Cougars back on road Saturday against Arizona - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Cougars back on road Saturday against Arizona

Photo: Washington State Athletics Photo: Washington State Athletics
By Washington State Athletics
6:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 28  •  Pac-12 Network
Arizona Stadium (55,675)  •  Tucson, Ariz.

No. 15 Washington State (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12) hits the road to face the University of Arizona (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) in Tucson, Ariz. Saturday night. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. on the Pac-12 Network.

Arizona leads the all time series 26-16 but the Cougars claimed last year's meeting 69-7 in Pullman and have claimed the last two meetings in Tucson, 24-17 in 2013 and 45-42 in 2015. Arizona leads the all-time series in Tucson 11-5 and last won a meeting in the series in 2014, 59-37 in 2014. In two games against Arizona, Luke Falk is 2-0, completed 79-of-97 (81.4 %) passes for 825 yards (412.5/g) with nine touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Washington State is 7-1 for the first time since 2003 and enters the week ranked No. 15 in the Associated Press Top-25 and No. 16 in the Coaches Poll. WSU owns the nation's fifth-best passing attack and the country's seventh-rated defense that has forced 16 turnovers, 12th-most in the country, and recorded 26 sacks, tied for the third-most in the country. Head coach Mike Leach is his sixth season at WSU, owns a 120-78 mark in his 16-year coaching career including a 36-35 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 7-1, matching its best start since 2003, looking for first 8-1 start since 2002
•  WSU owns 17 Pac-12 wins in the last three seasons, tied with USC for 2nd most in the Pac-12 (Stanford - 18)
•  Under head coach Mike Leach, WSU has recorded 10 fourth-quarter comebacks in his 5+ seasons
•  WSU is the only Pac-12 team with three shutouts in the last five seasons (Stanford and Washington with 2)
•  WSU has scored 3 defensive touchdowns this season, tied for 5th-most in FBS, most by WSU since 2013 (5)
•  WSU owns an 18-3 record when forcing multiple turnovers under defensive coordinator Alex Grinch
•  WSU owns 64 tackles-for-loss, 2nd-most in the country behind Duke (66)
•  WSU owns 26 sacks, tied for 3rd-most in the country and Pac-12 (Oregon)
•  WSU has recorded the most 4th-down stops on defense (10) in the Pac-12, tied for 2nd-most in FBS

•  Head Coach Mike Leach owns 36 wins at WSU, fifth-most in program history (Jim Sutherland - 37, 1956-63)
•  Leach was named The Dodd Trophy Coach of the Week following the win over No. 5 USC
•  QB Luke Falk is the NCAA's active career leader in passing yds (13,376), TD (111), yds/g (343.0)
•  Falk needs 225 passing yards to break Sean Mannion's (OSU) Pac-12 passing yards record (13,600)
•  Falk needs 6 touchdowns to break Matt Barkley's (USC) Pac-12 passing touchdowns record (116)
•  DL Hercules Mata'afa leads all active Pac-12 players with 37.5 career TFL's and 18.5 career sacks
•  Mata'afa, OL Cody O'Connell were both named Mid-Season All-Americans (AP, ESPN, The All-American)
•  RB James Williams is 14th in the country and 4th in the Pac-12 with 48 receptions (leads all FBS running backs)
•  K Erik Powell is fourth in WSU history with 44 career field goals, 3rd in FG percentage at 72.1
•  Powell earned two straight Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week awards (USC, at Oregon)
•  Keith Harrington paces team with nine special teams tackles (5 KR, 4 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 reached 202 after the appearance at Penn State 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 owns a 6-0 mark at home this season, tying for the most home wins in a season in program history. The Cougars host Stanford University Nov. 4. WSU's season-opening five-game homestand was a first in program history, sweeping all five contests. The only other time opening the season with more than three-straight home games was 1907, with four.

Washington State appeared at No. 15 in the Associated Press Top-25 for the second straight week  and moved up two spots in to No. 16 in the Coaches Poll after the win over Colorado last week. The No. 8 ranking prior the game at California was the highest WSU has been ranked since entering the 2003 Apple Cup No. 8 in the AP Poll. 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's 6-0 start was its best start since 2001 and was just seventh 6-0 start in program history (1906, 1915, 1930, 1992, 1997, 2001). The Cougars are 7-1 for the first time since the 2003 team also started 7-1 and are looking for their first 8-1 start since 2002. The Cougars opened the season with 30+ points in six straight games for the first time since 2001.

Washington State recorded its second shutout of the season with a 28-0 victory over Colorado last weekend. The last time the Cougars posted two shutouts in a season was 1981 when WSU recorded three. WSU last shut out a conference opponent in 1981, 21-0 at No. 22 UCLA. The Cougars held Colorado to season lows in total offense (174), passing yards (94), rushing yards (80) including 2.0 yards-per-carry. WSU rushed for a season-high 194 yards while Luke Falk tossed three TD passes including the first career TD catches for Tay Martin (50 yards) and Brandon Arconado (18 yards).

Washington State posted a 33-10 victory over Oregon in Eugene to claim its third straight meeting against the Ducks for the first time since 1982-84. The Cougars also recorded back-to-back wins in Eugene for the first time since 1982 and 1984. Luke Falk threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns, Erik Powell kicked four field goals (25, 52, 47, 29) while the defense forced three turnovers, recorded 11 tackles-for-loss with four sacks, held Oregon to its lowest point total since 2009 and just 277 yards of total offense after entering the week averaging 537.4 yards-per-game.

Washington State received big plays from all three phases to post a 30-27 win over No. 5 USC 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 26 players make their debuts this season. 19 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). Three freshmen have recorded starts this season; Renard Bell (WR), Jahad Woods (LB), Justus Rogers (LB) and eight sophomores after started a game in 2017.

The Washington State Air Raid offense enters the week with the nation's fifth-best passing attack (359.8), good for second in the Pac-12, are eighth in the country with a Pac-12 best 190 first downs and tied for second nationally with 25 passing touchdowns. The Cougars opened the season with 30+ points in six straight games for the first time since the 2001 team reached that mark seven 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 four of the five seasons under head coach Mike Leach, finishing second behind Cal in 2013.

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 earned Davey O'Brien Quarterback of the Week after throwing for 340 yards and two touchdowns in the win over No. 5 USC and added three more touchdowns in the win at Oregon, passing Marcus Mariota for the second-most passing touchdowns in Pac-12 history. During the Colorado win, Falk broke Mariota's Pac-12 career total offense record and also became WSU's all-time winningest quarterback with his 25th career win, breaking Jason Gesser's previous record of 24. Falk owns WSU records with 111 career passing TD's, 13,376 career passing yards, 13,041 yards of total offense, 27 career 300-yard games, 1,280 completions and 1,860 pass attempts. The Logan, Utah native is the nation's active leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns and is third in completion percentage (68.8) and his 343.0 career passing yards/g is currently fifth-best in NCAA FBS history.

13,376 - WSU record for career passing yards, broke Connor Halliday's WSU record Week 1
13,041 - Pac-12 and WSU records for total offense, broke WSU record Week 2 and Pac-12 Week 8
1,280 - Pac-12 and WSU records for career completions, broke OSU Sean Mannion's record Week 5
225 - Needs 225 passing yards to break Sean Mannion's (OSU) Pac-12 passing record (13,600)
111 - WSU record for TD passes, needs 6 more to break Matt Barkley's (USC) Pac-12 record of 116
68.8 - Falk's career 68.8 completion pct is 2nd among active NCAA QB's (Devin Hodges-Samford, 69.4)
68.7 - Falk's 68.7 completion percentage in 2017 is 7th-best in the country
41 - Falk's 41 rushing yards against Colorado was a career-high, his 16-yard run was a career-long
27 - Career 300-yard games, most in WSU history including 11 400-yard efforts
25 - In 36 career starts, Falk owns 25 wins, breaking Jason Gesser's WSU record of 24 wins by a QB
22 - Falk's 22 touchdown passes in 2017 are the 3rd-most in the country
21 - Falk owns 21 career 3-TD games
7 - Falk finished his career with 7 wins against Oregon State (4-0) and Oregon (3-0)
6 - Career fourth-quarter comeback wins including one in 2016 at Oregon State
6 - Needs 6 TD passes to break Matt Barkley's (USC) Pac-12 record of 116

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.

Luke Falk is no stranger to leading fourth-quarter comebacks, recording six in his career. 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 to erase a 10-point deficit and threw an eight-yard touchdown pass with one second remaining to force overtime. In overtime, Falk rushed for a touchdown and then threw for another before the 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 WSU on three touchdown drives (73, 99 and 75 yards) in the quarter, capping each 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, capped with a one-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the game-winner. In the fourth-qauarter this season, Falk is a combined 30-of-37 (81.1%) for 272 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions including 10-of-12 for 90 yards and a touchdown against No. 5 USC.

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 TDs, 157 rushing yards and 197 receiving yards. Against Boise State, Williams made a game-high 10 catches, Morrow caught two TDs including the game-winner in triple overtime and redshirt-senior Gerard Wicks rushed for a TD 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 with two touchdowns (1 rec, 1 rush). In the Oregon win, Wicks produced runs of 21 and 20 yards while Morrow opened the game with a 41-yard TD catch. Last week against Colorado, Morrow rushed for a TD, tallied 101 all-purpose yards the Cougars rushed for a season-high 194 yards. The backs have combined for 13 total touchdowns, 874 rushing yards (5.4 ypc), 650 receiving yards (91 rec) and 1,605 all-purpose yards.

Each Cougar running back has put their names throughout the record book. Entering the week, Jamal Morrow owns the WSU record for receptions by a running back (171), good for 8th-most by any player in WSU history. Morrow's 3,844 career all-purpose yards are third-most in WSU history and his 22 total TDs are ninth-most in WSU history. Gerard Wicks owns 19 career rushing touchdowns, tied for fifth-most in WSU history, his 21 total TDs are 10th-most in school history and his 96 career receptions are fourth-most by a running back in WSU history. James Williams enters the week fourth in the Pac-12 with 48 receptions, No. 14 in the country while his 96 career receptions are tied with Wicks for fourth-most by a running back in WSU history. Keith Harrington owns 46 career catches, 11th-most by a Cougar running back.

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 rushing touchdowns 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 (171) and are eighth-most by any player. 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 TD against Montana State, caught two TDs against Boise State, rushed for 73 yards against Nevada before tallying 91 rushing yards along with a rushing and receiving TD in the win over No. 5 USC. He opened the win at Oregon with a 41-yard TD catch and added another 101 all-purpose yards with a TD run against Colorado last week. He enters the week with 3,844 all-purpose yards, third-most in WSU history, an his 722 all-purpose yards this season lead the team and ninth-most in the Pac-12.

Jamal Morrow has served as the WSU game captain for the past 30 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 22-8 since, and Morrow is 9-3 in correctly calling the toss, WSU is 6-3 when he wins a coin toss and WSU has been on the winning end of the toss 20 times in those 30 games with Morrow at captain, who won the coin toss at Oregon, his first time calling the toss in 2017.

Washington State has averaged a national-best 10 receivers catching a pass per game this season, according to an unofficial survey from sports information directors. 10 players caught a pass in the first three games before 13 caught pass against Nevada, nine did so against USC, eight at Oregon and 10 more at California and against Colorado. 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, while Johnson-Mack nearly matched Martin Jr., catching a pair of touchdown passes along with a career-high nine receptions against OSU. Martin Jr., a 2017 Biletnikoff Award watch list selection, followed with 114 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Nevada and came up with another big catch in the win over No. 5 USC, a 28-yard touchdown on a short screen pass and Johnson-Mack answered with a 25-yard touchdown grab in the win at Oregon. Martin Jr. owns 37 catches for 502 yards and seven touchdown catches, tied for the seventh-most in the country. Johnson-Mack, who caught eight passes for a career-high 81 yards in the win over Boise State and made six more grabs in the win over USC, enters the week second on the team with 40 receptions, 376 receiving yards and tied for third with three touchdowns.

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 TD 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 TD, 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, caught his first career TD at Oregon, caught another against Colorado and is tied for second in the Pac-12 with three 100-yard games while Calvin owns a pair of TD catches. Redshirt-sophomore Brandon Arconado recorded his first career catch against Nevada, made his first career start (H) at California before catching his first career TD against Colorado last week. One other freshman broke out last week as well as freshman Tay Martin notched his first career TD with a 50-yard catch and run, he finished with four catches for 78 yards.

According the website, the 2016 Cougar offensive line was near the top of a couple categories. 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 first edition of Football Outsiders Stats shows the Cougar offensive line rated No. 8 in the stuff rate at a 13 percent rate.

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. Right guard B.J. Salmonson tallied his second Bone Award of the season following the win over Colorado. The awards in 2017: Montana State: B.J. Salmonson; Boise State: Cole Madison; Oregon State: Cole Madison; Nevada: Andre Dillard; USC: Andre Dillard; at Oregon: Cole Madison; at California: None; Colorado: B.J. Salmonson

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. The Cougars enter the week tied with the seventh ranked defense (274.0) in the country, second nationally with 64 tackles-for-loss and tied for third in the country with 26 sacks. The Speed D owns the country's third-rated passing defense (153.9) and have posted a pair of shutouts (Montana State, Colorado)  in the same season for the first time since 1981.

Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has emphasized the need to force turnovers and get the ball back to the Air Raid offense. The Speed D owns 16 takeaways 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 against Nevada, forcing two turnovers against USC and recording three takeaways at Oregon. The 16 turnovers are tied for the third-most in the Pac-12 lead and No. 12 in the country while the eight fumble recoveries are No. 11 in the nation. Now in their third season under Grinch, the Cougars are 18-3 when forcing multiple turnovers in a game.

Highlights from the Cougars' Speed D in each contest.
- Montana State, posted first shutout since 2013, holding MSU to 143 yards of total offense, the fewest yards allowed since 2004 (125 vs. Colorado), and surrendered just 28 yards passing, the fewest since 1994 (18 at Oregon State)
- Boise State, had four takeaways, two returned for touchdowns (FUM, INT)
- Oregon State, recovered two fumbles, returned one for a touchdown, allowed 199 passing yards
- Nevada, allowed 151 yards of total offense while recording five sacks, 3 takeaways
- USC, allowed 327 yards of total offense, their lowest since facing Alabama to open the 2016 season, Sam Darnold went 15-of-29 for 164 yards, INT, fumble, sacked twice
- at Oregon, 3 takeaways, 11 TFL's, 4 sacks, allowed 10 points and 277 yards for total offense after Oregon entered game averaging 537.4 ypg and a national-best 49.6 ppg
- at California, 9 TFL's, 2 sacks (both Hercules Mata'afa), allowed 106 rushing yards
- Colorado, shutout, 6 TFL's, 3 sacks, held CU to season-lows in total offense (174), rushing yards (80), passing yards (94) and just 2.0 yards-per-carry

The Cougar defense opened 2017 with eight tackles-for-loss including three sacks against Montana State, 1.5 from Hercules Mata'afa. Against Boise State, Mata'afa tallied three more tackles-for-loss, Nnamdi Oguayo added a sack and RUSH linebacker Frankie Luvu recorded 2.5 sacks and recovered a fumble after entering 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. In the win at Oregon, the Speed D recorded 11 TFL's with five sacks with three TFL's coming from NICKEL Hunter Dale. Against California, the Cougars tallied nine TFL's including a pair of sacks from Mata'afa. Last week, WSU added three more sacks to enter the week tied for third in the country with 26 sacks and second nationally with 64 TFL's (Duke - 66).

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 tallied a pair of sacks at California and another last week to enter the week pacing the Pac-12 with 13 tackles-for-loss (T-7th in FBS) and sharing the lead in sacks with 6.5 (T-6th in FBS). Mata'afa also enters the week as the Pac-12's active leader in career tackles-for-loss (37.5) and career sacks (18.5). The Hawaii native moved into the Top-10 in school history in both categories this season, sixth in TFL's and eighth 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.

Redshirt-freshman Jahad Woods has started at WIL the past five games and has 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. In the win at Oregon, Woods made seven more stops including 1.5 for loss and added another six tackles against Colorado to enter the week tied for second on the team with 38 tackles, 4.5 for loss including 1.5 sacks. Fellow redshirt-freshman linebacker Justus Rogers, a converted quarterback last fall, has stepped in at MIKE linebacker and started the past two games, recording nine tackles in both contests.

Junior Hunter Dale has settled into the NICKEL position after two-time All-Pac-12 selection Shalom Luani moved on to the Oakland Raiders. Dale recorded a sack in the win over USC but produced his best game at Oregon, recording a career-high nine tackles, three for loss including a sack and a forced fumble. The New Orleans native added another TFL at California and five more tackles including a pass breakup against Colorado to enter the week fourth on the team with 31 tackles, seven tackles-for-loss, two sacks and a forced fumble.

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 and has tallied 21 tackles with a pair of forced fumbles this season. Last season, junior college transfer safety Robert Taylor stepped in and recorded 61 tackles and recovered a team-best three fumbles. True freshman Jalen Thompson enrolled early in 2016, took over at strong safety and recorded 51 tackles, made a team-best seven pass breakups. WSU enters the week leading the Pac-12 in pass defense, good for third nationally, and tied for sixth in the Pac-12 with eight interceptions.

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 against Montana State, added eight tackles against Boise State, made a team-best nine tackles against Oregon State before picking off two passes against Nevada. Thompson added four stops against USC, posted five-tackle games against Oregon and California before making a career-high 10 tackles and fumble recovery against Colorado. Thompson, who is tied for third in the Pac-12 with three interceptions, paced the team with 49 tackles.

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 picked off his first career pass against Nevada and added an interception and fumble recovery in the win at Oregon. At California, the San Leandro, Calif. native made a career-high 11 tackles and enters the week tied for second on the team with 38 tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.  

Kicker Erik Powell earned two straight Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week awards following the USC and Oregon wins. The redshirt-senior from Vancouver, Wash. hit all three of his field attempts (44, 33, 32) in the win over USC with the 32-yarder proving to be the game-winner with 1:40 remaining. At Oregon the following week, Powell connected on all four of his field goal attempts (25, 52, 47, 29) with the 52-yarder being a career high to help the Cougars beat Oregon for the third straight season. Powell was the first Cougar to earn the award in consecutive weeks since Rueben Mayes in 1984 (Oct. 20, Oct. 27) and was the first player to earn multiple special teams honors in the same season since punter Kyle Basler in 2004.

Kicker Erik Powell 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. The Vancouver, Wash. native 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. 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 was at it again in the win at Oregon, connecting on all four of his field goal attempts (25, 52, 47, 29) with the 52-yarder coming as a career-long. He added another 52-yarder at California and owns 44 career field goals, passing John Traut for the fourth-most makes in WSU history. Powell tallied 90 points last season, has averaged nearly 100 points the last two seasons and with one more 100-point season, the lefty will move into the top-3. Powell added four points against Colorado and now owns with 282 career points, third-most in WSU history. He also owns the third-best field goal percentage (72.1) in school history. His 13 made field goals are second in the Pac-12 and his 71 points are tied for the conference lead.

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, fumble recovery
Nevada: Kickoff team, 8 kickoffs, 5 tackles, 3 TB, 19.2 yards allowed, 19 players
USC: Erik Powell, 3 FG (44, 33, 32), game-winning FG, 3 TB
at Oregon: Field Goal Unit, 4 FG (25, 52, 47, 29), 3-for-3 PAT
at California: None
Colorado: Keith Harrington, first man down on four punts, two tackles on punt coverage

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).

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.

Kicker Erik Powell and linebacker Jahad Woods each garnered Pac-12 Conference Player of the Week awards after the win over USC. 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 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. 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.

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.

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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