Brennan Jackson and Ron Stone Jr.
After Washington State recording seven sacks during a 4-0 start to the season, the Cougars struggled to generate the same pressure through a six-game losing streak, registering only four sacks against Oregon, Arizona State, Stanford and California. Jackson and Stone led a turnaround on Friday, combining for 12 tackles and 4.5 of the Cougars’ season-high five sacks. Midway through the first quarter, Stone broke into the Colorado backfield, poking the ball out as he sacked quarterback Shedeur Sanders. Jackson scooped it up and sprinted 40 yards the other way to give WSU a 14-0 lead. With one defensive touchdown to his name, Jackson capitalized on another opportunity in the third quarter, jumping on an errant pitch from Gavin Kuld to Dylan Edwards and returning it 74 yards for his second score. Stone ’s eight tackles – all of which came in the first half – matched a career high.
After committing three fumbles and absorbing six sacks a week earlier at Cal, Ward responded by throwing two touchdown passes, rushing for two more and accumulating more than 300 all-purpose yards. Ward didn’t directly contribute to a touchdown play until the Cougars had built a 21-7 lead, but he was responsible for each of the next four, starting with a 23-yard touchdown to Nakia Watson, who caught a short swing pass from Ware before sprinting around the edge into the end zone. Ward followed with a pair of rushing touchdowns – from 1 and 2 yards out – before capping his night with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Williams.
Jackson’s scoop-and-score? Lleyton Smithson’s kickoff return touchdown? Ward’s 51-yard pass to Josh Kelly, setting the Cougars up for their sixth scoring drive in the first half? It was hard to single out one moment in a first half that saw WSU pile up 285 offensive yards, five sacks and a 35-point lead. In terms of sheer importance, Smithson’s return touchdown probably gets our vote. Colorado’s lone offensive highlight in the first half, a 45-yard touchdown pass from Sanders to Travis Hunter, gave the Buffaloes a sliver of hope, trimming the deficit to 14-7. It only lasted briefly. Moments later, the Buffaloes were scrambling to catch Smithson, who caught Jace Feely’s kickoff on the 2-yard line and raced through a swarm of white jerseys to finish off a 98-yard return.