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The Good, Bad and Ugly of WSU’s 50-24 win over Colorado State

There was a lot to like!

Jack Ellis/CougCenter

Good morning. Well that was quite a way to start 2023, yes? I don’t think one could envision a better way to open the season than with a win on the road, by nearly four full touchdowns, which was never really close, and included quite a few areas that the coaches can point to that need improvement.

Such was the case in your Washington State Cougars 50-24 win in Fort Collins over the Colorado State Rams. After falling behind 3-0 early, WSU imposed its will on both offense and defense, scoring the next 36 points to put the game away before the fourth quarter was 10 seconds old. Along the way, there were flashes of what looks to be a faster and more potent passing offense, paired with more designed quarterback runs than we saw last season.

On defense, it felt like we didn’t see a whole lot, but what we did see was pretty good, for the most part. It just seemed like varsity against JV when WSU’s defense faced Colorado State’s offense, and I honestly don’t know whether that is weighted more toward WSU’s great play or Colorado State’s ineptitude. As always, we’ll find out as the season unfolds.

So how did Saturday’s opener unfold? Let’s have a look.

The Good

  • Gotta start with the guy behind center. For much of the afternoon, Cam Ward looked anywhere from pretty good to spectacular, completing 37 of his 49 passes for 451 yards (9.2 ypa), three touchdowns and no interceptions. He looked more decisive in the pocket, and there wasn’t much of the 2022 edition, which so often featured Ward scrambling around and ultimately throwing the ball away.
  • Ward was also deadly with his legs at times, rushing for gains of 16, 10, 22 yards, the latter coming on 3rd down.
  • Lincoln Victor is back from the dead! Coming into 2022, the diminutive receiver looked to be one of WSU’s featured weapons, but for some reason or reasons, Victor was mostly a non-factor, catching 26 passes for 245 yards and no scores. Well, on Saturday, the old Victor was back! He led the team in targets, catches and yards, hauling in 11 passes for 168 yards. Heck, Victor had 100 yards after he caught the ball! Hopefully this continues, because Victor’s quickness can threaten everybody on the schedule.
  • Not to be outdone, new receiver Josh Kelly looked really good, particularly on a first quarter acrobatic 15-yard catch that set up WSU’s first touchdown.
  • I loved that goal line play where Ward got a big push into the end zone. Not sure if he scored, but I’ll take it!
  • Recap of Colorado State’s offensive possessions after it kicked a field goal on its first possession:

- 3 plays, 9 yards, punt

- 3 plays, minus 1 yard, punt

- 4 plays, 7 yards, turnover on downs

- 3 plays, 9 yards, punt

- 3 plays, 8 yards, punt

- 3 plays, 2 yards, punt

- 2 plays, 11 yards, WSU interception for touchdown

To recap: On seven consecutive possessions, spanning 26 minutes and 40 seconds of game time, Colorado State ran 21 plays, gained 45 yards, and surrendered a touchdown.

  • For real though, watching the game on television, it felt like WSU had the ball the entire time.
  • A couple plays that stood out, which stymied CSU possessions were Nusi Malani knifing through to blow up a 3rd-and-7 to force a punt, and Brennan Jackson, David Gusta and Devin Richardson blowing up a 4th-and-1 play to set up WSU in Rams territory.
  • I don’t know much about Mountain West commissioner Gloria Nevarez, but I do know that she is immensely more qualified to run a conference than George “Appeaser-in-Chief” Kliavkoff.
  • Dean Janikowski absolutely nuked that 55-yarder. Well done, my man.
  • John Mateer, short yardage beast? Damn right! I don’t know about anyone else, but I was having some 2021 Utah State flashbacks when Knucklehead Rolovich inserted Cammon Cooper near the endzone, setting off a series of events that ended with a WSU loss. But this time, Nakia Watson got just enough of the defensive end, and Mateer sped toward the pylon, reaching paydirt. The game was pretty much decided at that point.
  • Jaden Hicks: stud.
  • Pretty solid WSU debut for linebacker Devin Richardson, who led the team in tackles, with three solos and eight assists.
  • Is it just me or did it seem like the WSU defensive backs had a better read on the Colorado State offense than Clay Millen did? 4.58 YPA, a long of 16, and the aforementioned pick six. Now that WSU and CSU are likely headed toward a situation in which they occupy the same conference, Clay may depart just to avoid the Coug defense.
  • No matter that the wrong call was made, that punt save near the goal line was tremendous and should have resulted in CSU taking over inside the 1.
  • How ‘bout Jackson Lataimua getting a pick! It looked like he was the intended receiver.
  • Great response by the offense after one of several special teams disasters (more on that later), as it took just seven plays to cover 75 yards, with Ward hitting a wide open Josh Kelly after breaking the pocket.
  • Congratulations to Andre Dollar on his first career reception! And after having just one career catch for 0 yards, Cooper Mathers got in on the act with three catches and 40 yarrs, one which went for 29.
  • There are few prettier plays than a running back catching a wide open wheel route for a score to stymie a blitzing linebacker.
  • Man, I was so happy that WSU kept its foot on the gas, with Mateer scoring late to get the Cougs half-a-hundred. It was pretty funny to watch the CSU end make a business decision, as he wanted to part of a pulling Roderick Tialavea.
  • If you believe in curses, you may now remove the Crimson/White/Crimson uniform whammy from your list.
  • To top it off, Cam Ward got a College Football Final helmet sticker! Nice way to end the evening.
  • After the game came this.


The Bad

  • Good-to-great Cam was present for much of the night, but there were a few moments where 2022 “wtf are you doing?” Cam also showed up. You just can’t play so loosely with the ball, and he has to clean that up, because better opponents won’t be so forgiving.
  • Outside of Ward, and Mateer near the goal line, the WSU rushing attack was pretty bad, and it appears that offensive line hasn’t improved its run blocking much since last season. The top two backs, Nakia Watson and Jaylen Jenkins, combined for 35 yards on 14 carries, with a long of seven. If the offense has to lean on quarterbacks for the bulk of rushing production, the season won’t go very well.
  • I like how fast WSU was going when things were clicking, but it seems like rushing near the goal line almost never works.
  • Really unprofessional of CBS to show a clearly photoshopped image of Jim McElwain holding a New Mexico Bowl trophy after an alleged win over WSU, since the game never actually happened.
  • Few things are more frustrating than starting in opposing territory and not taking advantage. WSU began a drive at the Rams 32, and ended up punting from the 43 after a penalty and bad snap killed the possession.
  • Just as frustrating? What a punt returner lets a ball land and roll for several yard instead of catching it.
  • I know he’s new to big time football, but Esa Pole really, really struggled at times. He got absolutely turnstiled on 4th and 3 inside the CSU red zone, leading to a Ward fumble.
  • That was just one of two WSU red zone possessions that ended in zero points. Can’t happen. The other occurred after Ward missed a WIDE OPEN Billy Riviere for what should have been an easy touchdown.
  • Randy Cross, in a word, yikes. Nakia Watson catches a touchdown, and Cross goes, “Elemental my dear Watson.” Um, what? Then when he was trying to break down the Hicks interception, he circles a WSU defender and says, “Here’s Hicks right here.” One problem - he actually circled Chau Smith-Wade.
  • The officiating wasn’t as terrible as it normally is, but the decision to overturn what should have been a Kapena Gushiken fumble return for a touchdown was pretty bad! The call on the field was fumble, and despite no compelling evidence, the call was reversed and CSU went on to score a touchdown. Bad!

The Ugly

  • It was my understanding that the games were supposed to go quicker this year, but apparently nobody told Western Kentucky and South Florida. I swear to god they conspired to give Coug fans a collective stroke, doing everything they could to prolong a game that had long been decided. The piece de resistance came when a USF lineman got injured so badly that he was on the ground for a good 3-4 minutes, only to get up and walk off under his own power.
  • If that weren’t bad enough, the idiots in the CBS Sports control room insisted on staying with this game that was over, instead of switching the telecast to the WSU game. Well, ok. But then they tell everyone to fire up the CBS Sports app, which I did. And guess what? A click on the WSU icon led me back to...the Western Kentucky game! Just outstanding work, CBS. It gave me 2015 Sun Bowl flashbacks, when we missed a huge portion of the first quarter. That game was also a CBS broadcast.
  • The special teams had some really, really bad moments. Two consecutive PATs where the coaches decided to lose their minds instead of kicking the ball, then surrendering the first touchdown of the night on a 98-yard kick return. There were multiple moments where it seemed like WSU was reverting to the 2015 #forces days.
  • Still trying to figure out what the hell the coaches were doing with the clock late in the first half. After forcing an incompletion, on 3rd-and-5, which stopped the clock with 1:55 remaining, WSU called a timeout. Um, why? Then, after getting the ball in CSU territory, WSU let the seconds tick, and tick, aaaaaand tick all the way down, before trying a long field goal. I would love an explanation, because the clock management there was horrendous.

All in all, it’s hard not to be happy with how the game played out. WSU went on the road, took control in the first half, and was never seriously threatened the rest of the way. In the meantime, there are scores of things to which the coaches can point as needing improvement, because those mistakes won’t be so easily papered over as the schedule progresses. But still, half-a-hundred! In the opener! On the road! I’ll take it.


Game Coverage

The Spokesman Review’s Greg Woods was in Fort Collins for the proceedings, and seemed to have a rough go of it on Twitter, but it happens. He filed this game story, put some other tidbits in his notebook, and singled out some of the game’s difference makers.

From the opposing side, the Daily Coloradoan compared CSU’s offense to “a flat beer in the hot sun.” Yikes. Mr. Lytle also had a few other takeaways.

The WSU web team also published some notes of its own.

Postgame Interviews

First up, the head man.

Maui native Lincoln Victor deservedly got some time to talk.

Next up, defensive back and aforementioned stud Jaden Hicks.

New Coug Devin Richardson also talked about his WSU debut.

Finally, CBS talked to Cam Ward shortly after the game ended.

This Week in Parenting

Like many of you, I assume, I’ve been to some pretty crappy and dangerous places in my life. Eight different paid trips to Afghanistan, six months driving in/around Riyadh, riding around Sharurah, Saudi Arabia in an armored something-or-other, and the Jordan/Syria border among them. But I am nearly certain that I’ve never been to a more dangerous and disgusting place than the parking lot outside the teenager’s football locker room. First, there’s the complete disregard for any sort of hygiene or cleanliness. These kids walk around without shoes. In a disgusting parking lot. Where all the other kids spit up God-knows-what. Most of these disgusting boys are also shirtless, and they go straight from the locker room into a parent’s waiting car. My kid knows better.

The dangerous part comes when it’s time to leave, because there are scores of 16-18 year-old boys who insist on speeding through the lot because reasons, while staring at their cell phones almost exclusively. It is truly a “head on a swivel” situation, because I am telling you, one false move and you end up underneath some junior left guard’s jacked up Dodge with off-road tires that have never left pavement. Scary stuff.

On a related note, the mighty Dolphins JV football team made its debut this week, and before Mrs. Kendall and I found our observation spots under the withering afternoon sun, the boys trailed, 14-0. But they battled back and closed it to 14-7 late in the first half, then forced a turnover on downs just short of their goal line. So there I was, annoying dad in the cheap seats, pleading with the coach (under my breath) to go under center and take a knee. But no. Our QB is still in shotgun, taking the snap in the endzone, with 10 seconds left in the half. So of course the center snaps the as the H-Back goes in motion, followed by the ball hitting the motion man and becoming a fumble. Luckily, we got it back and avoided disaster. Again I ask, WTF IS WITH SO MANY GODDAMN COACHES THESE DAYS WHO REFUSE TO TAKE A SNAP UNDER CENTER??!! You almost needlessly cost your team a touchdown!!

I won’t go into the bizarre formation in which the quarterback was punting the ball from about seven yards behind center. You won’t believe this, but one of the punts was a line drive that hit the center right in the ass. To top it off, the Dolphins trailed 14-7 late, and the opponent was threatening to score. First down run, stopped. Second down run, stopped. Finally on third down, they scored, barely. Our coach decided to take all three timeouts home with him. I. I just can’t. So the Dolphins are 0-1 after a 20-7 loss, in a game that was far more competitive than the score would indicate.

The 11 year-old also began flag football practice this week, meaning he’s playing baseball and football. Both practices are Tuesday and Thursday, which makes for a fun afterwork adventure! On Tuesday, at the opening practice, about 30 kids played 35 minutes of pickup football and relay races, and that was it. So I guess “practice” isn’t really the correct term. The league is having a hard time finalizing rosters because more than a dozen kids haven’t shown up to the skills evaluation or the first two practices. All of these kids have someone who paid a not-inexpensive fee for them to be there. Hard for me to see the point in that! There was also the mom who was filming her 10 year-old’s practice with a tablet mounted on a tripod. I guess they’re never too young to break down practice tape?

On Thursday, we were in a bind. The teenager had his game at 5 p.m., about 30 minutes away. The 11 year-old had baseball until 6:15, then football from 7:30-8:30. We’re also down to one car at the moment, so this quickly became an unsolvable puzzle. Oh, and it was also open house at the junior high. When it rains, it pours. So I put out a message on the baseball team’s parent chat, asking if anyone could give the kiddo a ride home. The first two responses were, “I’m going to open house or I would help out! Sorry!”

Now look, I am certain there is zero malice in those replies, but folks, do me a favor and never answer a request for help with a note that says you can’t help. That doesn’t get me closer to a solution, and is a completely meaningless bit of communication. Just stay silent so I don’t have to sift through the nonsense. Meaning well never did a damn bit of good.


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