40 touches with three touchdowns, 157 rushing yards and 197 receiving yards. Against Boise State, Williams made a game-high 10 catches, Morrow caught two touchdowns including the game-winner in triple overtime and redshirt-senior Gerard Wicks rushed for at touchdown in the second overtime. In the win over USC, the backs combined for 222 all-purpose yards led by Morrow who rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown and caught another touchdown. Through five games, the backs have combined for 11 total touchdowns, 538 rushing yards, 487 receiving yards (69 rec) and 1,075 all-purpose yards.

Each Cougar running back has put their names throughout the record book. Entering the game agianst Oregon, Jamal Morrow owns the WSU record for receptions by a running back (160), also good for 10th-most by any player in WSU history. Morrow also owns 3,567 career all-purpose yards, fifth-most in WSU history and his 20 total touchdowns are tied for 10th-most in WSU history. Gerard Wicks owns 19 career rushing touchdowns, tied for fifth-most in WSU history and owns 93 career receptions, fourth-most by a running back in WSU history. James Williams enters the week sharing the Pac-12 lead with 40 receptions, fifth-most in the country while his 88 career receptions are  fifth-most by a running back in WSU history. Keith Harrington owns 46 career catches, 11th-most.

Last season, the trio of Jamal Morrow, Gerard Wicks and James Williams headlined the Cougar backs who led the Pac-12 running back groups with 31 total touchdowns and 1,034 receiving yards, and were third with 2,695 total yards. The backs combined for 128 receptions and averaged 217.6 all-purpose yards-per-game. Williams and Morrow led all Pac-12 running backs with 48 receptions a piece. WSU rushed for 100 yards seven times including three 200-yard efforts in wins over Idaho, Oregon and California. All three backs recorded a 100-yard game in 2016 while the team rushed for 100+ yards seven times in 2016 after reaching that mark five times in 2015 and just four times in the previous three seasons combined. The 23 touchdowns in 2016 were the most since the 1997 (27).

Running back Jamal Morrow was named to the 2017 watch lists for the Doak Walker Award and Paul Hornung Award. The Doak Walker is given to the nation's best running back while the Hornung Award is given to the most versatile player in major college football. Morrow is the first Cougar to be named to the Paul Hornung Watch List since the award was created in 2010 and the first named to the Doak Walker since Jerome Harrison was a finalist in 2005.

Running back Jamal Morrow does a little of everything for the Cougar offense, rushing, receiving, blocking and owns the school record for receptions by a running back (160). Last season, the All-Pac-12 honorable mention pick tallied a team-high 1,217 all-purpose yards, averaging 93.6 all-purpose yards-per-game, was second on the team with 575 rushing yards, third with 10 total touchdowns and tied for fourth with 48 catches. Morrow has had two seasons of 1,200-plus all-purpose yards and with more season with similar numbers, would put him in the top-3 in school history for all-purpose yards, trailing only former All-Americans Steve Broussard and Rueben Mayes. He opened 2017 with 116 all-purpose yards, rushing for 89 including a 29-yard touchdown against Montana State, caught two touchdowns against Boise State, rushed for 73 yards against Nevada before tallying 91 rushing yards along with a rushing and receiving touchdown in the win over No. 5 USC. He enters the week with 3,567 all-purpose yards, fifth-most in WSU history.

Jamal Morrow has served as the WSU game captain for the past 27 games and coach Leach revealed why in 2016. In August of 2013, Morrow was a contestant on The Price is Right, reaching a showcase showdown and coach Leach thought he would be good at the coin toss. Morrow began the streak in WSU's double-overtime win at Oregon in 2015. The Cougars are 20-7 since, and Morrow is 8-2 in correctly calling the toss, WSU is 5-3 when he wins a coin toss and WSU has been on the winning end of the toss 19 times in those 27 games with Morrow at captain.

Washington State has continued to spread the ball each week with 10 players catching a pass in the first games before 13 caught pass against Nevada and nine recorded a catch against USC. Last season, the Air Raid saw 10+ players catch a pass in 11 of the 13 games, highlighted by the 14 against Arizona, the most under Mike Leach at WSU. The Cougars were the only team in the country with five players owning 40+ catches last year. In 2015, WSU was the only team in the country with 10 players with 20+ receptions and was the only Power-5 Conference team with two players owning double-digit touchdown receptions.

Former high school teammates at William T. Dwyer High School in Belle Glade, Fla., junior Tavares Martin Jr. and sophomore Isaiah Johnson-Mack came into 2017 looking to play a bigger part of the offense and both have done just that. Against Oregon State, Martin Jr. erupted with 10 receptions and career-highs of 194 yards and three touchdowns, the first three touchdown game since River Cracraft against California last season. Martin Jr. followed with 114 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Nevada, his second straight 100-yard game and his five touchdown catches in the two games were the most since Gabe Marks also grabbed five in 2015 (4 at Arizona, 1 vs. Stanford).   Martin Jr. came up with another big catch in the win over No. 5 USC, a 28-yard touchdown on a short screen pass. Martin Jr. owns 32 catches for 445 yards and seven touchdown catches which tie for the most in the country. Johnson-Mack nearly matched Martin Jr., catching a pair of touchdown passes along with a career-high nine receptions against Oregon State. A week prior, Johnson-Mack caught eight passes for a career-high 81 yards in the win over Boise State and he made six more grabs in the win over USC. Johnson-Mack is seventh in the Pac-12 with 30 receptions.

Former high school teammates at Cathedral High School in Los Angeles, redshirt-freshman wideout Renard Bell and true freshman Jamire Calvin each reached a milestone during the week two win over Boise State. Bell made seven catches for a team-high 107 yards for his first career 100-yard game while Calvin caught a 17-yard touchdown that started the fourth-quarter comeback. Against Nevada, the duo was at again as Bell tallied 113 receiving yards and Calvin corralled is second career touchdown, a six-yard catch late in the first half. The southern California natives came up big in the win over No. 5 USC as Bell tallied a game-high 101 receiving yards and Calvin made three catches including a key 21-yard first down catch in the third quarter. Bell shares the Pac-12 lead with three 100-yard games while Calvin owns a pair of touchdown catches.

Tavares Martin Jr. was named to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List over the summer. Martin Jr. was one of 46 players, including five from the Pac-12 Conference, named to the award watch list given to the most outstanding receiver in college football. Last season, Gabe Marks was named to the watch list and was a semifinalist in 2015. Martin Jr. finished last year with the sixth-most catches (64) in the Pac-12 Conference and seventh-most touchdowns (7) and eighth-most receiving yards (728). The Belle Glade, Fla. native averaged 11.4 yards per catch and had eight catches of 20+ yards.

According the website, the 2016 Cougar offensive line was near the top of a couple categories. The 2017 ratings won't come out until week seven. Last year,  WSU led the country in "Stuff Rate" (12%) that is the percentage of carries by running backs that are stopped at or before the line of scrimmage. WSU was also fourth in the country in "Power Success Rate" (81.6%) that is the percentage of runs on 3rd or 4th down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. The Cougars also ranked No. 15 in "Opportunity Rate" (43.7%) that is the percentage of carries (when 5 yards are available) that gain at least five yards, i.e. the percentage of carries in which the line does its job.

Not only have the Cougars produced big offensive numbers, finishing the last couple seasons among the nation's passing leaders, WSU has produced bigger offensive linemen. The size of the front five has gone up each season with the 2017 offensive line averaging 322.6 pounds after averaging the same number last season. In prior years WSU average 288.6 in 2012, 288.2 in 2013, 309.4 lbs in 2014 and nearly 310 lbs in 2015.

Each week, Washington State coaches give out the "Bone Award" to the offensive lineman who performs the best during the previous game. Left tackle Andre Dillard earned his first "Bone Award" of the season following the win over Nevada and added his second after the win over No. 5 USC. The awards in 2017: Montana State: B.J. Salmonson; Boise State: Cole Madison; Oregon State: Cole Madison; Nevada: Andre Dillard; USC: Andre Dillard

Last season, left guard Cody O'Connell joined kicker Jason Hanson (1989) as the only Cougar unanimous All-Americans in program history. The redshirt-senior from Wenatchee, Wash was named a First-Team All-American by The Walter Camp Football Foundation (the nation's oldest All-America Team), The Sporting News, The Associated Press, The Football Writers Association of America and the American Football Coaches Association. O'Connell was a finalist for The Outland Trophy, presented to the best interior lineman in college football on offense or defense since 1946, becoming the first Cougar Outland Trophy finalist since defensive lineman Rien Long won the award in 2002. O'Connell, nicknamed "The Continent" by coach Mike Leach, started 12 games at left guard and was ranked the nation's best guard in the country by Pro Football Focus in 2016. He enters 2017 named to the watch lists for the Maxwell Award and Outland Trophy.

The Cougar defense has turned into a force under third-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who has twice been named a Broyles Award Nominee (given to the nation's top assistant) in each of the past two seasons. WSU shut out Montana State to post the first shutout since 2013, holding MSU to 143 yards of total offense, the fewest yards allowed since 2004 (125 vs. Colorado), and surrendering just 28 yards passing, the fewest since 1994 (18 at Oregon State). WSU then held Nevada to 151 yards of total offense while recording five sacks before holding No. 5 USC and quarterback Sam Darnold to 327 yards of total offense, their lowest since facing Alabama to open the 2016 season. The Cougars also limited Darold to 15-of-29 for 164 yards, picked him off once and forced a fumble on the game-clinching sack. The Cougars enter the week first in the Pac-12 in pass defense (146.6/G), second in total defense (275.2/G) and tackles-for-loss (38), tied for No. 15 in the country. The "Speed D" features nine returning starters from a 2016 group that forced 23 turnovers and held opponents to 134.2 rushing yards per game, third-lowest in the Pac-12 Conference.

Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has emphasized the need to force turnovers and get the ball back to the Air Raid offense. The Cougars did that in 2015, forcing 24 turnovers, fourth in the Pac-12 and three times as many as the 2014 total of eight. The trend continued in 2016 as WSU forced 23 turnovers, including 11 fumble recoveries and 12 interceptions. In 2017, the Speed D owns 12 takeaways in the first five games including four against Boise State, two that were returned for touchdowns, two more takeaways including a fumble returned for a touchdown in the week three win over Oregon State before intercepting three passes in the win against Nevada. Last week against USC, the Cougars forced two more, intercepting a pass and forcing a game-clinching fumble. The 12 turnovers are tied for sixth-most in the country. Now in their third season under Grinch, the Cougars are 17-3 when forcing multiple turnovers in a game.

The Washington State defense turned things up in Pac-12 play last season, forcing 16 turnovers in the nine games including four in the win over UCLA and three against Arizona. WSU finished the season tied for second in the Pac-12 and No. 28 in the country in turnover margin (+6), and third in the league in rushing defense (134.2). In the week three win over Idaho, WSU did not allow a touchdown while surrendering just 257 yards of total offense. Against Oregon, the Cougars tallied eight tackles-for-loss before adding three sacks at No. 15 Stanford while holding the Cardinal to just 61 yards rushing including Christian McCaffrey to 35 yards. In the comeback win at Oregon State, the Cougars held OSU just 104 yards of total offense in the second half including 11 yards rushing. WSU held Arizona to just seven points and California to its lowest point total of the season (21).

The Cougar defense opened 2017 with eight tackles-for-loss including three sacks, 1.5 from Hercules Mata'afa against Montana State. Against Boise State, Mata'afa tallied three TFL's, Oguayo added a sack and RUSH linebacker Frankie Luvu recorded 2.5 sacks, recovered a fumble and knocked BSU starter Brett Rypien out of the game with a sack. Luvu had entered the game with 1.5 career sacks. WSU added three more sacks against Oregon State, tallied nine tackles-for-loss against Nevada including five sacks and added five more TFL's and two sacks against USC. WSU's 17 sacks are second in the Pac-12 and tied for seventh-most in the country.

Prior to the season, defensive lineman Hercules Mata'afa was named to the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Award Watch Lists, both given to the country's top defensive player, and he has delivered. Last season, the All-Pac-12 second team selection finished fifth in the league with 13.5 tackles including a team-high five sacks. The redshirt-junior opened 2017 with 2.5 tackles-for-loss including 1.5 sacks against Montana State, added three more TFL's in the win over Boise State before erupting for 2.5 sacks against Nevada. Mata'afa added two more against No. 5 USC and enters the week fifth in the country with 10 tackles-for-loss and tied for No. 12 with 4.5 sacks, both numbers lead the Pac-12. Mata'afa also enters the week as the Pac-12's active leader in career tackles-for-loss with 34.5 and second among active Pac-12 players with 16.5 career sacks. The Hawaii native moved into the Top-10 in school history in both categories this season, now sits seventh in TFL's and 10th in sacks.

The Cougar linebackers filled up the stat sheet the past two seasons led by two-time All-Pac-12 honorable mention MIKE Peyton Pelluer who finished fifth in the Pac-12 last season with 93 tackles including 7.5 for loss, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. WIL linebacker Isaac Dotson finished 2016 fourth on the team with 64 stops including six for loss. Both Dotson and Pelluer produced big numbers in the week two win over Boise State as Pelluer made a team-high 14 tackles to go along with a game-changing 36-yard interception return for touchdown while Dotson made a career-high 10 stops. Dotson, who enters the week second on the team with 27 stops along with 2.5 tackles-for-loss, has started the last two games at MIKE. Redshirt-freshman Jahad Woods has stepped in and started at WIL the past two games and come up big, highlighted by the game-high nine tackles against USC, forcing a fumble on his sack of Sam Darnold that was recovered by WSU to clinch the win. Woods enters the game against Oregon third on the team with 20 tackles.

Linebacker Peyton Pelluer was named to The Wuerffel Trophy Watch List. Pelluer was among the 109 players named to the watch list for The Wuerffel Trophy, known as "College Football's Premier Award for Community Service." Named after 1996 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Danny Wuerffel from the University of Florida, the Wuerffel Trophy is awarded to the FBS player that best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement. Pelluer is a three-time Pac-12 All-Academic selection, twice named to the First Team, and has been involved with a number of community service projects through WSU Athletics.

Linebacker Peyton Pelluer was named the Pac-12 Conference Defensive Player of the Week after making a team-high 14 tackles and keyed a fourth-quarter comeback with his 36-yard interception return for a touchdown in the 47-44 triple overtime win over Boise State. Pelluer's touchdown cut the BSU lead to seven and WSU eventually tied it with 1:44 left in regulation before winning in triple overtime. It was the redshirt-senior's second career interception and his 14 stops were his eighth career double-digit tackle effort. Pelluer, a native of Sammamish, Wash., led a defense that forced four turnovers and scored two touchdowns (Robert Taylor 7-yard fumble return for TD) for the first time since 2013. Pelluer earned his first career player of the week honor and is the Cougars first defensive player of the week accolade since Shalom Luani earned the award in 2015 after his two-interception game against Oregon State.

Gone is two-time All-Pac-12 defensive back Shalom Luani to the Oakland Raiders but the Cougar secondary is in good hands after going through a youth movement the past two seasons. Now a junior, Darrien Molton, was named the top freshman cornerback in the country by Pro Football Focus in 2015 and finished last season second on the team with 71 tackles and six pass breakups in 2016. Senior cornerback Marcellus Pippins made two interceptions and five pass breakups last year while junior college transfer safety Robert Taylor stepped in and recorded 61 tackles and recovered a team-best three fumbles in his junior season. True freshman Jalen Thompson enrolled early in 2016, took over at strong safety and recorded 51 tackles, made a team-best seven pass breakups.

Sophomore safety Jalen Thompson, an True Freshman All-American last season, has taken huge steps in his sophomore season. Thompson opened 2017 with a team-high seven stops and recorded his first career interception, added eight tackles against Boise State, made a team-best nine tackles against Oregon State before picking off two passes against Nevada. Thompson already owns three interceptions this season and added four stops against USC to take over the team lead in tackles with 29.

Senior safety Rob Taylor has backed up his nickname "Run-it-back-Rob" with a couple touchdown returns for the Cougs. In his first season at WSU last year, the City College of San Francisco transfer earned Pac-12 Special Team Player of the Week after his 100-yard kickoff return in the win at Arizona State, WSU's first kickoff return for score since 2003. Taylor was at it again against Boise State, scooping up a fumble after a sack and scrambling seven yards for the Cougars first touchdown of the game. Taylor enters the week with 18 tackles and one interception after picking off his first career pass against Nevada.

Redshirt-senior kicker Erik Powell opened 2017 connecting from 40 yards in the win over Montana State and added two more against Boise State, connecting late in the first half from 20 yards out before coming through with a clutch 23-yarder in the second overtime. The Vancouver, Wash. native rebounded from a tough start last season after missing his first five field goals, hitting nine of his last 10 attempts including both attempts in the Holiday Bowl. In the win over No. 5 USC, Powell came up big once again, connecting on field goals of 44, 33 and 32 yards including the final one proving to be the game-winner with 1:40 remaining. Powell now owns 39 career field goals, passing Rian Lindell for the fifth-most makes in WSU history. Powell tallied 90 points last season and has averaged nearly 100 points the last two seasons. With one more 100-point season, the lefty will move into the top-3. Powell added tallied 12 points against USC and now owns with 260 career points, fourth-most in WSU history. He also owns the third-best field goal percentage (70.9) in school history.

Each week, Cougar special teams coach Eric Mele selects a Special Forces Player of the Week who made the biggest impact.
The awards for 2017:
Montana State: Dillon Sherman, 3 units, tackle on kickoff, drew penalty
Boise State: Erik Powell, 2 FG (20, 23), 54-yard punt, two kickoff touchbacks
Oregon State: Gerard Wicks, 3 units, 2 knockdowns on kickoff, fumb recov
Nevada: Kickoff team, 8 kickoffs, 5 tkls, 3 TB, 19.2 yards allowed, 19 players
USC: Erik Powell, 3 FG (44, 33, 32), game-winning FG, 3 TB

The 2016 WSU special teams produced a pair of Pac-12 Special Teams Players of the Week awards and finished the year ninth-ranked punt return unit in the country (13.5 per return). At Arizona State, Robert Taylor returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, WSU's first since 2003, and against California, Kaleb Fossum returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown, WSU's first since 2005, both players earned Pac-12 weekly awards. It was the first time WSU had a kickoff and punt return for a touchdown in the same season since 1968 and the first time with two conference special teams player of the week awards in the same season since 2006. In Pac-12 play, the Cougars led the league in punt return average (18.8) and were second in kick return avg (23.0).

Four Cougars share a unique bond with their dads and/or grandpa, each have worn the crimson a gray. Redshirt-junior left tackle Andre Dillard's dad, Mitch was an offensive lineman and tight end for the Cougars in the late 1980's; redshirt-senior linebacker Isaac Dotson's dad, Michael was an All-American wrestler for WSU from 1983-86; redshirt-senior linebacker Peyton Pelluer's dad, Scott also played linebacker for the Cougs, matching Peyton's No. 47 from 1977-80; Peyton's grandpa, Arnie played end for WSU in the mid 1950's and his great grandpa, Carl Gustafson, played flanker in the 1920's; and freshman quarterback John Bledsoe's dad, Drew Bledsoe played at WSU from 1990-92, was the No. 1 overall pick by the New England Patriots in the 1993 NFL Draft and played 14 seasons.

Washington State's season-opening five-game homestand is a first in program history. The only other time WSU opened the season with more than three-straight home games is 1907, when they opened with four.

The Washington State roster has seen an influx in Polynesian players since Mike Leach and his coaching staff arrived in 2012. The 2017 roster has 11 players who are of Polynesian decent including four who list their hometown from American Samoa.

WSU announced the naming of the Steve Gleason Recruit Suite, inside the Cougar Football Complex in 2016. Gleason, the Washington State Athletic Hall of Famer who played football and baseball in a Cougar uniform from 1995-99, was on hand as the room all future Cougar football players will walk through was named in his honor. The opportunity arrived courtesy of Cougar alumnus Glenn Osterhout's naming donation of $250,000. With his pledge, Osterhout, a 1983 graduate who is a certified financial planner in Bellevue, was presented the opportunity to name the recruiting room inside the Cougar Football Complex.

Hall of fame announcer Bob Robertson is in his 51st season calling Cougar football games, and according to a nation-wide survey of sports information directors, is the longest tenured radio announcer in the country with the next closest being Bill Hillgrove who has announced 47 straight seasons at Pitt. Robertson began calling WSU games in 1964 and with the exception of a three-year period in 1969-71, has been calling Cougar games ever since. Robertson now hosts the Cougars pre, halftime and postgame shows, while also providing analysis during the games. Matt Chazanow is in his third season as the play-by-play voice for Cougar football, men's basketball and baseball broadcasts. Joining Chazanow and Robertson in the booth for his fourth season will be Cougar legend Jason Gesser who quarterbacked WSU to the 2001 Sun Bowl and 2003 Rose Bowl. Returning for her sixth season as the sideline reporter is Jessamyn McIntyre, an executive producer for 710 ESPN Seattle. 

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