By Jacob Thorpe The Spokesman-Review
PULLMAN — After the Washington State football team’s 24-17 victory at Arizona last weekend, both quarterback Connor Halliday and coach Mike Leach praised the offensive line for putting together one of its best games.
While the Wildcats sacked Halliday four times, he insisted after the game that those knockdowns were of the “coverage” variety, and that he had sufficient time to throw the ball if a receiver had been open. The Cougars ran for 101 yards — 99 more than their previous game against Arizona State.
“I felt good after the game, I felt like we gave (Halliday) a lot of time,” senior lineman Elliott Bosch said. “Obviously when we watch film there are things that need to be corrected, but overall I felt like it was one of our better games as a unit.”
There is plenty of experience on the offensive line. Bosch has started 22 straight games for the Cougars, and right tackle John Fullington has started 40, playing every position except center.
Bosch’s teammates have elected him as a captain for every game this season, and coaches credit his leadership for the unit’s cohesiveness.
“It’s one of those things where the other guys say, ‘Hey. I’m supposed to be bigger, stronger, more talented and supposed to get the reps this guy’s getting,’” offensive line coach Clay McGuire said. “Then they see him outwork him and say, ‘Hey. If he can perform at that level than why can’t I?’ I hope that’s something that the other guys see from him.”
Every year from 2008-12 WSU quarterbacks were sacked more than any others in the Pac-12. But this season the Cougars sit right in the middle of the conference with 22 sacks allowed. Every conference team, except Oregon State, that has allowed fewer sacks than WSU averages at least 14 fewer pass attempts per game.
The rushing game has improved as well. While the Cougars averaged a scant 1.4 yards per carry last season, the team has more than doubled that number to 3.1. The pass-happy WSU offense is bolstered by 57 rushing yards per game this season, an improvement over the 29.1 posted in 2012.
“We’re trying to peak about now,” McGuire said. “We’re trying to peak these last three or four games of the season, we want to be playing our best football (now). Our goal is not to play (our best) at the first of the season, it’s to play it at the end of the season.”
The Cougars offensive line will need to play its best this weekend against a Utah defense that leads the country with 36 sacks.
Trevor Reilly is the centerpiece of the Utes’ fearsome pass rush. He ranks second in the conference with nine sacks this season.
Reilly is a hybrid defensive end/linebacker and Utah’s coaches like to move him around the field to put him in the best position to create havoc for opposing quarterbacks.
“They bring a little bit more pressure than teams we’ve played in the past,” running backs coach Jim Mastro said. “Just do a lot of different things, they attack your protections well, so you’ve got to be able to protect yourself and protect your quarterback.”