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Sports >  WSU football

Don’t put too much credence in Washington State’s win, but at least it’s a step forward

Sept. 3, 2017 Updated Sun., Sept. 3, 2017 at 7:32 p.m.

Washington State head coach Mike Leach exits the field after his team defeated Montana State on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State head coach Mike Leach exits the field after his team defeated Montana State on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – In skinning the Bobcats Saturday night at Martin Stadium, No. 24 Washington State rang in the new football season with a rare step forward. It’s a small step – more like a half-step, really – but a step nonetheless for a team, and a head coach, that have only been known for losing their footing in openers up to this point. In 2015 and 2016, losing it quite badly, too.

The Cougars dismantled Montana State 31-0, and the shutout is actually pretty historic when you sift through the record books. Previously, WSU had only blanked one opponent under sixth-year coach Mike Leach (Idaho, 2013) and it’s only happened three times since the turn of the millennium.

On Saturday, the significance of that was buried beneath a very ordinary night from the Air Raid offense. Luke Falk didn’t falter once in the first half – the WSU quarterback connected 20 times in a row before missing his mark – and James Williams, with pockets of space on just about every play, set school records for receptions in a game (13) and receiving yards (163) by a running back.

The Cougars will perpetually remind you none of those numbers are worth much in their own circle. In this clique, only two digits separated by a dash mean anything of real importance: 1-0. And even when weighing this particular season opener against the ones of the past – all five had been harrowing losses for Leach – the coach swiftly dismissed the notion that Saturday’s victory was any more significant than the other 63 he’s been a part of.

“Probably no more significant than it was to win nine last year,” Leach said after Saturday’s game. “Because virtually none of those games count for the future. Whatever’s the worst loss or the greatest victory, they’re all over, so none of those count this time around.

“All this memory-lane stuff is just that because there’s not one play, there’s not one great play, there’s not one horrible play that even remotely contributes in any way to the games now or even in the future.”

And what about the future? What lies ahead for this team, now 1-0 with a rare opportunity to build on its play rather than fix it heading into the second week of the season?

For one, the Cougars, who entered the season with a spot in the AP Top 25 for just the third time in school history, won’t concede their ranking and will presumably move up – if only a single spot.

Of Saturday’s nationally-ranked losers, only No. 23 Texas is in danger of dropping out. The heavily-favored Longhorns were stunned by Maryland 51-41, so the Cougars should, at the very least, trade spots with Tom Herman’s club and enter week two as the country’s 23rd-ranked team.

The second of five straight home games to start the season pits WSU against Boise State, a midmajor that tends to affiliate more with programs in the Power Five conferences than those in the Mountain West. BSU, a few spots outside the Top 25, got past another high-end midmajor on Saturday, beating Troy 24-13.

WSU opens as an 8 1/2-point favorite.

The Cougars have already exorcised their year-opener demons, but a win over Boise State might be cathartic, too. The Broncos handed WSU its second straight loss in 2016, 31-28 on the blue lawn at Albertsons Stadium. And lest you think the Cougars have wiped the slate clean, that this game is only significant because it’s the next one they’re required to play, the players are more than happy that the Broncos reappeared on the schedule.

“We’re looking forward to getting another shot at these guys,” Falk said.

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