PULLMAN — A wire-to-wire rout of New Mexico State in which Washington State produced more than 600 yards of offense for the 28th time in program history and eighth time under coach Mike Leach didn’t leave the Cougars with many pressing questions or concerns after their opener.
And of the few headaches Leach is having this week as the Cougars prepare to face FCS opponent Northern Colorado at 2 p.m. Saturday (on Pac-12 Networks), some are better than others.
For example, how should the reps be divided and distributed at the “X” outside wide-receiver position? Redshirt freshman Rodrick Fisher, junior Tay Martin and senior Calvin Jackson Jr. are still interlocked in a three-way battle that began during spring camp and might not be settled anytime soon.
“That’s a good question,” Leach said Monday afternoon during his weekly news conference. “We’ll meet on that today. Don’t have a clear-cut plan with that.”
It’s as good a problem as an Air Raid coach can have, but still one Leach needs to sort out before the Cougars begin playing games of more consequence.
Starting denotations are not so important at the four receiver positions (X, H, Y, Z) because Leach tends to rotate two players through each role, and it isn’t uncommon for the Cougars to have multiple players of the same caliber at each spot.
Travell Harris and Renard Bell are interchangeable at the “H” slot position and the Cougars keep humming when Easop Winston Jr. is taken out of the game in lieu of fellow “Z” Dezmon Patmon.
But the Cougars have a real dilemma at “X,” where the trio of Fisher, Martin and Jackson Jr. might as well be 1A, 1B and 1C options.
“Part of it is those guys are kind of playing keepaway with us just a little bit,” Leach said. “One guy looks like he’s the best player, then the other player beats him out, then the other player beats him out. And so it goes.”
Martin is the most established of the three, having caught 31 passes for 366 yards and six touchdowns as a true freshman. That year, after the Houma, La., native spelled the suspended Tavares Martin Jr. in a game against Colorado, Leach declared Martin could be the best receiver on the team by the end of his rookie year — and if the rangy, athletic wideout wasn’t that, he wasn’t far from it.
With Fisher rehabbing after an injury, Jackson came on toward the end of the 2018 season, catching 14 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns during a three-game span against Colorado, Arizona and Washington. Midway through fall camp, Leach said Jackson had the edge on Martin, and both were still ahead of Fisher.
But while the Cougars were training at Sacajawea Junior High in Lewiston, Idaho, Martin was excused from one practice by his coach, so Fisher stepped in, caught a slew of passes and had multiple touchdowns when the team scrimmaged later that afternoon. Fisher’s hot streak continued through the end of camp as the Spokane native led the receivers in catches during both of the mock games.
Then, after vaulting from 1C to 1A, Fisher delivered in a real game, catching a 41-yard touchdown pass from Anthony Gordon on the first drive in Saturday’s opener.
“Thought he played good, thought he played fast,” Leach said. “One thing Rod Fisher always does is play full speed. I think that’s one thing that’s distinguished him. He doesn’t waste any time playing slow.”
Saturday was also Fisher’s first start, although the term doesn’t hold much weight at WSU, because the second-year freshman was replaced by Martin on the Cougars’ next drive. Fisher finished with three catches for 66 yards and a touchdown, while Martin had five receptions for 57 yards. Jackson was the odd man out this time, but it doesn’t mean he won’t be the first one in Saturday against Northern Colorado.
Fortunately, Leach has a few days to alleviate that headache.