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The Good, Bad and Ugly of WSU’s stunning upset over Wisconsin

Still not sure how the Cougs did it!

Washington State v Wisconsin Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Good morning! Or, if you attended the game in person, good (Monday) evening! If y’all didn’t drink Madison dry, I’m willing to bet that you did your damndest to make it happen. As we all know, that courageous attempt came on the heels of the Washington State Cougars pulling off a highly improbably 17-14 upset win over the Wisconsin Badgers.

How improbable? Well, for starters, the Cougs were 17.5-point underdogs. For another, WSU hadn’t won a road non-conference game against a ranked opponent since in almost two decades. But as unlikely as going to Madison and coming away with a win would seem (the Badgers had only lost three of these games at home in the last two decades), Jake Dickert - did you know he’s from Wisconsin? - and the Cougars proved that it was not impossible.

The only super-small bummer surrounding WSU’s win is the fact that it is likely to get lost among what was an absolutely wild and awesome Saturday in college football world. Marshall wins at Notre Dame, Appalachian State wins at chronically-overrated Texas A&M, Texas and Alabama go down to the wire etc., etc., but who cares? OUR COUGS PLAYED IN FRONT OF A NATIONAL AUDIENCE IN A PRIME SLOT AND WON THE DAMN FOOTBALL GAME.

Let’s get to it.

The Good

  • On the whole, there really aren’t enough superlatives to describe the gutty effort that the defense put forth on Saturday. Those guys were on the field for what seemed like the entire game, and held Wisconsin’s power rushing offense to a measly 4.0 yards-per-carry and 14 points.
  • Wisconsin star running back Braelon Allen averaged 6.8 yards-per-carry in 2021. On Saturday, WSU kept him under 100 yards and more than two yards below his per-carry average. Containing Allen was critical to WSU’s chances, and that defense came through.
  • Time of possession: still overrated!
  • Clock management? Clock management! Ok, end of game clock management. Dickert and Morris played it beautifully. WSU took possession with 5:14 remaining, needing three first downs to seal the game. Up to that point, WSU’s median possession time (excluding the end of the first half), was one minute and 56 seconds. All WSU had to do to seal the game was triple that. It did just that, aided in part by an 18-yard screen to Lincoln Victor that featured an outstanding De’Zhaun Stribling block. The Cougs bled the clock bled to six seconds on 4th down, and nstead of risking a punt and another #FORCES incident, Ward rolled out, killed a few seconds and chucked the ball into the air to drain the clock to 0:00. Let’s see what followed.
  • Loved to see the Nard Dog make two more huge plays, first taking a screen pass clear across the field for a 43-yard gain, then returning the second-half kickoff 73 yards to jumpstart the team after what was a disastrous end to the first half. More to follow on that last part.
  • How good was the defense? Even Lincoln Victor got in on the act, with a play that may have saved the game. Victor’s hit on Jay Shaw following a Cam Ward interception, and Konner Gomness’ incredible hustle to recover the ball, breathed life into the Cougars. Six plays later, they scored what proved to be the winning points.
  • Speaking of those winning points, how about Nakia Watson’s return to Camp Randall?! He scored both WSU touchdowns, the second coming after an incredible spin move to break a tackle, followed by a sprint to paydirt. Watson is the early leader for most improved player.
  • Tight End / H-back appearance! Great pass and catch by Ward and Billy Riviere to set up WSU for its first score.
  • The o-line did a hell of a job shortly afterward, blowing open a hole for an easy Watson score.
  • Fellow staff member Mark Sandritter and I are currently locked in a heated battle to drive the Daiyan Henley bandwagon. That guy is everywhere. He led WSU in tackles with nine, and tackles-for-loss with 1.5. That guy is everywhere, and it’s clear that he’s the heart of WSU’s defense.
  • The guys in front of Henley were pretty damn good also. New arrivals like David Gusta and Nusi Malani teamed with vets Ron Stone, Jr. and Brennan Jackson to limit Wisconsin’s power running game. Man, it can not be easy to throw yourself into those behemoths on that offensive line, play after play, series after series.
  • Gusta really stood out on one play when he absolutely enveloped a running back for a three-yard loss.
  • Hard to fault Christian Mejia after making that interception, but man, that fumble about ripped my heart out.
  • Key sequence in the second quarter: Facing 2nd-and-3 at the WSU 46, Henley stops Chez Mellusi for a one yard gain, Andrew Edson stuffs Mellusi for a loss of one, then WSU forces an incompletion on 4th down. 1:19 later, the Cougs had a 7-0 lead.
  • Outstanding hustle by Grant Stephens to get a kickout block to spring the Nard Dog for a first down on 3rd-and-2 in the red zone.
  • Jaylen Jenkins didn’t have any eye-popping stats, but man he looks good with the ball in his hands.
  • How about Quinn Roff’s hustle on the game-changing play? Despite lining up on the line, Roff ran his ass off to catch a receiver down field, stripping the ball and enabling a Sam Lockett recovery.
  • Cam Ward’s cool on that first 3rd-down when WSU absolutely had to keep possession was impressive. I have no idea what the play call was, but Ward didn’t panic and picked up a critical first down when the play could have ended in disaster.
  • Ward averaged north of 7 YPP, a big improvement over last week.
  • Brock Huard made a couple puzzling statements during the game, but it was touching to see how emotional he got as Jake Dickert celebrated with his family after the game.
  • These tweets:

If I’m Sam Lockett, I am getting a wall-sized version of this beauty.

Extra points for the live TV F-Bomb!

I feel like I’m watching this one on 2.0 speed but it’s still great.

The Bad

  • We authors tend to vent our spleens in the Slack during the games, and I must confess that I am completely levelheaded and pragmatic concerning Cam Ward, right Cassino? Ok maybe not. I think it stems from the fact that the entire offseason was filled with hype about how the offense was going to hum out of the gate. That clearly has not happened, and while Ward shows flashes of that star ability, there are still too many instances when there’s a play to be made and it just doesn’t happen. The earliest example was a seem route to a wide open Riviere that would have been an explosive play. Ward missed him badly, and then threw an interception a few plays later. And there are just too many instances where, instead of climbing the pocket and going through his reads, he pulls the rip cords and bails from the pocket, often with zero positive results. I know it’s early, and I know patience should be the word of the day, but as much praise as we were fed all offseason with Ward and Morris, I just can’t help but think that the offense should be better.
  • And for god’s sake, throw down the field a little more, in lieu of the seemingly endless screen plays.
  • As Mark pointed out, there are times when Morris’ uptempo tactics are a strategic detriment (my words there). One example was 4th down inside the Wisconsin 5, when WSU hurried to run a play even though the spot was, let’s just say, questionable. WSU had to settle for a field goal after a false start.
  • On the whole, Brian Ward called a great game. However, there were multiple instances when Wisconsin faced 3rd-and-long, and WSU played soft zone, allowing easy completions, especially to the tight end. For the game, Wisconsin was 8-15 on third down. Not great for the defense!
  • On the other side, WSU was 2-11, and 1-9 before the final possession, when Ward’s scramble play likely saved the game.
  • Colton, buddy. You have one job. I mean, you really do have one job. You just can’t kick the ball out of bounds.
  • WSU’s pass defense really took a hit when Derrick Langford limped off and didn’t return. Don’t know how much time he will miss, but WSU really needs him.
  • Too many bad snaps, a couple of which nearly had disastrous consequences.
  • Hey, Badgers? It’s ok to run a play where your linemen don’t tackle our defenders. Really, you’re allowed to do that. It was as if their coach said, “Hey guys just hold all the time. The refs aren’t gonna call all of them.”

The Ugly

  • As great as Dickert and Morris managed the last five minutes, they were the polar opposite at the end of the first half. Like, “if this were the SEC the coach would be fired in the locker room” bad. WSU was pretty fortunate to be tied, and faced incredibly long odds of making anything happen. Just take the tie, get to halftime and get the offense ready for the second half kick. But no. After a Lincoln Victor catch that may or not have been a first down, the offense hurried itself into a problem, and somehow nobody knew what down it was. In the confusion, Ward got decked, then threw incomplete and WSU handed Wisconsin a gift, which it cased in to a 14-7 lead. Just inexcusable game management, and it could very well have cost WSU the game. Thankfully, the coaches atoned for it, but crap like that just can’t happen with a team like WSU, whose margins are always razor thin.
  • Wisconsin’s place kicker. Yeesh.
  • Finally, there was a critical call on Chau Smith-Wade that made my blood boil 49% at him, and 51% at the officials. Facing yet another 3rd-and-long and a stacked box, Wisconsin went deep, where Smith-Wade was 1-on-1 with Keontez Lewis. The throw was off the mark, and the receiver basically gave up on it. Even still, Smith-Wade seemed to panic and tackled Lewis as the ball landed harmlessly. Flag. Awful call? Yes, as the ball had no chance to be caught. Poor decision to tackle the receiver? Also yes.

All in all, that was one hell of a win. And to be honest, I still have no idea how it happened. Wisconsin owned the advantage in nearly every important statistic, but somehow, some way, WSU dug down and clawed out the win. What a day. Go Cougs.


'It's hard to put it into words': Washington State upsets No. 19 Wisconsin, securing major accomplishment for Cougs' program and coach | The Spokesman-Review
“I just know each and every one of them is proud of me and they’re proud of this program, and I’m proud to wear Dickert on my back, because I represent them,” he said.

'We're all so proud of him': WSU coach and Wisconsin native Jake Dickert has 200 family and friends in support at Camp Randall | The Spokesman-Review
A couple hundred Cougar-clad family members and friends of Washington State coach Jake Dickert, a Wisconsin native, gathered for a Saturday morning tailgate and catered barbecue before the nonconference game against the 19th-ranked Badgers.

Difference makers: Nakia Watson leads ground attack in upset of Wisconsin | The Spokesman-Review
WSU opened the second half with a special-teams spark from veteran receiver Renard Bell, who returned a kickoff 73 yards, setting up a scoring drive that instilled some life in a Cougar offense that had a rough first half.

‘Chain reaction of bad events’ causes Wisconsin defense to spiral downward
“We only gave up 17 points, but a lot of them were just unfortunate plays,” Herbig said. “It was just a chain reaction of bad events.”

Former Badger proves himself with 2 TDs to beat Wisconsin football
The game clock struck zero, and Nakia Watson had fireworks going off in his head.


Cougs match serving record in third-straight sweep to cap Fairfield Invitational - Washington State University Athletics
Washington State's 14 aces tied a three-set program record that was set back in 1992 against Rhode Island.


Soccer Welcomes Cal Poly for Sunday Matchup - Washington State University Athletics
Washington State hosts Cal Poly at Lower Soccer Field, Sunday afternoon, for the 8th all-time meeting between the programs. The Mustangs hold a 4-2-1 record against the Cougars, with WSU winning the last matchup in 2018, 4-1, in Pullman.

This Week in Parenting

It was another tough week for the mighty Gulf Breeze HS freshmen, though much more promising than the opener. The Dolphins led at multiple points throughout the game, but couldn’t close things out in an eventual 28-20 defeat. That wasn’t the biggest bummer for yours truly when it came to the high schooler. He’s a member of the school’s Junior ROTC program, and volunteered to take part in a 9/11 remembrance ceremony on Saturday. I got a call on Thursday in which he said, “Hey dad, you know how I was supposed to be at school at 7:30 to get ready for the ceremony? Well now I have to be there at 7.” Super duper.

So out of bed I rolled at 6:15 Saturday morning to throw him into the shower. If that weren’t awesome enough, I was standing in the mirror, trying to follow along with a YouTube video late Friday night, during which I attempted to tie a windsor knot in his Air Force-issued tie. I mean, why ask for help more than 10 hours before the ceremony starts? I’m pretty much a total failure as a parent for multiple reasons; among those reasons is the fact that I don’t know how tie a tie on command. But thankfully I stumbled my way through it, and there he was pulling flag detail on Saturday morning.

Then there’s the youngest. After I dropped my folks at the airport on Tuesday, I stopped at a local brewery. As I was getting ready to leave, Mrs. Kendall called and said that she was on the way to the ER because he had dislocated his elbow. He’d been swinging his bat and somehow threw the elbow out in the process. This totally confounded the orthopedist. So anyway, we get into the room and he elected to be anesthetized for the reset.

I don’t know if y’all have ever seen someone on ketamine, but yowza. Even though you’re out, the eyes remain open and rather twitchy. Mrs. Kendall and I had to leave the room for the reset portion, then returned shortly after as he came to. It wasn’t exactly normal! His eyes continued to twitch, and he began to ask repeated questions, such as “Does 4 x 2 equal 8?” and “When can I get off these meds?” He also told us he loved us more times than he has in his entire life.

The best part came when he asked if I’d video’d the reset procedure, as he requested. We said the staff didn’t allow us to watch it, to which he replied, “Oh. Karens.” So now he’s in a cast for at least two weeks, while soccer starts Monday. Perfect timing.


A Field Guide to Dad T-Shirts - by Scott Hines
The ACBNU Dadthropology Department investigates.