STILLWATER, Okla. – The first play was a simple run designed to go around right end, a way to ease into the season.
But running back James Montgomery and quarterback Jeff Tuel couldn’t make connections. The ball came free. And Oklahoma State’s Ugo Chimasa pounced on it at Washington State University’s 15-yard line.
Two plays later Kendall Hunter scored.
It went downhill from there.
The Cougars opened the 2010 season the same way they ended 11 games in 2009 and 11 more in 2008, falling behind early, giving up yards in huge chunks and ultimately losing, this one 65-17 before 48,962 at Boone Pickens Stadium and a nationwide cable television audience.
“We both come to the sideline and went ‘what happened,’” Tuel said. “I put it into his gut like I have a million times, and felt like I hit his arm and he said he might have been a little early on trapping down in it. So it just kind of popped up.”
It was just a little exchange thing, and in any exchange I put it on me,” said Montgomery, the senior playing for the first time since a drastic leg injury ended his 2009 season. “I either drifted or clamped too fast. It happens, you get a little excited.”
And so does your opponent.
Oklahoma State, rebuilding after back-to-back nine win seasons, took advantage of every WSU mistake, whether it be turnovers – both fumbles and a blocked punt resulted in scores – or defensive lapses.
The Cowboys rode Hunter repeatedly, giving the senior 21 carries. He rewarded the faith with a career-high 257 yards and four touchdowns, also a career best.
“You don’t have to be in this business very long to see that he’s excited about playing football,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said, noting Hunter missed a lot of last season with injuries.
Why not? The Cowboys’ rebuilt offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, not allowing Washington State’s front to get off blocks or make tackles. Five of Hunters’ runs went for more than 18 yards, including sprints of 66 and 39, the latter for his final score.
“We knew they were going to give him the ball a lot,” said linebacker Myron Beck. “He’s their best player on offense.”
But not their only one. At least not Saturday. The Cowboys finished with 544 yards in total offense against a WSU defense that seemed to have taken big strides in the offseason.
Thanks to an offensive line with four new starters, Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, the 26-year-old former minor league pitcher making his first career start, was able to play catch with six wide-outs, often as leisurely as a guy throwing a bullpen.
He found Justin Blackmon eight times for 125 yards and three touchdowns – Blackmon scored a fourth late on a blocked punt – and Josh Cooper five times.
“Those guys played tremendous tonight,” he said of the offensive line after completing 22 of 30 passes for 218 yards and three touchdowns. “They kept guys off me. It’s nice not being on the ground very much.”
But it was one of WSU’s two sacks that seemed to give the Cougars life.
After Hunter and OSU had built a 17-0 first-quarter lead – WSU has not scored a first-quarter touchdown since November 2008 – Nico Grasu broke the ice with a career-long 56-yard field goal.
That was followed on OSU’s next possession with a big hit by safety Tyree Toomer on a Hunter screen pass and an Alex Hoffman-Ellis third-down sack.
The Cougars perked up, then exploded a minute later when Tuel, who was 14 of 29 for 212 yards, found freshman Marquess Wilson down the left sideline for 48 yards and a score. It was the first career score for Wilson, who finished with 108 yards on four catches, but didn’t make a huge impression.
“It happened so fast, I hardly remember it,” he said.
Sort of like WSU’s momentum.
Four plays later Weeden found Blackmon on a go-route down the left sideline and the sophomore gathered it in for a 42-yard score.
“We’re fragile enough and young enough that we get in spells, when things go against us, we don’t respond very well,” Wulff said.
One of those spells hit then. Instead of Grasu attempting a 54-yard field goal, the Cougars tried a fake on fourth-and-5. The senior placekicker took a pitch from holder Reid Forrest but came up a yard short of a first down.
Hunter responded with his 66-yard run around left end, the Cowboys scored on five straight possessions and WSU had started 0-1 for the fifth consecutive season.
“We were in the game and then they made a big play, then they made another big play and then we kind of, I don’t want to say give up, but it’s like a snowball effect,” senior defensive end Kevin Kooyman said.
“It’s frustrating to see all the hard work we had put in, all the confidence we had, and it got stripped away from us real fast.”