PULLMAN – C.J. Mizell came out of the Martin Stadium tunnel earlier than usual before kickoff Saturday. For the first time, the sophomore from Tallahassee, Fla., was a team captain, picked by the coaches for the honor.
What does that say about Mizell, who at the end of spring football was basically told to start working harder or leave?
That question was put to WSU defensive coordinator Chris Ball after Mizell, WSU’s middle linebacker, led the Cougars in tackles with seven, all in the first half, in the team’s 59-7 blowout of UNLV.
“What people forget, he was a freshman last year,” Ball said. “You look at C.J. Mizell, you don’t think of him as a freshman. It takes freshmen a while to grow up. He’s grown up. He’s made a choice.
“We pulled him in after spring ball and said either you’re going to be part of it or we’re going to move on without you. Give him the credit for making that decision and being a leader.”
Ball and Wulff were never upset by Mizell’s play last season during games. Though he didn’t hit the starting lineup until midway through the year, the 6-foot-2, 227-pound Mizell was fourth on the team with 57 tackles.
It was his practice habits which were often a subject of coaching criticism. They’ve changed.
“He shows up at practice and he’s excited to be there,” Ball said. “He likes practice and he’s fun to be around. He’s fun to coach and he’s a really good football player.”
And that means the world to Ball.
“As an educator and a coach, you always look for change in people,” he said. “Whenever you see a change in a young man, it’s really, really rewarding.”
This time numbers count
Numbers never tell the whole story of a football game.
But the minutia from Washington State’s victory paints a pretty in-depth picture.
Starting with starting quarterback Marshall Lobbestael.
The fifth-year senior’s five touchdown passes were a career high, of course, since he had just nine coming in, two of those last week.
He became the first Cougar quarterback to toss five in a game since Alex Brink did it against San Diego State in Seattle nearly four years ago to the day.
And Lobbestael’s 361 passing yards were the most since Brink threw for 399 against Washington in 2007.
Six different Cougars were on the receiving end of WSU’s seven touchdown passes – the final two were thrown by Connor Halliday – including Bennett Bontemps’ first career scoring catch and the second for Isiah Barton, Andrei Lintz and Kristoff Williams.
The 123 points WSU has scored in the season’s first two games in its most in more than a century, surpassed only by the 132 points it put up on Cheney Normal and Blair Business College in 1907.
And, finally, Washington State won its 499th game in its football history on a day when the temperature at kickoff was 91 degrees, the second-hottest since the Cougars began keeping records in 1982.
Not so special
Every silver lining has a dark cloud and the Cougars’ was their kickoff coverage team.
And it’s not like they didn’t get enough practice, what with kickers Andrew Furney and Alex Gauper getting five apiece.
But Furney put two out-of-bounds, twice giving UNLV the ball at its 40, and Gauper’s last kick was returned 95 yards for the Rebels’ lone score by Tim Cornett.
“I thought special teams was the one area where we were inconsistent, kicking the ball off,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said. “That hurt us on coverage. We’ve got to get that fixed. We’ve got to get better production out of that.”
They certainly didn’t on the 95-yard return.
“We let down just enough,” Wulff said, “they did a good job blocking it and we just didn’t finish.”
Other than that, Wulff was hard-pressed to mention anything else that bothered him. But he was able to come up with something.
“Learning to play as intense as you did when you started the game, when you have a big lead, isn’t something we’re used to doing, right?” he noted. “Our intensity wasn’t as good in the second half as I would have liked, but the production was still there.”
The Cougars, who led 40-0 at the half against Idaho State, led 35-0 against the Rebels.
A rare grab
With seven touchdown passes thrown around by Cougar quarterbacks, it’s no wonder some of the recipients weren’t part of the usual suspects.
If anything, the tight end position at WSU the past few years could only be called suspect. But Lintz is out to change that.
Midway through the second quarter, he ran a post pattern from 23-yards out, trailed down the field by running back Rickey Galvin, running a wheel route down the sideline.
Galvin attracted two defenders, Lintz got behind the one guy defending him and Lobbestael found him.
“Marshall threw a great ball, put it right where it needed to be,” Lintz said. “All I had to do was catch it.”
The scoring catch was only the second reception of the junior’s career – and only the second for a tight end the last two seasons. Both have been for scores.
“This one means so much more to me personally, after everything that happened last year,” Lintz said, referring to WSU’s 2-10 record. “This is our bounce-back year. We’re 2-0 and it just feels awesome right now.”