PULLMAN – It became official with 32 seconds remaining in the first half.
This isn’t your older brother’s Washington State football team – you know, the guy who graduated last year.
It has more in common with your uncle’s Cougars – you know, the guy who graduated back in 2003.
With a half-minute left before intermission, Marshall Lobbestael, the guy who is supposed to be holding the fort for injured quarterback Jeff Tuel, took a knee.
At that point, the Cougars led UNLV by five touchdowns en route to a 59-7 shellacking of the Rebels.
Combined with the season-opening 64-21 rout of Idaho State, this is the most points WSU has scored in back-to-back games since 1907, when the second game was against Blair Business College.
Asked if he ever envisioned a start like this, even WSU coach Paul Wulff had to shake his head and admit, “No, I didn’t know we would score this many points.”
But it wasn’t just the points.
Saturday’s rout, witnessed by 27,018 sunburned people, was built on a combination of offensive execution – led by Lobbestael, the fifth-year senior thrust into the starting role after Tuel’s broken collarbone last week – and a defense that nearly executed UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring more than once.
All that stood between the Cougars and their first shutout in eight years was Tim Cornett’s 95-yard kickoff return with 5 minutes, 29 seconds left against WSU’s second-string coverage team.
“I’ll just have to take it out on (special teams coordinator Dave) Ungerer this week, that’s what I’ll have to do,” said Cougars defensive coordinator Chris Ball, smiling for one of the few times in four years.
The defensive dominance – UNLV finished with just 158 yards of total offense, the fewest by a Cougars opponent since 2004 – might have been expected, considering the Rebels (0-2) are coming off a 2-11 season and Herring is in his first year starting.
But the Cougars’ offensive explosion came with Lobbestael making his second fill-in start for Tuel. All he did was throw for a career-high 361 yards, toss five TDs and complete 24 of 32 throws.
“He proved what I always thought he could do given the supporting cast,” said Wulff. “We’ve built up enough of a supporting cast for him to be one of the 11.”
“I’m just playing my role for this team,” Lobbestael concurred.
And that team put together another impressive offensive performance, fueled by an offensive line that opened holes and gave Lobbestael and Connor Halliday time to find, for the second consecutive week, 11 different receivers – six of them catching touchdown passes.
“What I’m proud of a little bit with our team (is), we’ve scored points, but we haven’t got a lot of turnovers,” Wulff said. “It’s not like the teams have just been handing us the ball.”
Washington State ran up its 59 points and 610 yards of total offense with the benefit of just one Rebel fumble. The Cougars had drives of 79, 74, 81, 80 and 52 yards to open the game. They punted just once, had a field goal blocked and fumbled on their last possession. The rest of the time they scored.
The first drive was capped by a 48-yard scoring run by redshirt freshman Rickey Galvin, who finished with 80 yards on five first-half carries.
From there, Lobbestael took over, finding his roommate, Jared Karstetter, for back-to-back TD tosses, threading the needle to Isiah Barton in the back of the end zone, teaming with Andrei Lintz for a rare TD toss to a tight end and connecting with Marquess Wilson for a 7-yard scoring strike.
“It was fun, guys were open and we executed,” Lobbestael said. “The O-line was giving me a ton of time. The one sack was really my fault. Guys were running great routes. It was pretty evident, they were open all day.”
With the offense putting UNLV in a hole, Ball’s defense just kept attacking.
“It’s really easy to call (defenses) when you’re up 35-0,” he said.
The Rebels had just nine first downs – WSU had 32 – and were only 2 of 12 on third down, a Cougar failing in the past. Three times UNLV tried to get points by going for a fourth-down conversion and three times the Cougars forced Herring into a poor throw.
The sophomore, who threw for 146 yards and two touchdowns last week at 11th-ranked Wisconsin, finished 11 of 20 for only 60 yards. He was sacked twice and his longest completion was 13 yards.
“Frankly, we’re kind of where they were two years ago,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. “We didn’t make any plays on the ball, they made every play on the ball. That’s good for them, bad for us.”
What’s really good for the Cougars is they are 2-0 for the first time since 2005.