PULLMAN – Billy Riviere’s 38-yard catch was significant for several reasons.
It set up a second-quarter touchdown for Washington State and was one of the Cougars’ best all-around plays Saturday in their 17-14 road win over Wisconsin.
It marked the first-career reception for Riviere, a first-year WSU tight end.
It signaled the beginning of a new era for the Cougars’ offense – finally, tight ends are catching passes again.
Riviere’s 38-yarder was the first reception by a WSU tight end in 11 years.
“It doesn’t even sound real when you say it,” Riviere said Wednesday after practice at Rogers Field. “It is pretty crazy. It’s pretty cool, but it’s one catch.
“We’ve got a lot bigger aspirations.”
Still, it was a statistic that had not been recorded at WSU since Nov. 26, 2011, when Andrei Lintz had a couple of grabs in the Apple Cup.
Four days later, WSU hired coach Mike Leach, whose Air Raid offense doesn’t include tight ends. Eight years later, Leach left Pullman and WSU brought in coach Nick Rolovich, whose run-and-shoot system also operates without tight ends.
But the position group has returned to WSU under first-year coach Jake Dickert and new offensive coordinator Eric Morris. The Cougars built their tight ends room from scratch this offseason after Morris was hired to install and direct the “Coug Raid” offense – a balanced variation of the Air Raid.
“We get to set the culture for the room and set the precedent for what’s coming in the future of tight ends here,” Riviere said in the preseason. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Riviere, a redshirt sophomore, transferred to WSU out of FCS North Dakota in January. He held down first-team responsibilities this spring and solidified himself as the Cougars’ top tight end during fall camp.
He’s been the first tight end to take the field this season when WSU switches formations, replacing its base four-receiver set with a heavier package.
Riviere appeared in 16 games with UND over the past two seasons but was used exclusively for his blocking and never registered a reception.
“During my time at North Dakota, my role just kinda ended up being more of a blocker, but I always thought I had the skills to be able to be a pass-catcher,” he said last month.
“I think I ran like four routes my last season there. I was really a pretty heavy blocking guy. … Whatever my role is, I’m ready to step in there and do it. That’s what my role ended up being (at UND).”
Riviere wasn’t without receiving experience when he enrolled at WSU. He snagged plenty of passes as a prep star at Wayzata High in Medina, Minnesota, just west of Minneapolis.
Dickert often emphasizes the importance of versatility among his tight ends. The coach saw multipurpose potential in Riviere.
Nicknamed “The Viking” due to his burly, bearded appearance, Riviere fits the tight end mold – he’s a 6-foot-4, 245-pounder who is tough enough to take on defensive linemen, yet has the length and stride to make an impact in the receiving game.
“I think it opens up our offense a lot, being able to do both of those things,” Riviere said Wednesday. “I think our team has done a great job preparing me for that. I got the honor of going against guys like (edge rushers) Brennan Jackson and Ron Stone every single day. Being able to go against them has really prepared me to be able to step out on the field and be confident that I can take any one-on-one matchup with anybody in the country.”
Riviere mostly stayed behind to provide extra protection for quarterback Cameron Ward in WSU’s Week 1 win over Idaho. Early in the second quarter of the Cougars’ Week 2 matchup, Riviere didn’t waste an opportunity to show off his capabilities as a skill player.
Working out of a hurry-up offense, Ward rushed his teammates to the line on a second-and-2 from the Badgers’ 45-yard line. He sold a play-action fake as Riviere dashed to the right and turned up the sideline on a wheel route. Wisconsin safety Preston Zachman was slow to react. Riviere got a few steps of separation.
Ward lofted a well-placed deep ball and Riviere caught it in stride. Earlier in the game, Ward had fired incomplete on a short pass intended for Riviere.
“I saw the ball and was like, ‘I gotta catch this one or Cam’s never throwing it to me again,’ ” Riviere said.
Riviere was brought down at Wisconsin’s 7-yard line. Cougars tailback Nakia Watson capped the drive with a short touchdown run moments later.
“I think it’s a stepping stone,” Riviere said. “It’s one play, so I don’t think I’ve completely proven myself. I’ve got a lot more to prove and hopefully I can keep building on it.”
The 38-yarder to Riviere was the Cougars’ first deep completion of the season and second-longest passing play of the year – behind a screen play to Renard Bell that went for 43 yards in the first quarter against the Badgers.
Dickert is looking for a boost in production from WSU’s downfield passing game this weekend.
Three other tight ends are listed on WSU’s depth chart ahead of a Week 3 matchup with Colorado State – true freshman Andre Dollar, junior college transfer Cameron Johnson and converted edge rusher Moon Ashby.
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