WSU opens Pac-12 play against Oregon State - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather

WSU opens Pac-12 play against Oregon State

Cougars beat Boise State last week after being down 31-10. Photo: WSU Athletics Cougars beat Boise State last week after being down 31-10. Photo: WSU Athletics
By Washington State Athletics
2:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 16  •  Pac-12 Network
Martin Stadium (32,952)  •  Pullman, Wash.

No. 21 Washington State (2-0, 0-0 Pac-12) opens its Pac-12 Conference slate hosting Oregon State (1-2, 0-0 Pac-12) at Martin Stadium Saturday. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. on the Pac-12 Network.

Washington State leads the all-time series with Oregon State 51-47-3 and have claimed the last three meetings including a pair of comeback wins in Corvallis (2014, 2016) and a 52-31 victory in Pullman in 2015. WSU owns a 24-19-2 mark against OSU in Pullman. Head coach Mike Leach has gone 3-2 against the Beavers in his five seasons at Washington State.

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 196 after the appearance in Columbus, Ohio last weekend for Oklahoma - Ohio State. 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.

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 Cougars 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.

Washington State opened 2017 with a 31-0 victory over Montana State, notching the first shutout since 2013 and followed with a triple overtime win over Boise State last week. WSU used a 21-point fourth quarter comeback to tie it in regulation before Jamal Morrow dove over the left corner of the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown pass and game winner. Last season, Washington State went 8-5 overall including a 7-2 mark in Pac-12 Conference play to post its second-straight eight-win season en route to a trip to the Holiday Bowl, its third bowl game in four seasons. WSU rattled off eight-straight wins, seven coming during Pac-12 play. Head coach Mike Leach is his sixth season at WSU, owning a 115-71 mark in his 16-year coaching career including a 31-34 record with the Cougars and is the first coach in school history to lead WSU to three bowl games in his first five seasons.

•  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)
•  19 players have made their WSU debuts through the first two weeks, 4 players made their first career start
•  In 2016, WSU running backs lead all Pac-12 backs with 31 total touchdowns and are third with 2,591 total yards
•  WSU RBs were the first group of RBs with 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in a season under a Mike Leach coached team
•  WSU owns an 14-3 record when forcing multiple turnovers under defensive coordinator Alex Grinch
•  In Pac-12 play last season, WSU ranked first in the league in punt return (18.8) and second in kick return (23.0)

•  Head Coach Mike Leach was a George Munger Coach of the Year Semifinalist for the second straight season
•  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 leader in career passing yards (11,397), TD (92), yards/g (345.4)
•  In three career starts against Oregon State, Falk is 3-0, averaged 431.0 pass yards/g with 16 TD and 2 INT
•  DL Hercules Mata'afa owns 30 career TFL's, the most among all active Pac-12 players
•  LB Peyton Pelluer earned Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week, 14 tackles, 36 INT return for TD vs. Boise State
•  Pelluer owns 24.5 career TFL's, fourth-most among all active Pac-12 players
•  RB James Williams set WSU single-game RB records with 13 receptions for 163 yards vs. Montana State
•  Williams is third in the country with a Pac-12-best 23 receptions (13 vs. MSU, 10 vs. BSU)
•  K Erik Powell is fifth in WSU history with 34 career field goals, 3rd in FG percentage at 69.4  

Washington State moved down one spot to No. 21 in the Associated Press Top-25 and also appear at No. 22 in the Coaches Poll for the second straight week. 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) and moved up to No. 20 last week. WSU appeared in the national rankings four times last season, reaching as high as No. 20 following the win over California.

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. Last season, WSU trailed 21-0 at Oregon State before winning 35-31 in Corvallis.

Washington State has seen 19 players make their debuts in the first two weeks of the season. 14 freshmen have made their first career appearance including four true freshmen, Jamire Calvin (WR), George Hicks III (CB), Tay Martin (WR) and Zaire Webb (ST). Four players also recorded their first career starts, Renard Bell (H), Isaiah Johnson-Mack (Z), Fred Mauigoa (C) and Hunter Dale (Nickel), all starting the season-opener while Johnson-Mack, Mauigoa and Dale also started against Boise State. Last season, six true freshmen played for the Cougars last season and are expected to have bigger roles in 2017; Isaiah Johnson-Mack (WR), Frederick Mauigoa (OL), Derek Moore (DE), Dezmon Patmon (WR), Marcus Strong (CB) and Jalen Thompson (S).

The Washington State Air Raid offense returned seven starters from a 2016 group that finished third in the country in passing offense (362.5), seventh in first downs (26.2/g), No. 15 in third down conversions (47.1), No. 18 in scoring (38.2) and total offense (482.5). WSU set a couple program single-season records for the most touchdowns scored (67) and points (496) and the third-most total yards (6,273). The Cougar passing attack led the country in passing in 2015 (389.5) and 2014 (477.7), was fourth in 2013 (368.4) and eight 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 in a big way, completing his first 20 passes en route to a 33-for-39 night for 311 yards and three touchdowns. 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 career touchdown pass record. Against Boise State, Falk threw for 193 yards, passing Connor Halliday's WSU record for passing yards and Alex Brink's WSU record for total offense. Falk now owns WSU records with 92 career passing touchdowns, 11,397 career passing yards, 11,141 yards of total offense and 24 career 300-yard games. He enters the week with the second-most wins by a QB in school history with 19, trailing Jason Gesser's school-best 24. The Logan, Utah native is the nation's active leader in passing yards (11,397) and passing touchdowns (92) while his 345.1 passing yards per game average is currently fifth-best in NCAA FBS history.

11,397 - Owns WSU record with 11,397 career passing yards, Connor Halliday - 11,304
11,141 - Owns WSU record with 11,141 yards of total offense, Alex Brink - 11,011
2,203 - Needs 2,203 passing yards to break Sean Mannion's (OSU) Pac-12 passing record (13,600)
1,104 - Career completions, are second-most in Pac-12 history, trailing OSU's Sean Mannion (1,187)
92 - Owns WSU record with 92 career touchdown passes, 5th-most in Pac-12 history
24 - Needs 24 TD passes to break Matt Barkley's (USC) Pac-12 record of 116
24 - Career 300-yard games, most in WSU history including ten 400-yard efforts
19 - In 30 career starts, Falk owns 19 wins, 2nd-most by a Cougar QB (Jason Gesser - 24)
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.

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.

The Cougar running backs have settled into their all-purpose roles and took the Air Raid offense to new levels last season. The trend continued in a big way in the week one win over Montana State. Redshirt-sophomore James Williams erupted with 208 all-purpose yards and two scores in the win,  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. Last week 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. WSU backs have combined for two rushing touchdowns, four receiving touchdowns and 514 yards through the first two weeks.

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 team ran for 27 scores. Wicks owns 19 career rushing touchdowns, tied for fifth-most in WSU history.

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. The redshirt-senior owns 149 career catches, passing Steve Broussard's previous top WSU mark of 120. Morrow made six catches against Boise State to move into 10th place in WSU history for career receptions. 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 the 2017 season with 116 all-purpose yards, rushing for 89 including a 29-yard touchdown against Montana and followed with two touchdown catches against Boise State, passing Jerome Harrison for seventh on the WSU Top-10 for career all-purpose yards with 3,304.

Jamal Morrow has served as the WSU game captain for the past 24 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 17-7 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 18 times in those 24 games with Morrow at captain.

Washington State has continued to spread the ball each week with 10 players catching a pass in the opener against Montana Sate and against last week against Boise State. Last season, the Air Raid saw 10+ players catch a pass in 11 of the 13 games. Eleven players caught a pass in wins over Oregon, Stanford and Arizona State and 12 caught a pass in the win over California. In the win over Arizona, 14 players caught a pass, the most under Mike Leach at WSU. The Cougars were the only team in the country with five players owning 40+ catches. In 2015, Washington State was the only team in the country with 10 players who recorded 20+ receptions last season 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 are set to be a big part of the Cougar offense in 2017. Martin Jr. broke out against Boise State last season with 12 catches for 158 yards including an acrobatic 50-yard tumbling touchdown. He made the most of his two catches at No. 15 Stanford, scoring touchdowns on both and caught two more touchdowns against Arizona. Johnson-Mack also contributed in his first season, recording 35 receptions for 246 yards including a seven-catch game at Boise State and his first career touchdown in the win over Arizona. Both started in the opener against Montana State with Martin Jr. catching a short touchdown pass and Johnson-Mack tallying five catches in his first career start. Last week against Boise State, Johnson-Mack posted career highs of eight receptions and 81 yards while Martin Jr. added eight for 66 yards.

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 100-yard game while Calvin caught a 17-yard touchdown that started the fourth-quarter comeback.

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., entering his junior season, 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. He opened 2017 with a six-yard touchdown catch against Montana State.

According the website, the 2016 Cougar offensive line was near the top of a couple categories. 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. In week one, right guard B.J. Salmonson earned his first career "Bone Award" following his play in the win over Montana State. In the triple overtime win last week against Boise State, right tackle Cole Madison earned his first "Bone Award" of the season and fifth of his career.
The awards in 2017: Montana State: B.J. Salmonson; Boise State: Cole Madison

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 opened 2017 in a big way 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 in the week one win, recording the first Cougar 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). The Cougars "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. The WSU defense has started 2017 with five takeaways in the first two games including four against Boise State, two that were returned for touchdowns. Now in their third season under Grinch, the Cougars are 14-3 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 in the 56-6 victory, 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 in 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 286 yards of total offense and held California to its lowest point total of the season (21).

Defensive lineman Hercules Mata'afa was named to the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Award Watch List, both given to the country's top defensive player. Mata'afa was named to the preseason watch list last season and earned All-Pac-12 second team after finishing 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 and added three more TFL's in the win over Boise State. The Hawaii native enters week three third in the country with a Pac-12-best 5.5 tackles-for-loss and as the Pac-12's active leader in career tackles-for-loss with 30.0 and second among active Pac-12 players with 14 career sacks.

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. The Sammamish, Wash. native was an All-Pac-12 Conference honorable mention selection last season after finishing fourth in the conference with a team-best 93 tackles and third on the team with 7.5 tackles-for-loss. Pelluer, entering his redshirt-senior season, 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.

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 with 93 tackles including 7.5 for loss, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. The Sammamish, Wash. native recorded 10+ tackles three times and led the Cougars in tackles seven times. Pelluer led the Cougars in tackles in each of the past two seasons, averaging 97 and with more similar season will be the first Cougar to break into the WSU Top-10 for career tackles since 2008. WIL linebacker Isaac Dotson finished the year fourth on the team with 64 stops including six for loss. Pelluer and Dotson each tallied five tackles. Both 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.

All-Pac-12 second team defensive lineman Hercules Mata'afa finished 2016 fifth in the Pac-12 with 13.5 tackles-for-loss including a team-best five sacks and 47 tackles. RUSH Dylan Hanser tied for third in the Pac-12 with three forced fumbles and defensive end Nnamdi Oguayo recorded three sacks in the win over Arizona and added another in the Holiday Bowl. The Cougar defense opened 2017 with eight tackles-for-loss including three sacks, 1.5 from Mata'afa against Montana State. Last week 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 last week with 1.5 career sacks.

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 with Luani playing at Nickel, and recorded 61 tackles and recovered a team-best three fumbles in his junior season. True freshman Jalen Thompson enrolled early last season, took over at strong safety and recorded 51 tackles, made a team-best seven pass breakups and was named to the True Freshman All-America Team by Thompson opened 2017 with a team-high seven stops and his first career interception and added eight tackles last week.

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 last week against Boise State, scooping up a fumble after a sack and scrambling seven yards for the Cougars first touchdown of the game.

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. With his two makes last Saturday, Powell now owns 34 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 11 points against BSU and now owns with 229 career points, fifth-most in WSU history. He also owns the third-best field goal percentage (69.4) in school history.

Each week, Cougar special teams coach Eric Mele selects a Special Forces Player of the Week who made the biggest impact. Following the week one win over Montana State, redshirt-freshman Dillon Sherman was impressive in his collegiate debut, appearing on three units, recording a tackle on kickoff and drawing a holding call. The week two winner was kicker Erik Powell who connected to clutch field goals, had a 54-yard punt, and two touchbacks on kickoffs.
The awards for 2017; Montana State: Dillon Sherman; Boise State: Erik Powell.

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. Kicker Erik Powell rebounded from a rough start to the season by making nine of his last 10 attempts and is tied for sixth in WSU history with 31 career makes. In Pac-12 play, the Cougars led the league in punt return average (18.8) and were second in kick return avg (23.0).

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.

Last season, Cougar head coach Mike Leach was named a George Munger Coach of the Year Nominee for the second straight season. Leach led WSU its second straight eight win season and is the first coach in program history to make three bowl games in his first five seasons.

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.

Former Washington State head coach Dennis Erickson is one of eight selected to the State of Washington Sports Hall of Fame. Erickson was recognized during the Cougars season-opener against Montana State. Known for his success throughout the country and in the northwest, Erickson tallied 229 career wins in college and the NFL, leading 12 teams to bowl games including a pair of national championships at the University of Miami. Erickson also coached the Seattle Seahawks for four seasons (1995-98) and two more with the San Francisco 49ers (2003-04). Erickson's head coaching career began with four seasons at Idaho and one at Wyoming before arriving at Washington State in 1987 where he led the Cougars to a 9-3 campaign in 1988, earned Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors and capped the season with an Aloha Bowl victory. Erickson went on to Miami where he coached the Hurricanes for six seasons, winning 63 games during that span including the 1989 and 1991 National Championships. Erickson, a native of Ferndale, Wash. and Montana State alum, coached 23 seasons as a collegiate head coach, Erickson coached 10 Consensus All-Americans, was twice named the Sporting News National Coach of the Year (1992, 2000), earned the Big East Coach of the Year three times and was voted the Pac-10 Coach of the year three times.

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.