Cougs fend off hungry wolves

PULLMAN ---Sure, it lacked the drama of Washington State's overtime loss to Notre Dame earlier this season. And the highlight film touchdowns we saw last weekend in Boulder were nowhere to be found. But when all was said and done today at Martin Stadium, the Cougars walked away with a win and that seemed to be good enough for the 32,000-plus that witnessed WSU defeat New Mexico, 23-13.

On a postcard-perfect late summer day, Washington State used a smothering defense and a record setting performance by Drew Dunning to defeat the Lobos and improve to 3 – 1 on the season.  But that's not to say the offense was lackluster: Facing a very impressive defensive front that shut down the inside, the Cougs went airborne to the tune of 346 yards.  Toss in the ability to overcome some key injuries and one thing becomes clear:  This was a team win.

Matt Kegel started out on fire, completing his first 11 passes - but mistakes, injuries and some strong defensive play in the middle of the Lobos line kept the Cougs out of the end zone until the third quarter.  Kegel ended up 29 of 42 for a personal best 346 yards.

WSU had difficulty in the red zone in the 1st half, having to settle for four Drew Dunning field goals.  The senior from Issaquah had a career day, setting a WSU single game record with five field goals, eclipsing the previous mark he held with 6 other players.  Included in the 5-for-5 performance was a 49 yarder, tying his own personal career long. 

Devard Darling was Kegel's favorite target, snaring 9 balls for 113 yards.  Sammy Moore nearly broke the century mark with 5 grabs for 98 yards and made yet another circus catch—this one while flat on his back—that brought the Martin Stadium crowd to its feet. 

Speaking of great grabs, Cody Boyd only had one catch but the 32 yard gain was a thing of beauty. Boyd also padded his blocked kicks resume, swatting down the Lobos first extra point attempt in the second quarter.

In the decisive third quarter, a 53 yard Kyle Basler punt pinned the Lobos deep in their own territory at the 2 yard line.  With the crowd shaking the stadium, New Mexico gained just one yard and had to punt from deep in its own end zone. 

The Cougs seized the momentum, mixing in runs to Chris Bruhn and passes to Darling and Chris Jordan.  The drive culminated in a quarterback sneak by Kegel that put the Cougs ahead for good. A two-point conversion catch by Jordan put the Cougs up by a touchdown.

On the following possession, Virgil Williams ripped the ball away and the Cougs capitalized as Dunning nailed the 49 yarder.

On defense, the Cougs held New Mexico to 22 yards rushing on 23 carries and forced several 3 and outs.  New Mexico held the ball for only 21:10.  The Cougs ran 91 plays to New Mexico's 60 and limited the Lobos to 257 total yards.  The D also collected 4 sacks while forcing 9 punts.  Scott Davis filled in ably for an injured Will Derting and the linebacking corps didn't really miss a beat; if that's possible given a player of Derting's caliber.

It was a very physical game and the injuries came early.  Initial reports were as follows: In addition to Derting, (strained quad), Mike Shelford suffered a stinger in the opening quarter and did not return.  Jonathan Smith had a slight concussion while Bruhn dinged an ankle.   Moore also had a slight limp after the game.

On the plus side, flu-ridden Jermaine Green ripped off a 25 yard gain on his first carry.  With Smith injured, Green stepped up and showed flashes of '02, and that he did it while ill was impressive to say the least. He finished with 48 yards on 11 runs.

The Cougs didn't play their best game on Saturday, but they didn't have to.  And give some credit to New Mexico, that's one helluva defensive line.  But also give credit to a Coug team that has many different weapons in its arsenal, and not all of them reside on offense.  And take note of Dunning, rewriting the record book is no small feat.

The Cougs open Pac-10 play next week against Oregon in Autzen.  The Ducks pulled off a 37-21 upset against Michigan on Saturday.

 


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