The Washington State Cougars overcame a slow, sloppy start and beat the Idaho Vandals 24-17 in the season opener. A win is a win. However, there’s plenty of positive and negative takeaways from this performance.
Ball Security is a Problem
Washington State turned the ball over three times. Two can from running backs Nakia Watson and Jaylen Jenkins. The third came from wide receiver Donovan Ollie, whose fumble became a quick Vandals 3-yard return for a touchdown.
In the past, fumbling had only been a quarterback concern. Previous running backs like Jamal Morrow, James Williams and Max Borghi rarely fumbled. The Cougs need to correct that fatal flaw in practices leading up to the matchup with Wisconsin.
Cameron Ward as Solid as Can Be
The season opener was supposed to be coming out party for the Incarnate Word transfer. However, the lackluster team result took a lot of shine off of his performance. He completed 25 of 40 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns. A lot of the incompletions came on shots downfield. His arm strength is advantage the Cougs need to take advantage of. He is well aware that his the offense needs to be better before they face Wisconsin.
#WSU QB Cameron Ward:
"I don't think we're all feeling too good right now. We know we didn't play our best ball. … Come Wisconsin, you're going to see a different offense."
— Colton Clark (@SpokesmanClark) September 4, 2022
Defense Might be Better Than Bend, But Don’t Break
Last season, the best description for Washington State’s defense was “bend, but don’t break. They were 50th in total yards allowed last season, but were 39th in points allowed and tied for 1st in takeaways per game last season. Although they were facing Idaho, there were some signs the defense might be better than last year.
Washington State’s defense held the Vandals to a 4-17 conversion rate on third downs. Again, FCS opponents are held to a different scale, but it is important to see the Cougs have that level of effectiveness against one. Also, the defense had seven sacks. Considering they could only muster two sack against FCS opponent Portland State last year, this is a notable improvement.
Kicking is a Problem Again?
The Washington State-Mike Leach era was riddled with kicking mistakes. Those fatal errors appeared against Idaho. Preseason All-Pac-12 kicker Dean Janikowski missed two out of three field goal attempts Saturday. His last attempt was 23 yards long and would have given the Cougs a two-possession lead.
WSU fans have long memories about the program’s kicking woes under Mike Leach. Janikowski made 14 out of 17 field goal attempts last season. Hopefully, he makes the necessary corrections quickly.
Resiliency is Still a Core Trait
Last season, Washington State started with a 1-3, and nothing appeared to be going right. However, the team fought back and won six of their final eight games; with a a head coaching change mixed in there too. This year’s Cougars squad showed that resiliency is still part of the program’s DNA.
Being down 10-0 to Idaho within the first 12 minutes of the game is a shock to the system. It was for the Cougs. However, they fought their way back to a tie at halftime and took a 14-point lead early in the fourth quarter. The great programs respond well to their back being put up against the wall. WSU showed they can fight back, even though it was against a FCS opponent like Idaho.
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