The Washington State Cougars narrowly survived a scare from the rival Idaho Vandals, holding on to a 24-17 victory.
WSU (1-0) had previously dominated Idaho (0-1) and there was no reason to believe the Cougars would do anything but that again. But the Cougars continued to allow the Vandals to hang around for much longer than the Cougars anticipated. After trailing by 10 early, an early second half touchdown gave WSU their first lead of the game. Idaho continued to keep the game close, scoring a touchdown with six minutes to go to bring the game back within a score. The Vandals got their chance to tie or take the lead with under a minute to go, but the transfer LB Daiyan Henley sealed the game with an interception in the final seconds.
Despite the lofty expectations for the revamped Cougar offense — or ‘CougRaid’ — the Cougars couldn’t move the ball to open the game. A promising opening drive ended in a fumble from Jaylen Jenkins, giving Idaho the ball around midfield. Luckily for the Cougar offense, the defense held firm and forced a three and out, a theme that continued throughout the game. On the following drive, once again, WSU fumbled the ball, but this time it resulted in a much worse result. The Vandals’ Marcus Harris scooped up the loose ball and delivered it into the east end zone for the games first points. A WSU three and out, followed by an Idaho 27-yard field goal and all of a sudden, the Cougars trailed by 10 at the end of the first quarter.
The Cougars threatened to score early in the second, but couldn’t knock home a 51-yard field goal. The defense once again locked down the Idaho offense, using a great pass rush led by Ron Stone Jr. WSU finally got the ball moving in the back half of the second quarter. A nine play, 80 yard drive was finished off with a three yard touchdown pass from Cam Ward to Renard Bell on a beautiful play design.
With just under two and a half minutes left in the first half, the Cougar defense again came up big with an interception from Chau Smith-Wade inside Idaho territory.
Yet again, the offense couldn’t quite capitalize, failing to score within the 10 and settling for a field goal, taking a tie game at 10 into the half.
Idaho’s offense continued to be aggressive on the opening drive of the second half but failed to convert on a fourth and two at the WSU 42. The Cougars finally seemed to begin to take control of the game as the offense clicked for a 13 yard touchdown from Ward to De’Zhaun Stribling to take their first lead of the season, and the game, at 17-10.
But no matter how great the defense looked, the offense continued to reward their efforts with two punts and a third fumble of the game in their next three drives, as the game faded later into the Palouse night. Another failed Idaho fourth down conversion early in the fourth handed WSU the ball inside Idaho territory. WSU finally capitalized and again seemed to finally gain control with an eight yard touchdown to Jenkins to push the lead to 14.
After a heroic effort from the defense all night long, they finally blinked. The mighty Vandals rattled off an eight play, 75 yard drive in just under four and a half minutes to bring the game back within seven with 6:05 to go.
With the game on the line, a phrase that was not expected to come anywhere near this game, WSU’s offense bled the clock and drove down the field, using all but 56 seconds to give Dean Janikowski a chance to put the game out of reach. Janikowski’s 23 yard field goal missed left, giving the Vandals a chance. Needing to go 77 yards in under a minute without any timeouts, the Vandals gashed through an exhausted Cougar defense quickly, getting to the WSU 28 yard line. With under 20 seconds to go, Vandals’ QB Geveni McCoy took his shot over the middle towards the end zone but it fell right into the hands of Henley to seal the deal and allow the Cougars to escape the opener victorious.
While the record reads 1-0, it’s hard to walk away with a true positive feeling from this game. This was a game WSU expected to have all but wrapped up by halftime and instead, the game comes down to final possession. The offense couldn’t move the ball against a vastly inferior defense and continued to hand Idaho chance after chance to stay alive.
But as the old saying goes, “They don’t ask you how, they ask you how many.”
If you are looking for positives, the front seven looked very promising. The pass rush looks legit with Stone Jr. and Brennan Jackson wreaking havoc continuously in the backfield. Ward showed multiple flashes of just how good he and the offense can look when everything is clicking. The only problem, it rarely did so.
Yet through all of the miscues and failed opportunities, the Cougars are still 1-0 as expected headed into their week two matchup against the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison, Wisconsin next Saturday.