PULLMAN – The significance of the moment caused some nervous energy for Robert Ferrel as he prepared for Saturday’s game, but the receiver found himself calm when he took the field, lining up in a familiar offensive system.
Ferrel, a senior transfer slotback for Washington State, made his Cougars debut and played in his first Power Five football game this weekend – a 38-7 WSU victory over Colorado State in front of about 24,000 fans at Gesa Field.
“It was different, definitely,” Ferrel said Wednesday after practice.
Ferrel spent the past two seasons in the FCS ranks at University of the Incarnate Word. He was a standout receiver for the Cardinals during the most successful era in the program’s history.
The environment on a fall Saturday at the small, private university in San Antonio is much more tame than a game day in Pullman.
Ferrel usually performed for fewer than 5,000 spectators – not uncommon in the lower level of Division I competition. On Saturday, he introduced himself to a wider audience.
“The atmosphere is bigger than anything I’ve been a part of,” Ferrel said. “I was a little anxious at first, but then I got settled into the game.”
Ferrel missed all of the preseason and the Cougars’ first two games due to a foot injury sustained in the summer. He was also playing on the brightest stage of his career, so jitters would have been natural. But Ferrel didn’t look uncomfortable. In fact, he made an impact almost immediately.
“It’s kinda muscle memory,” he said. “It felt great to get in there and get my feet wet.”
For two seasons (19 games) at UIW, Ferrel flourished in the Air Raid offense under head coach Eric Morris – now the first-year offensive coordinator at WSU. Ferrel produced 15 receiving touchdowns and nearly 1,300 yards on more than 100 catches as a first-look target for Cardinal quarterback Cameron Ward – now the first-year QB at WSU.
On the second play of the Cougars’ second possession against CSU, Ferrel caught a pass from Ward for the first time since a Dec. 4 FCS playoff game between UIW and Sam Houston State.
Ward took a one-step drop on second-and-10 and Ferrel made a hard cut, dashing into space in the shallow-middle portion of the field. Like they have so many times before, the two linked up for a big play. Ferrel hauled in a short pass, found a lane and raced upfield for a 26-yard gain, sparking a scoring series – one of four consecutive TD drives for WSU to start the game.
“I was really excited to get in there, and I’m glad Cam trusted me enough to throw that ball because I haven’t been practicing,” Ferrel said, describing his debut as a “plug-and-go” performance.
“Me and Cam have pretty good chemistry on and off the field. That’s my best friend probably on the team, so it wasn’t too different.”
Ward fired another strike to Ferrel on a crossing route midway through the third quarter. The 5-foot-8, 173-pounder evaded a couple defenders, picking up 38 yards – the longest passing play of the game and tied for WSU’s second-best passing play of the season.
“I just want to play my role, whatever that is – whatever coach Morris and Cam want me to do,” Ferrel said. “I hope to provide some explosive plays and to bring leadership, veteran presence out there, especially knowing the offense, knowing the signals. (I’m) trying to get everybody ready, push the tempo a little bit more.”
The Cougars gave Ferrel a 15-snap test run Saturday as he eases his way back from injury. He came up with three receptions for 64 yards.
“We wanted to get him to his threshold,” WSU coach Jake Dickert said Monday.
Ferrel, listed as a backup to veteran Renard Bell, is expected to rotate frequently on offense and see time on special teams.
He was a junior college All-American all-purpose player at El Camino (Torrance, California) as a freshman after beginning his collegiate career with a redshirt season at Nevada. The Sparks, Nevada, native earned first-team All-Southland Conference honors as a kick returner last season and was named a second-team receiver.
“He’s gonna have an opportunity to really give us another speed body inside,” Dickert said Saturday. “I’m excited to get Robby back as a returner. That’s what he specializes in. He had a freak foot deal this summer and he’s where he should be, and I know those guys (Ferrel and Ward) have a lot of chemistry on and off the field. Robby can be a big playmaker for us as we continue throughout the season.”
It couldn’t hurt to add another dependable target for Ward, supplying one more big-play threat to an offense that is still finding its footing. WSU’s Air Raid has been largely inconsistent early this year, but it seems to make strides each week and had a stellar start to its matchup with CSU, piling up 28 points and 253 yards on 27 plays across its first four possessions.
“Everybody’s still trying to grow and we’re all trying to develop chemistry within the receiver room,” Ferrel said. “It started last week. We didn’t put it all together through the whole game, but it’s starting to come through.”
The Cougars (3-0) hope they worked through most of the kinks during their nonconference schedule. They’ll be looking to build on their offensive breakout when Pac-12 play kicks off this weekend with a major challenge. WSU will meet 15th-ranked Oregon’s fast and physical defense at 1 p.m. Saturday at Gesa Field.
The Cougars’ hot start versus CSU provided a needed boost.
“That first half was very vital for everybody – the confidence it gave everybody, the consistency we saw all the way around,” receiver De’Zhaun Stribling said. “It was just something we know we can do. We know what we’re capable of and we wanted everyone to see it.”
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