THUD! Cougs' opener one to forget

THERE ARE NO shortage of superlatives to describe Oklahoma State running back Kendall Hunter's efforts. Any synonym for good would be apt in the Cowboys' 65-17 win during Saturday's season opener against Washington State. Perhaps Hunter, who finished with 257 yards and four touchdowns on 21 carries, will even be considered a Heisman Trophy candidate.

"The only thing that stopped Kendall Hunter there was the goal line," FSN's color commentator said. "He's terrific."

But that does not mean anyone donning crimson and gray should be satisfied with this performance. Coach Paul Wulff talked about taking a "big leap," especially on the defensive side, after finishing with a 1-11 record last season.

Neither were apparent.

THE FIRST QUARTER felt too much like a repeat of last season, when the Cougars were outscored 176-6. It was not until the seventh week of the 2009 season before WSU scored in the first quarter.

This time, the Cougars trailed 17-0 entering the second period.

It started with a fumbled exchange between sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel and senior running back James Montgomery on the first offensive play of the game.

"The one thing these kids didn't need was that kind of setback," radio color commentator and former WSU coach Jim Walden said. "I believe it shattered these young kids."

That gave the Cowboys possession at WSU's 20-yard line, where they needed just two Hunter carries to score. Hunter, who previously had never had three touchdowns in a game, had that many by halftime.

The Cougars' offense kept its defense on the field for far too long during the first quarter. WSU did not gain a first down until its third possession. Then, on the ensuing play, promising true freshman Rickey Galvin fractured his right arm on his first carry.

It was that kind of day for the Cougars.

IF THERE WAS a fleeting moment of optimism, it came during the second quarter. Wulff placed his trust in erratic senior kicker Nico Grasu, who rewarded him with a 56-yard field goal. The defense then had its best series of the game, highlighted by a third-down sack from junior Alex Hoffman-Ellis, and WSU took over at midfield after a punt. Three plays later, Tuel found true freshman Marquess Wilson, who had 108 yards on four receptions, for a 48-yard touchdown to cut the Cougars' deficit to 17-10.

"This is an impressive wide receiver," said FSN's color commentator, after a long fourth-quarter reception by Wilson that set up a 1-yard touchdown run by junior Logwone Mitz. "He's got the athleticism."

But that was as good as it would get for WSU, which was outgained 544 to 324.

Buoyed by Hunter's effort, 26-year-old Brandon Weeden made WSU's secondary look as anemic as it has the last three seasons. He completed 23 of 31 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns.

The Cougars trailed 38-10 at halftime, and Hunter quickly added a fourth touchdown in the third quarter. Only OSU coach Mike Gundy pulling him from the game at that point prevented Hunter from breaking Barry Sanders' school record of 332 rushing yards in 1988 against Texas Tech.

"They're not tackling well and getting off blocks," Wulff said on the radio at halftime.

THAT MIGHT BE more disturbing than anything. Unlike a year ago, when the Cougars started a defensive line at times that never had taken a snap in college football, Wulff anointed this group as the team's strongest. Both defensive ends, Kevin Kooyman and Travis Long, have at least a year of starting experience, as does senior defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm. Only former junior-college All-American defensive tackle Brandon Rankin is a first-time starter.

Yet that quartet allowed 6.6 yards per carry and provided minimal pressure on Weeden. The tackling was abysmal.

"It wasn't anything we didn't prepare for," senior linebacker Myron Beck said. "It was missed tackles."

Walden agreed.

"We were awful," he said. "You don't give credit to an offensive guy making you miss. I think our young defense got whipped."

NO ONE EXPECTED WSU, which was picked to finish last in the conference by every major media outlet, to compete for a bowl game this year. Not after the well-chronicled recruiting failures that occurred under the previous coaching staff.

But with Wulff entering his third season, fans expected a season similar to 2000, when coach Mike Price guided the Cougars to a 4-7 record that included three overtime losses. With the exception of the 51-3 debacle in the Apple Cup that season, nearly every game was close.

Unfortunately, even those modest expectations look distant now.

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