Isom makes smooth transition to nickel

Portland State receiver Beau Kelly, left, runs as Washington State’s Daniel Isom defends during the second half of Saturday’s game.

PULLMAN — As the Washington State defense clicked through pregame drills, three individuals in street clothes watched with interest beyond the west end zone.

Unfortunately for the Cougars, they were three prominent members of their safety and nickelback crew. During the next few hours, though, their teammates filled in for them admirably.

In particular, senior safety Daniel Isom made a smooth transition to nickel as the Cougars defeated Portland State 44-24 on Saturday at Gesa Field.

Out of action for unspecified reasons were starting nickel Armani Marsh, backup nickel Armauni Archie and fast-improving safety Tanner Moku.

But Isom was back in a valuable way after getting hurt early in a 26-23 loss to Utah State the previous week. It’s unclear how much warning he’d had about the change in responsibilities, but he tallied two tackles, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry.

“He’s such a smart football player that he probably cross-trains in his mind daily,” WSU coach Nick Rolovich said. “He knows how things work together. Incredibly athletic, can play probably five DB positions for us. It’s how he much cares. They (the safeties are nickels) are in the same meeting room. The pieces probably fit because he’s in that meeting room and it’s important to him.”

New worries in the secondary sprang up in the second half with an apparent injury to standout cornerback Jaylen Watson.

GUARD ROTATION — In an unexpected move, WSU sophomore Ma’ake Fifita entered the game at right guard midway through the second quarter and looked comfortable immediately. He rotated with new starter Cade Beresford the rest of the way.

“Kind of the Swiss Army Knife for us,” Rolovich said. “With (center) Brian Greene not available, there was a lot of roles that Ma’ake could have played in this game. He’s incredibly valuable to us, and he’s had some tremendous improvement since spring. He started getting some confidence in spring.”

Greene, injured early in the Utah State, watched from the sideline in street clothes.

Grummert may be contacted at daleg@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2290.