By Christian Caple The Spokesman-Review
PULLMAN – Enough mistakes were made by Washington State on Saturday that coach Mike Leach won’t have to search long for a handful of teachable moments.
The Cougars lost two fumbles in opponent territory. Their quarterback, Connor Halliday, threw two interceptions, including one at the goal line on first down.
But those errors are no more than asterisks, because WSU did far more right than wrong in this 42-0 thumping of winless Idaho before 31,521 at Martin Stadium.
This game wound up nothing more than a speed bump – and not much of one – on the Cougars’ surge toward next weekend’s showdown against No. 5 Stanford at CenturyLink Field. WSU enters that game with a 3-1 record and a chance to prove itself worthy of competing with the Pac-12’s finest.
Halliday shook off his inauspicious start – 2-of-7 out of the gate – to complete 31 of 43 passes for 346 yards. This is the second consecutive game in which Halliday has completed more than 70 percent of his passes.
There were plenty of opportunities. Idaho’s ineptitude almost cost it a touchdown on WSU’s first play from scrimmage. Nobody lined up against Cougars receiver Isiah Myers, who ran straight up the left sideline by himself. Connor Halliday threw it toward him, but the ball sailed over Myers’ head, a sure touchdown gone for naught.
No matter. There were plenty of other chances for the Cougars, who scored four touchdowns in the first half, led 28-0 at the break and cruised to their second easy victory in as many games.
The Vandals’ young secondary looked so lost that at times it seemed Halliday was simply playing catch with his receivers. A 43-yard touchdown pass to Gabe Marks in the first quarter required a couple of nifty jukes from the sophomore receiver. But a 30-yard scoring strike to Dom Williams early in the second quarter was made relatively simple after Idaho cornerback Jayshawn Jordan stopped on the wheel route and watched Williams haul it in at about the 5-yard line, then shake a tackle from the safety and walk across the goal line.
That made it 14-0, and a 20-yard touchdown pass from Halliday to senior Vince Mayle about four minutes later provided the Cougars with enough separation to believe they could roll thereafter. Halliday threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Marks with 24 seconds remaining in the first half to prove that notion true.
The Cougars did fumble on their first two possessions of the second half, and Halliday threw his second interception on WSU’s next drive on a pass he threw too high for the intended receiver.
But WSU’s defense was again stout, as it has been in each of the Cougars’ three victories. Neither Idaho quarterback – Chad Chalich or Josh McCain – was effective enough to get the Vandals into the end zone. WSU defensive tackle spent much of the day in Idaho’s backfield, and finished with 3.5 tackles for loss.
Halliday settled down after the spate of turnovers and Jeremiah Laufasa scored two rushing touchdowns, one late in the third quarter, the other early in the fourth, to push the final score into laugher territory.
Marks caught 11 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns, all career bests.
The Cougars held the Vandals on four tries inside the 2-yard line late in the game, preserving their first shutout since 2003.
WSU’s game against Stanford will kickoff at 7 p.m. and air on ESPN.