No. 18 Washington State aims for rare 4-0 start (Sep 23, 2017)

Washington State coach Mike Leach, trying to lead his team to its first 4-0 start in 16 years, is looking mostly for consistency when the Cougars finish nonconference play Saturday.

No. 18 Washington State (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12) will play Nevada (0-3) at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash.

Washington State is a four-touchdown favorite against a team that has true freshman quarterback Kaymen Cureton starting his first road game.

“I think we’ve been pretty resilient, but we haven’t been as consistent as I would have liked,” Leach said. “We did some good things, but I think we’re still battling consistency on every side of the ball.”

The defense must find its identity and become consistent without senior leader Peyton Pelluer at middle linebacker. Pelluer reportedly is out for the remainder of the season because of a broken bone in his left foot suffered in last week’s win over Oregon State.

He was coming off a 14-tackle performance against Boise State that earned him Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Leach did not want to comment about Pelluer’s status in his Monday press conference, although the linebacker’s family acknowledged to reporters — and the linebacker himself took to social media — to say that he won’t be able to play the rest of the season.

Leach’s potent “Air Raid” passing game is among those “consistency” concerns, although senior quarterback Luke Falk has the Cougars No. 6 nationally at 408.3 passing yards per game.

Leach noted that outside receivers Tavares Martin Jr., Isaiah Johnson-Mack and Dezmon Patmon finally produced as a whole against Oregon State, combining for five receiving touchdowns, 25 receptions and 341 receiving yards.

“I figured it would happen eventually,” Leach said. “Now we’ve got to consistently keep it happening. I guess my thought is that it’s about time. With young guys, there’s always an ‘about time’ quality to it. It’ll eventually happen, but you see it in practice weeks before it happens.”

Although Pullman and Reno are about 700 miles apart — and the Cougars are in the Pac-12 while Nevada is in the Mountain West — the program share several bonds.

“We’re pretty inbred with Nevada. … You can’t throw a dead cat without hitting somebody from Nevada here,” Leach said.

Leach coached with Nevada offensive coordinator Matt Mumme’s father, Hal Mumme. Back in the 1990s, they conceived the “Air Raid” offense that both programs run.

Washington State running backs coach Jim Mastro spent 11 years at Nevada from 2000 to 2010 during Chris Ault’s tenure as head coach. Mastro was one of Ault’s top assistant coaches, until the architect of the pistol offense retired in 2012.

Cougars’ inside linebackers coach Ken Wilson also worked under Ault at Nevada from 1989 to 2012 and was the associate head coach by the time Ault retired.

WSU outside receivers coach Derek Sage got his start in coaching as a graduate assistant at Nevada in 2003.

Nevada receiver Kaleb Fossum transferred from Washington State, where he started his career as a walk-on. Fossum, a junior, has a knee injury and is questionable to return to Pullman to play.

Cureton will start for Nevada in place of struggling junior Ty Gangi for the second consecutive game. Cureton started in last week’s 30-28 home loss to FCS Idaho State, a game in which he completed 19 of 33 passes for 205 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception. He also fumbled four times, losing none.

Nevada coach Jay Norvell, a former Arizona State assistant, was most pleased with Cureton’s performance on third down against Idaho State. Nevada converted 8-of-17 third-down opportunities.

Cureton completed 8 of 10 passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter as he nearly rallied the Wolf Pack to victory after trailing by 23 points.

“KC’s going to start,” Norvell was quoted as saying in the Reno Gazette-Journal after Monday’s practice. “He’s a wild horse back there running around. He should learn a lot from his first start. He really did a good job on third down.

“He made some plays with his feet and he scrambled, pulled up and threw and hit open receivers. That’s by far the best we’ve been on third downs. That was a real improvement. He threw for a high percentage and we had a couple of drops. We feel like he will continue to improve and handle his opportunity well.”

Nevada has experienced its share of difficult injury news of late with starting nose tackle Jarius McDade out of the season after sustaining a knee injury in practice and starting running back Jaxson Kincaide out indefinitely after suffering a concussion in the loss to Idaho State.