PULLMAN — Their offense didn’t begin the game with the same effortless panache, and their defense didn’t impose the same level of dominance in the trenches.
But the 22nd-ranked Cougars wound up with essentially the same result Saturday as Anthony Gordon, his receivers and his bodyguards led the way to Washington State’s 59-17 win against Northern Colorado.
Who wants to quibble? Two games into the season, the Cougars are outscoring their opponents 117-24.
Before a crowd of 27,585 on a pleasant afternoon at Martin Stadium, Gordon opened with six consecutive completions, nine fewer than he did the previous week in a 58-7 trouncing of New Mexico State.
Heaven forbid ... he threw an interception this time.
But the long-overshadowed senior quarterback still finished with 464 yards passing and four touchdowns in his second career start, another explicit example of what a well-practiced quarterback can do if his protection is ample — often more than that — and his receivers are precise.
“I got the first game out the way, and (spent the week) mentally watching all the film and pulling from some mistakes,” Gordon said of the transition from Blowout 1 to Blowout 2. “Just working to get better and improve from every week.
“They brought pressure from the edge, more so than New Mexico State,” he said of the Bears. “But the offensive line did a great job of picking it up, and (the running backs) did a great job seeing blitzes and picking up the right guy.”
Brandon Arconado, another workmanlike senior who’s spent years in the shadows, made eight receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown.
“It was awesome watching Arconado have a career day,” Gordon said. “Watching him work his way up from a walk-on, all the way up to now as a scholarship starting wide receiver — just the connection we’ve developed over the years, it’s been great, and being able it execute it during a game is something really rewarding.”
Gordon also was in sync with his former junior-college receiver, Easop Winston Jr., who made six catches for 113 yards and two scores, and was aided by a ground game led by Max Borghi (52 rushing yards) and newcomer Deon McIntosh, who uncorked a late 32-yard scoring run.
These performances eventually wore down the Bears (0-2), a Football Championship Subdivision team projected to finish last in the Big Sky Conference but armed with a hard-nosed running back who almost single-handedly kept them in contention for a spell. Milo Hall squeezed 100 of his 113 rushing yards into the first half as UNC trailed only 24-10 at halftime.
But the Cougars (2-0) sailed to touchdowns on their next three possessions, with Gordon finding Winston on a delayed fade for a 23-yard touchdown to open the second-half scoring.
Gordon finished 31-for-39 and now stands 60-for-74 for the season.
His first glaring mistake of the year came midway through the second quarter, when he threw over the middle and apparently didn’t see linebacker Jace Bobo, who made an easy interception.
“That was a poor read on my part,” Gordon said. “I probably had somebody wide-open on it, in most cases.”
But the Cougars forced four turnovers themselves, all of them fumbles.
Standout linebacker Jahad Woods, who had missed practice time during the week after sustaining an upper-body injury against NMSU, made two tackles on the game’s first three plays and finished with 10 tackles and a forced fumble.
Another veteran linebacker, Dillon Sherman, appeared to suffer an upper-body injury in the second quarter.
The Wazzu defense again used big-play pop to offset some weaknesses, chiefly missed tackles this time on Hall’s up-the-middle runs. Midway through a UNC drive in the second quarter, Cougars coach Mike Leach called a timeout and addressed the defense. On the next play, Woods forced a fumble recovered by Ron Stone Jr.
“Their offense was kind of in a rhythm, so we wanted to break that,” Leach said. “And then the other thing, it seemed like we were overrunning some things and wanted to just refocus, you know?”
Woods said the Cougs’ run defense was “below average. I think we need to do better next week (Friday night on the road). We have a really good opponent in Houston, and we have to tackle better and play better overall as a defense.”
On the other hand, the Cougars’ inexperienced defensive backs fared well against highly regarded UNC quarterback Jacob Knipp, who was 8-of-15 passing for 128 yards and no touchdowns.
Grummert may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2290.
WSU 59, N. Colorado 17
Stars of the game
ANTHONY GORDON completed 31 of 39 passes for 464 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. BRANDON ARCONADO made eight catches for 127 yards and a score, while EASOP WINSTON JR. had six receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns. On defense, JAHAD WOODS made seven tackles and forced a fumble that ended a scoring threat. True freshman TRAVION BROWN made eight tackles in a hurry toward the end of the game, matching the total of more seasoned backer JUSTUS ROGERS.
The Cougars led only 14-7 when Northern Colorado breezed to the WSU 44-yard line in six plays, including five consecutive runs by MILO HALL. Cougars coach Mike Leach called a timeout and addressed the defense, then on the next play Woods forced a fumble by Hall, recovered by RON STONE JR. on the 29. The Cougars scored four plays later on a short run by MAX BORGHI.
The Cougars play at 6:15 p.m. Pacific on Friday at Houston.