PULLMAN - No sooner had the Washington State Cougars dragged themselves to the locker room after finishing last season with a lopsided loss at Washington than coaches and players began talking in earnest about all the improvement that could be expected in 2010.
Then … splat! WSU opened the season with a 65-17 loss at Oklahoma State, and the score would have been far worse if the Cowboys had not begun subbing liberally in the third quarter.
Players and coaches said they expect a much-improved performance in today’s home opener against Montana State.
“We just have to grow from it and get better,” defensive end Kevin Kooyman said.
A game with Montana State appears to be a viable solution for WSU’s 10-game losing streak.
The Cougars are 23-0 against Big Sky Conference teams since a 1965 loss to Idaho. Against current Big Sky schools, WSU is 41-2 all-time (7-0 versus Montana State), including 25-0 at home.
The Bobcats, however, do not fit the profile of traditional Big Sky pushover. MSU is ranked 23rd in the coaches poll of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-AA), and opened the season with a 59-10 rout of Division II weakling Fort Lewis (Colo.).
“They’re just a sound team ... they play extremely hard,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said.
The Cougars are members of the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A). Montana State coach Rob Ash acknowledged the underdog role for FCS teams facing FBS opponents.
“They have 23 more (full) scholarships than we do,” Ash pointed out. “They should win every time we play, but they don’t.
“Every year, there’s two or three FCS schools that win. Obviously, that’s our mission.”
Wulff blamed WSU’s opening defeat largely on “horrible” tackling and “tentative” play. Many of the newcomers being counted on to play key roles were shaky, including 2008 junior college defensive player of the year Brandon Rankin.
“I know,” the junior defensive tackle said, “I’m way better than I showed.”
Quarterback Jeff Tuel said that’s true of many of the Cougars.
“We are a better football team,” Tuel said.
A number of starter changes were considered by Wulff – including the insertion of true freshmen Marquess Wilson at wide receiver and John Fullington at offensive right tackle – but none was announced. Starting middle linebacker Mike Ledgerwood (stinger) might be replaced by senior Hallston Higgins. ... Temperatures are expected to start in the 60s. Ticket sales have been slow. Las Vegas does not give odds on FCS-FBS games. ...
Former WSU star Jason McEndoo, who briefly played for the Seattle Seahawks, is the Bobcats’ offensive line coach. He was hired at MSU by then-head coach Mike Kramer, who now serves as the football operations assistant for the Cougars. McEndoo married a WSU student who befriended him after McEndoo’s first wife (also a WSU student) was killed in an auto accident one month after their 1996 wedding. McEndoo escaped injury after WSU teammate Ryan McShane fell asleep at the wheel.