PULLMAN – Dwight Tardy and James Montgomery are close friends, but if Tardy doesn’t lead Washington State in rushing for the fourth straight year, his buddy might be the reason.
Montgomery, a junior transfer from California, split time with Tardy at running back Saturday and flashed some of the form that once made him one of the nation’s most highly sought running backs when he was recruited out of high school.
Montgomery gained a modest 39 yards on 14 carries (Tardy had 58 yards on 13 carries), but Montgomery showed impressive speed and vision on several runs. He also caught three passes for 26 yards and returned three kickoffs for 90 yards.
“I know we can run the ball,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said after the Cougars opened the season with a 39-13 loss to Stanford. “We’ve got two excellent backs who can play this league, and I know our offensive line is coming around. They’re going to grow and get a lot better.”
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Wulff said Montgomery “probably worked harder” in practice last season than any player he’s ever coached who was not eligible for games. Montgomery had to sit out the season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Montgomery was named WSU’s Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year. He said it “wasn’t tough mentally at all” to stay sharp last fall, thanks partly to running backs coach Steve Broussard.
“Coach Broussard told me coming in, ‘Don’t take a year off,’” Montgomery said. “I just came out every week and did the best I could.’
Kevin Norrell, arguably WSU’s best receiver and kick returner, sat out the game after fighting the flu this week. Norrell’s teammates covered for him admirably.
In addition to Montgomery’s work on kickoff returns, junior wide receiver Daniel Blackledge set career highs with six catches and 67 receiving yards.
Sophomore wideout Jared Karstetter finished with 1 more receiving yard (91) than he had all last season, and he scored his first college touchdown by wrestling the ball away from receiver-turned-cornerback Richard Sherman in the end zone in the third quarter.
Junior wide receiver Jeffrey Solomon, who followed Wulff from Eastern Washington and redshirted last year, completed a 47-yard pass to Karstetter on a flea-flicker.
“Jeff played quarterback in high school,” Karstetter noted. “It was a good play. It was a good call.”
WSU sophomore Louis Bland, an outside linebacker by trade, started at middle linebacker and led all players with 10 tackles.
Bland, who is just 5-foot-10 and 221 pounds, said he last played middle linebacker regularly “in Pop Warner” youth football.
Owusu pays price
Stanford wide receiver Chris Owusu scored on a 63-yard pass and an 85-yard kickoff return, but he was knocked out of the game in the third quarter after safety Eric Block delivered a crushing blow as Owusu attempted to haul in a pass over the middle.
A Stanford representative said Owusu was being checked for a concussion. Wulff said the Cougars did not appear to suffer any significant injuries.
Former WSU quarterback Mark Rypien, who was a Super Bowl MVP with the Washington Redskins, received a standing ovation when he was introduced as the Cougars’ honorary captain prior to the game.
One former Cougar player or coach will be named an honorary captain at each home game.