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Cougars defeat Montana State, a fan base exhales

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Montana State v Washington State Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

Well that was certainly a welcome change, wasn’t it? WSU played an opening game that was never in doubt for the first time in what seems like three decades, and as we wake up this morning, we can both celebrate the win and realize this team has a lot of room to improve. So as the players and coaches wake up to a 1-0 record for the first time in their WSU careers, let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from a cathartic late-night victory.

The Good:

  • As great as #32 was, we’re starting with the defense. Was Montana State’s offense below average-to-somewhat inept? Yes. Was that the most one-dimensional team WSU will face this season? Almost certainly. Does that diminish the goose egg? Not a bit. Holding any team scoreless is pretty dang tough, regardless of skill level. Teams can often luck into at least one score, and the only MSU threat was due to a WSU miscue. The most impressive stat to me was MSU’s 1-11 third down conversion rate. This defense needs to get off the field, and they did Saturday. Very impressive outing.
  • Ok we need to mention James Williams now. Holy smokes, what a player. Trying to leap over a defender is never a good idea, but damn if he didn’t make it look easy. He also made some poor MSU defender look silly along the sideline, caught 39 percent of Falk’s completions, scored twice, and averaged five yards-per-carry when handed the ball. Not bad!
  • What Williams is to the offense, Hercules Mata’afa is to the defense. He was virtually unblockable Saturday, collecting 2.5 tackles-for-loss, including 1.5 sacks.
  • Jalen Thompson has the look of a guy who is going to be an impact player sooner than later.
  • Jamal Morrow looked ok on the ground, averaging 8.9 yards-per-carry. Let’s see if we can’t get that up to 10 against Boise State, Jamal.
  • For one night at least, the Kyle Sweet punting extravaganza worked out pretty well, as he averaged 51.5 yards on two punts.
  • Probably one of the best and most underrated parts of the game: It ended precisely three hours after it began. I don’t know if it’s the shortest game Leach has ever coached in, but it had to be close. It was quite refreshing.

The Bad:

  • Look, I love Luke Falk. I’m elated that WSU has a QB as good as he is. I realize that MSU was sitting in a soft zone and trying to clog passing lanes, but man is it frustrating to watch Falk stand there and look, stand there and look, stand there and look, as I scream at my TV for him to just throw the ball away before he gets killed. If I were a defensive coordinator planning for WSU (and we all know I clearly am not) I would rush three or four guys and clog the passing lanes. It almost looks as if Falk is paralyzed at times when that happens.
  • I know it was the first game, but the young receivers were not all that impressive. They have to get better quickly, because the opposing defenses probably won’t be any worse than Saturday’s. The vets need to step up as well. Isaiah Johnson-Mack has to secure the ball better, and until late in the fourth quarter, I didn’t know if C.J. Dimry was even on the team anymore.
  • I don’t know if Mike Leach was trying to settle some petty score with Jeff Choate, but throwing passes in lieu of taking a knee is the height of stupidity. All you’re doing is risking injury to your players, and for what? I’m all about trying to get guys quality reps, but when you can successfully kill the clock by taking a knee, it’s the only sensible play.
  • On a related note, the last play of the first half reminded me of Bill Barnwell, ESPN NFL writer. He used to write a column called “Thank You for Not Coaching” and there was often one thing that bothered him above all others: “Want a new pet peeve? Join me in hating the meaningless draw play to end the first half, a move that coaches run even though it offers downside without virtually any upside whatsoever.” What did WSU do on the last play of the half? Yep, they ran a meaningless play that had zero chance of yielding points. Again, just take a stinking knee and don’t get anyone hurt.
  • Always funny when a DB, looking at you Mr. Pippins, gets toasted for a would-be touchdown but lucks out when the open receiver can’t haul it in, then gets up and peacocks like he didn’t get beat. Jason David would be proud.

The Ugly:

  • Andre Dillard got rolled up and limped off the field late in the game. Please be ok, Andre. Please.

All in all, not a bad night. Now the competition stiffens a good bit, in the form of Boise State. Let’s see if the Cougs can become 2-0 for the first time under Leach. If the game ends in a tidy three hours, all the better.

Football

Superior Washington State exorcises demons, opens with shutout win over Montana State | The Spokesman-Review
Any lingering thoughts about Washington State’s rotten luck against inferior opposition were put to bed almost instantly.

Three takeaways: Washington State’s Mike Leach gets his first season-opening win with Cougars | The Spokesman-Review
The Cougar game, which started at 7:35 p.m., was moved to FS2, which has about as much coverage as a broken umbrella.

John Blanchette: Washington State helps itself to some self-help advice | The Spokesman-Review
“This gives us something to build on,” tackle Cole Madison said. “The last couple of years we had to take a step back and regroup. This just gives us something to look forward to.”

Riley Sorenson lifts Washington State flag prior to season opener | The Spokesman-Review
For someone who’s had more than a few disheartening days over the years, the last 48 hours sure have been special for former Washington State center Riley Sorenson.

Falk lifts No. 24 Washington St. over Montana St. 31-0 | The News Tribune
Luke Falk threw for 311 yards and three touchdowns, setting the school career touchdowns passing record, as Washington State beat Montana State 31-0 in the season opener for both teams on Saturday night.

Washington State's short passes doom Bobcats | Bobcats Football | bozemandailychronicle.com
Without the pressure up front, the Bobcats had to rely on key stops that seldom came. As the game progressed, fatigue set in and Bobcats defenders missed routine tackles.

Falk dazzles, Murray, MSU flounder in Pullman | Bobcats Football | bozemandailychronicle.com
Nearly every time he dropped back to pass in Saturday evening’s season opener, Montana State’s precocious signal-caller mercilessly was dropped to the Martin Stadium turf. Hits piled up as quickly as incompletions in front of 30,000.

Beer

Best beer I had this week: Lots and lots and lots from which to choose this week, but of course it was the 2017 Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout, aka the victory beer. I popped it open at 14-0, both because it was clear which way the wind was blowing and because it was late and I’m old.

As for the story below, I made the trek up to Richmond a few weeks ago almost solely to visit the restaurant at the center of the article. It is a must-visit for the beer nerds among you. The food is pretty good, too.

How a Vietnamese Strip Mall Restaurant Launched One of America's Coolest Craft Beer Scenes - MUNCHIES
Mekong, an unassuming Vietnamese spot, is credited with igniting Richmond's now-thriving brewery scene.

Non-Sports

This story is pretty instructive in how one can take very negative criticism and turn it around. While it’s centered upon writing, it can be applied almost universally. I don’t know if it’s just me (probably) but people seem far more sensitive to criticism these days than in the past.

The Secret Life of a Book Manuscript - The Atlantic
A best-selling author submits a draft to his editor. Hijinks ensue.