The Cougars finally got in the win column Saturday, coming from behind to beat Montana State in Pullman, 23-22. The victory was Washington State's first since another early-season comeback victory over SMU in 2009 at Martin Stadium. The Cougs look to draw on that game as they travel to Texas to take on the Southern Methodist Mustangs this weekend in a rematch of last year's thriller.
A win is a win, but WSU's victory over Montana State wasn't pretty. A first play interception by Jeff Tuel got the Cougars off on the wrong foot and it was all downhill from there early. Montana State capitalized on two early Washington State turnovers and jumped out to a 6-0 lead. Up 22-7 after three quarters, it took a flurry of interceptions and big plays for the Cougars to claw back into the game. Nico Grasu hit a short field goal to take the lead and a C.J. Mizell interception sealed the game.
It counted as a win in the standings, but the loss left many Cougar fans feeling empty. Over at CougCenter, this was my immediate reaction after I got home from the game.
I've never felt so terrible and angry after a win. I don't like this feeling. It hurts, it bothers me and it's embarrassing
There were positives, however. C.J. Mizell saw significant playing time and showed why the Cougs have such high hopes for him. The freshman linebacker was all over the field and showed off his speed late in the game, hauling in an interception and racing deep into MSU territory.
C.J. Mizell is good and really does have limitless potential. He was directly at fault for a touchdown -- missing his assignment in pass-coverage -- but he was also flying all over the field. His interception was fluky as heck, but the speed he showed was great to see. Between the pick and his fourth-down sack, the freshman linebacker almost single-handedly saved the game.
WSU was finally favored in a game and was the better team on Saturday. The Cougs had better, faster and stronger athletes, yet couldn't shake the Bobcats. The Spokesman-Review's Vince Grippi examined why WSU couldn't quickly put away Montana State as expected.
The pressure to win, and win impressively, was palatable all week. And within it were sown the seeds of yesterday's 22-7 deficit. Tuel's pass, James Montgomery's fumble, Chantz Staden's fumble, Brandon Rankin's early personal foul, heck even the lack of aggressiveness on defense until late in the game, those were plays and decisions made by players and coaches trying too hard to win.
With the win in the rear-view mirror, Washington State takes to the road to face a familiar foe: The Southern Methodist Mustangs. SMU came to Pullman last year and looked to have the game sewn-up in the fourth quarter before a barrage of mistakes led to WSU tying the game in regulation and winning in overtime. SMU went on to a bowl game while WSU didn't win again in 2009.
The Mustangs play a run-and-shoot offense that's been light on the run and heavy on the shoot. According to Grippi, the SMU passing attack hasn't been so vaunted this year.
They are also looking to rediscover their passing attack, mysteriously MIA in last week's win over UAB. SMU was 15th in the nation last year in passing, averaging 280 yards a game.
The Cougar defense will have to slow down the SMU passing attack that's been so dangerous in the past on Saturday. If they don't it could be a very long day.
Washington State takes on SMU Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
For more on the Cougars, check out SB Nation's CougCenter.