PULLMAN — Enough mistakes were made by Washington State University on Saturday that coach Mike Leach won’t have to search long for a handful of teachable moments.
The Cougars lost two fumbles in opposing 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 the 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 this weekend’s showdown against No. 5 Stanford at CenturyLink Field. WSU will enter that game with a 3-1 record and a chance to prove itself worthy of competing with the Pacific-12 Conference’s finest.
Halliday shook off his inauspicious start – 2-for-7 passing to start the game – to finish 31-for-43 for 346 yards.
It was the second consecutive game Halliday has completed more than 70 percent of his passes.
The Cougars had 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. 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 halftime 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 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 TD 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.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The Cougars fumbled 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.
WSU’s defense was again stout, as it has been in each of the Cougars’ three victories. Neither Idaho quarterback – Chad Chalich or Joshua McCain – was effective enough to get the Vandals into the end zone. WSU’s defensive line spent much of the day in Idaho’s backfield.
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 kick off at 7 p.m. Saturday and will be broadcast on ESPN.