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

Rank the Cougs! WSU football makes a statement in primetime

Wazzu completes the back-to-back sweep over No.19 Wisconsin Badgers
Brennan Jackson celebrates with Nusi Malani after scoring a TD on a fumble recovery, Sept. 9.

The Pac-12 is a mess, but the Cougs just do not care. WSU neutralized a dominant Badgers run game en route to a 31-22 statement win over No.19 Wisconsin on national television.

The talk seems to always be about where WSU may go, and how everything is going downhill, but the team is not worried. The focus is on the now, and the truth is that WSU belongs in the spotlight, head coach Jake Dickert said.

“At the end of the day our team belongs at the highest level, our program does. That’s in my heart, I believe that I say that with a meaning,” Dickert said. “We do more with less than maybe anybody in the country.”

The post-game scene was magical, as fans from around the sold-out stadium flooded the field to embrace the Cougs. The win means more than just getting to 2-0, it means that the Cougs are not to be disrespected.

“I think it’s just another defining moment in WSU history. For us, it’s showing that it doesn’t matter what analysts say, or what other people say about us,” defensive end Brennan Jackson said.

It was an amazing night for Jackson and the WSU defense, as they combined to force three turnovers and held the Badgers who ran for 314 yards in week one to just 90 Saturday. Some sprinkles on top from the offense were enough to fuel the upset victory.

The Cougs opened the game by forcing a three-and-out before Cam Ward hit wide receiver Kyle Williams for a 38-yard gain to eventually set up a four-yard touchdown pass once again to Williams to put the Cougs up 7-0.

After giving up a field goal, receiver Lincoln Victor had a 65-yard kick return called back to the Cougs own 13 after a penalty. It did not stop WSU however. Ward completed passes of 18 and 22 yards before Victor threw a pass himself off a trick play to tight end Cooper Mathers for 39 yards.

Ward would hit Victor the next play for a one-yard touchdown, making it 14-3 Cougs. The touchdown was Victor’s first since 2021, and his completed pass was his first since he won a state championship as his team’s quarterback in high school.

“That arm never leaves me you know?” Victor said. “To touch that paint man, it’s a wonderful feeling because all that work and fruition comes, just can’t thank the other 10 guys on the field enough.”

After the two teams traded field goals, defensive end Ron Stone Jr. blitzed the edge to complete his second strip-sack of the night on Wisconsin quarterback Tanner Mordecai. After just two sacks in 2022 for Stone Jr., he had two on Saturday. Jackson then recovered the fumble for his first collegiate touchdown and second fumble recovery of the day. 

The Cougs took a 24-9 lead into the half, and stumbled in the third quarter, only recording two first downs, and allowing two touchdowns, going into the fourth up just 24-22.

When it seemed like WSU might ‘Coug It,’ the defense stepped up again, forcing a Wisconsin fumble recovered by defensive back Jackson Lataimua. 

The Cougar offense went into its next drive with just seven team rushing yards. Ward would then scramble for 23 yards and go in a jet sweep motion the next play setting up a nine-yard run by backup quarterback John Mateer.  The rushing attack kept going as Ward ran for 14 more yards before a one-yard touchdown run by tailback Nakia Watson to make it 31-22, Cougs.

The Wazzu defense got one more stop before the offense ran for two first downs and then kneeled the game away. Despite the lack of a rushing attack the majority of the game, the Cougs under new offensive coordinator Ben Arbuckle got creative and ran just enough to get the win.

“It’s a lot and I thought [Arbuckle] does a good job and we communicate about it just circling through the plays. Even the pull out the two quarterbacks stuff at the end and a clutch moment to get John a big run,” Dickert said. “It just shows the mindset of the offense and I thought he did a good job finding different ways… It was gut check time and Cam Ward, we put it in his hands and he made the dang plays.” 

Following Ward’s big week one performance, he went 20-for-32 with 212 yards and two touchdown passes. He was also the Cougs’ leading rusher once again. Postgame Ward credited the offensive line, his wide receivers and the Cougar defense.

“[The offensive line] played their butts off today leading the point man, those guys gave me all the time in the world,” Ward said. “I believe I have the best receivers in the Pac-12, honestly in the country… [The defense] won us this game, we feed off them.”

The Cougs had extra motivation Saturday, as a pirate flag was raised next to the American flag, coaches dawned pirate shirts, and promotional flags were given out to fans as well in tribute to the legendary late former WSU head coach Mike Leach. WSU also played videos of a few iconic Leach moments, and the emotions were strong on the field.

“You heard some of those sound bites and you start thinking of other Mike Leach stories, and you start to get a little emotional, you start to laugh, you just start to think about some of those memories and I mean it’s just fantastic. I’m glad we were able to get that done and really honor him the right way,” Stone Jr. said.

The Cougs were outgained by Wisconsin through the air and on the ground, but the Cougs won the turnover margin 3-0 starting and finishing stronger than the Badgers. 

Other players to mention are safety Jaden Hicks, who had nine tackles, a tackle for loss, two pass breakups and a forced fumble. Linebacker Kyle Thornton also had seven tackles, two for loss, and a sack.

Safety Sam Lockett III also had 13 tackles and a QB hit. Other than a few plays through the air, the defense was as sound or more so than it was last week against Colorado State.

The step up in competition was no obstacle for the Cougs. Although they were statistically underdogs, the Cougs expect to win big games, said Stone Jr.

“There’s a lot of people that doubted us, but we never doubted ourselves. We don’t really buy into the underdog mentality, we think we belong on the field with anyone else,” Stone Jr. said.

The Cougars have some things to improve on, with the running game still being a concern, and a couple of snaps going over Ward’s head. The Cougs get to work on their craft next week at home against FCS Northern Colorado. 

This is a crucial point for Washington State football, not just this year, but for the future of the program. The Cougs are earning a spot in the top 25, week by week, regardless of outside noise.

“We got to commit to being great, and I think that’s what this statement means is that we’re here, we can be, and we’re fighting even as college football is changing,” Dickert said. “We’re gonna come back Monday ready to work.”

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About the Contributors
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.
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2024 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.