PULLMAN — The Washington State football team gave itself a much-needed confidence boost in a cakewalk against Portland State.
But what else can be taken away from the one-sided affair?
WSU might have found an effective pace of offense, an efficient run/pass balance, a surefire No. 1 quarterback and a couple reliable new players.
The Cougars might be bringing a short-handed defense into their Week 3 test, though.
USC is up next, so Saturday the Cougars will get a better idea of where they stand.
First, here’s what we learned from WSU’s rout of Portland State:
Up-tempo, WSU thrives
The Cougars couldn’t “catch a rhythm early,” coach Nick Rolovich said, so they tweaked their tempo.
On its fifth possession, WSU’s offense picked up the pace and got into a groove.
Pre-snap huddles decreased, and the freewheeling Cougars picked apart Portland State with a stream of electric plays — some bold and improvised, some just well-executed.
In less than 10 minutes, they turned a 7-7 tie into a 17-point advantage and wound up cruising to a 44-24 victory against the Football Championship Subdivision team.
WSU piled up 199 yards and three touchdowns on 16 plays across three second-quarter possessions that spanned a combined 4:15. That’s about 16 seconds per snap.
The Cougars ran the ball 10 times and took six intermediate-to-deep shots in the passing game in those three series. Just two plays went for less than 5 yards.
WSU’s crisp sequence seemed to fatigue and befuddle Portland State’s defense, and the Vikings’ offense suddenly was in too deep of a hole.
Portland State couldn’t predict WSU’s offense, which had struck a productive run/pass balance. Quarterback Jayden de Laura had an air of confidence about him and it felt as though the Cougars could do no wrong.
“I think Jayden plays good at that pace,” Rolovich said. “I think it kinda calms things down. … They executed it pretty well, and I think it was very effective today.”
Rolovich also said he eliminated some pre-snap reads to relieve some of the pressure on de Laura and simplify the offense. That probably contributed to the Cougars’ relaxed demeanor in the second quarter.
The run-and-shoot went three-and-out twice in the first quarter against Portland State. The Cougars scored a touchdown on a short field, but afterward squandered a red-zone opportunity when de Laura forced a pass into a closed window and was intercepted.
Rolovich’s offense had an erratic start the previous week, too. WSU’s methodical approach wasn’t inoperative, but there was a certain offensive flow missing that the Cougars found Saturday.
De Laura dialed up fearless passes of 29 and 19 yards to Travell Harris, who wasn’t entirely open but came down with both well-placed balls anyway — the latter being a touchdown.
De Laura also capped the first of the three impressive drives with a shifty 10-yard touchdown run on a read option. He almost slipped while making a juke, yet still shook off the defender before darting toward the end zone and laying out to score.
Depth chart could have holes vs. USC
At kickoff Saturday, the Cougars already were short a few key pieces in their secondary.
During the game, WSU’s defensive backfield sustained another blow — one of major significance.
Senior cornerback Jaylen Watson, one of the Cougars’ better defensive players, appeared to land awkwardly while making a tackle in the third quarter.
He did not return, and was spotted on the sideline with his left arm in a sling.
Rolovich didn’t provide an update on Watson’s status.
If they can’t regain health in the secondary, the Cougars might be in a tight spot this weekend when they take on a USC offense that airs it out and boasts strong, lengthy receivers.
Watson matches up well with anyone in the conference. The 6-foot-3, 204-pounder is an NFL draft prospect and one of the Pac-12’s most physically imposing DBs. Opposing quarterbacks rarely have thrown his way in his five games at WSU.
He was joined on the sideline Saturday by the Cougars’ top two nickel cornerbacks — Armani Marsh and Armauni Archie — both of whom missed the game because of unknown issues. Backup safety Tanner Moku, who was leaned on in WSU’s Week 1 rotation, stood beside them in street clothes.
Corner Chris Jackson, a Michigan State transfer, missed his second consecutive game.
WSU shook up its secondary personnel in Week 2. Most notably, the Cougars shifted strong safety Daniel Isom to nickel. Isom started the previous week but suffered an injury in the first quarter and did not return.
But he apparently bounced back quickly enough to get a firm grasp on a new position. Isom had a steady outing at nickel. He had a big hit to stuff a running play and logged a third-down pass deflection.
“He’s such a smart football player,” Rolovich said of Isom, a Pac-12 honorable-mention selection in 2020. “He probably cross-trains his mind daily. He knows how things work together. Incredibly athletic, can probably play five DB positions for us. (Safeties and nickels) are in the same meeting room. The pieces probably fit because he’s in that meeting room and it’s important to him.”
Several firsts for WSU
More newcomers and backups are making appearances — and sometimes, impacts — than might have been expected before the season.
Edge rusher Andrew Edson, a true freshman from Snoqualmie, recorded his second consecutive game with a fumble recovery. Safety Halid Djibril forced the ball out on a third-down run during the Vikings’ first drive, and Edson was in the right place.
On the ensuing possession, Edson bullied past his blocker and registered his first career sack.
Edson had been praised throughout fall camp for his work ethic, but it wasn’t certain he’d be this much of a factor early, considering WSU has three experienced players at the same position. Edson has developed into one of the Cougars’ first defenders off the bench.
Junior receiver Mitchell Quinn, who earned a scholarship in fall camp and worked his way onto the two-deep, made his first two catches as a Cougar — one for 15 yards and another for 14 two plays later on a six-play, 73-yard scoring drive in the second quarter.
Defensive back Tyrone Hill Jr., had a team-high six tackles — including a stalemating hit at the line of scrimmage on a blitz — in his first game in crimson and gray.
Senior middle linebacker Justus Rogers, playing his 45th game at WSU, made his first career interception late in the second quarter to set up a short field goal at the buzzer.
Third-string sophomore quarterback Victor Gabalis saw the field unexpectedly. He threw three consecutive incompletions early in the fourth quarter, and after Portland State scored to make it 37-17, de Laura trotted back in for another smooth possession to re-extend the lead.