The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Cougars shake off rocky start en route to week one blowout win over Colorado State

WSU football took control after a sluggish start and never looked back
Greg Davis/WSU Athletics
WSU defensive back Jaden Hicks returns a pick six in an NCAA football game against Colorado State Sept. 2nd, 2023 in Fort Collins, Colorado.

The Cougs took a trip to Fort Collins to take on the CSU Rams looking for a fast start to their 2023 season, winning 50-24. While it took a few drives to come alive, the Cougars got a lot of the results they were hoping for and got plenty of valuable game tape to learn from.  

“It wasn’t the ideal start that we wanted, but I like how we responded,” WSU head coach Jake Dickert said “They came out and surprised us a little bit with the tempo… There were some positives to take away from it, we didn’t get out of the gates the way we wanted to but I thought we stayed the course.”

The Cougs quickly went three-and-out on the game’s first possession before the Rams mustered a 12-play, 55-yard drive ending in a CSU field goal and 3-0 lead. Certainly enough to motivate the WSU defense who held the Rams scoreless on their next nine drives. 

Over those nine drives, the Cougs forced five punts, two turnovers on downs, and also snagged two interceptions in the third quarter, one from sophomore defensive back Jackson Lataimua, and the other a 37-yard pick-six by star sophomore safety Jaden Hicks.

“Eyes on the man, looked up last second, just right at my face so I put my hands up, caught it, then just seeing the open grass felt good and running it into the endzone,” Hicks said. “I was a little surprised, definitely, it was some heat on that ball.”

Hicks also had a near interception later in the game and junior defensive back Kapena Gushiken has a fumble recovery for a touchdown called back on a later scoring drive for CSU.

Despite some ‘garbage time’ scores for the Rams, the Coug’s defense responded nicely in game number one under new defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding. Of the Ram’s 24 points, one touchdown came by kick return, and the other two touchdowns came in the fourth quarter with the game already in hand.

“There’s gonna be a big emphasis on finishing,” WSU senior linebacker Devin Richardson said. “Just making sure we’re polishing up the details, and making sure we’re on point with our keys.”

On the other side of the ball, the offense responded to the first CSU score with a fast-paced seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, ending in a Cam Ward quarterback sneak for a touchdown. 

Following a Ward fumble on the next drive, the Cougar offense responded again with a 13-play, 63-yard drive ending with Ward hitting UNLV transfer receiver Kyle Williams for his first touchdown as a Coug from three yards out. 

Ward finished the day 37/49 with 451 yards, including completions to nine different receivers, and three touchdown passes. The response for Ward showed just how special he and this offensive unit can be.

“He left a couple of things on the table, but he stayed consistent, he kept working,” Dickert said. “[The offense] is going to learn a lot about each other from this tape, I know we played a ton of total snaps so it’s good to see those guys play tired… Every time we needed them to go out there and keep going, they kept it going, and that’s a sign of moving forward.”

It was not a perfect performance. Ward had a pass that could have been intercepted, two lost fumbles, and missed a wide-open receiver for a short touchdown pass. 

“Cam’s the ultimate competitor,” Dickert said. “You don’t need to be hard on Cam because he’s hard on himself.”

The struggle all day for the Cougs was the rushing attack. WSU running backs and receivers combined for 20 rushes for just 50 yards, good for just 2.5 yards per carry. Ward ultimately carried the run game with 63 rushing yards (40 net) on 13 carries with a touchdown, the most Cam has run in a single game at WSU. 

“We do want to run the quarterback, I don’t want him to be our leading rusher. I really don’t, ever again,” Dickert said. “We need to be a little bit more physical at the line of scrimmage.”

It was also a career day for junior kicker Dean Janikowsi, who hit a career-long 55-yard field goal, and senior wide receiver Lincoln Victor, who had a career-high 11 catches and 168 receiving yards. 

“There’s a lot of preparation that went into this, I’m just thankful to be able to share the field with all those guys, it was just such a special moment, so happy that we got the win and I can’t thank the other 10 men more that were on the field with me,” Victor said. “There’s always something to get better at and I’m just looking forward to next week.”

Other standout performers include transfer receiver Josh Kelly who had seven catches for 97 yards and a touchdown, junior linebacker Kyle Thornton with nine tackles (one for loss) and redshirt freshman QB John Mateer who ran for two touchdowns. 

Wazzu outgained CSU 556 to 357 in total yardage and controlled the time of possession with 37:28 to the Ram’s 22:32. It was also a clean game on both sides with the Cougs only drawing three flags, and CSU just four.

The Cougs now lead the all-time series vs. CSU 2-1 and can set their sights on a primetime matchup next week against the No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers at Martin Stadium.

“It’s time for us to show up,” Dickert said. “We have an opportunity on the national stage to show who we are, with everything that’s been going on, we have an opportunity to show what the Cougs are all about. Our job as a football program is to narrow that scope because there’s plenty of distractions… Your job is to show up and be loud, and let’s have some fun because it’s going to be an amazing time for Washington State.”

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About the Contributor
LUKE WESTFALL, Evergreen sports co-editor
Luke Westfall is a junior in Broadcast News from Custer, WA. He is an avid fanatic of the many sports at many levels who spends all his available time indulging in them. Luke began working at the Evergreen in Spring 2022.