I have long believed the only thing many sports fans love more than their teams’ success is the possibility of future success. It is why professional sports drafts and college signing days have become their own booming industry. Sure, your team won the championship. But just imagine how many championships that star recruit could win.
WSU football fans got to have a little bit of both on Saturday. A dominating 50-24 win over Colorado State on the road to open the season. And the possibility of a whole lot more possible from a team that has plenty it can fix as the season progresses.
See, for me those little miscues and unmet opportunities can be exhilarating – once it is clear my team is going to win. Blemishes are opportunities, provided they do not lead to a loss.
But I’m not sure many fans see it that way.
Like many of you, living in 2023 with a super-computer in my pocket means I am always participating in quite literally dozens of various chats and my phone never wants for little messages to ping me with. Because I have many friends who follow WSU football, Saturdays in the fall are spiced with a deluge of commentary on the team’s performance or lack thereof.
Take one of these friends, let’s call him Lou. Here are a sample of the messages I got during the first half of Saturday’s blowout.
“Oh Cam. Cam Cam Cam. Caaaaaaam.”
“Nice clock management” (This one dripping with sarcasm, sent just before the end of the first half, and as evidenced by following texts that are not fit for a newspaper that I assume is read by at least some children).
Compared to many games, this is a pretty benign sample. But they are representative of the angst that fans feel during anything less than perfect plays.
But here is the thing. Lou was not wrong. The Cougars left a lot of offense on the table, particularly in the first half. The Pac-12 has the best quarterbacks in the country this year and the biggest thing separating WSU’s Cam Ward from the Heisman candidates are fixable mistakes, such as the overthrown 1-yard pass on the goal line, and early misfires that stalled WSU’s initial offensive drives.
Ward’s fourth-down fumble as he scrambled to the right in the third quarter is a play that new offensive coordinator Ben Arbuckle will want to review, even as the 20-something playcaller rightfully basks in a successful debut.
And that is so exciting. The Cougars scored 50 points in a game in which the offense only somewhat sizzled. The star quarterback was practically sloppy at times and the Rams simply could not hang.
For as forehead-slapping as Ward’s early overthrows were, his picture-perfect lofted ball to Nakia Watson on a wheel route for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter was equally sublime.
Further, as the teams settled into a rhythm, the gap between WSU and the home team only increased. The Cougars defense started flying around with more abandon, with defensive backs making more plays on balls in the air and groups of Cougars surrounding CSU ballcarriers as soon as they turned up the field.
This culminated in a massive sack on fourth and 11, WSU’s first in the game, in the middle of the third quarter with the Cougars leading 29-3. So confident were the Cougars in their coverage that they brought the house on a blitz, with secondary player Jaden Hicks leading the charge on a sack.
The upshot to all this is upside. The Cougars still have a lot of it. I’m not sure Colorado State gets into the end zone if WSU’s special teams hadn’t given up a touchdown return on the kickoff following Watson’s score. My friends would probably tell you that better teams will beat the Cougars because of errors like that. I think WSU will look at the tape, fix whatever went wrong, and be a far more dangerous team because of it.
In the first game of the season, any team is bound to be sloppy. But to put 50 points on the board and hold a home team’s offense out of the end zone until the game is well out of hand? That is evidence of a talented, well-coached team that has plenty of possibility in 2023.