For all the enthusiasm surrounding the arrival of Mike Leach at Washington State, all the excitement about the Air Raid offense and all the goofy jokes surrounding the even goofier bear hunting pictures, there was one thing a lot of college football fans seemed to forget entering the Cougars season opener on Thursday night: The Washington State football program is still very much a work in progress.
On Thursday night college football fans found that out the hard way. In a game that was as one-sided as a chess match between Leach and Ron Zook might be, BYU dominated their fellow Cougars from start to finish, in a 30-6 win that was much more one-sided than the final score might indicate.
Simply put, this wasn’t supposed to be how it started for Leach, who came to Wazzu after winning 84 games in 10 uber-successful seasons at Texas Tech. But his first win in Pullman will have to wait at least one more week, as BYU controlled the game in every aspect a football team can. On the ground, through the air, and in the trenches, BYU was the better team Thursday night.
As for the particulars, the story for BYU was two-fold. For one, it started with that stupendous defense. Quarterback Riley Nelson did the rest.
In terms of the defense, well frankly, it doesn’t get much better than this. Going against the high-powered Leach attack, BYU limited Wazzu to just 224 yards, including a staggering -4 yards on the ground. It was the first time a Leach coached team was held without a touchdown since the 2006 season.
Then there was Nelson, a senior quarterback who did a little bit of everything for the Cougars Thursday. On an evening where South Carolina’s Connor Shaw got a ton of credit nationally for leading the Gamecocks to victory, Nelson was just as impressive, throwing for 285 yards and two touchdowns, as well as picking up several big first downs with his feet. For a guy who won nine of 10 games as a starter last year, Nelson was a relative unknown on the college football scene. Not so much anymore.
And speaking of which, neither are the Cougars. On a national stage, in front of a national audience, BYU showed that they firmly belong in the discussion of the Top 25 teams in college football. That conversation will only continue to grow as the Cougars schedule continues to unfold going forward. They will play at Utah and at Boise State by the end of this month and travel to Notre Dame and Georgia Tech in October. While a BCS bowl game is a little presumptuous at this point, based on what we saw Thursday night, it wouldn’t shock any of us for the Cougars to finish up with a second straight 10-win season.
That’s all down the road though, but in the here and now, Thursday night taught us two things.
For one, BYU is going to be a tough out for anyone they play this year.
And Washington State? Well, even with Mike Leach at the helm, they’ve got a long way to go.
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