Jake Dickert was fired up.
As former Wisconsin running back Nakia Watson rumbled forward for the game-clinching first down, the Washington State head coach ripped off his headset and shouted for joy.
This was more than just a ranked win against a non-conference opponent.
It was a lion – or Cougar – in the zoo, biting off the fingers of the zookeeper trying to feed it. Yeah, sure, you’ve contained me, you’ve limited my range and autonomy. But damnit, I’m still dangerous.
Cameron Ward is a championship-level quarterback
I had the pleasure of covering Cameron Ward at his first stop at FCS Incarnate Word (UIW). No one wanted him because he ran the triple option offense in high school and hardly threw a pass in that system. But the talent was there all along, and when he accepted the offer to play at UIW, he commanded early playing time because of that raw ability.
After leading the Cardinals to their most successful season to date (shoutout to Lindsey Scott Jr. for taking UIW further shortly thereafter), Ward finally had options at the FBS level in the transfer portal. He elected to follow Eric Morris to Washington State, who’s since taken the head coaching position at North Texas, and showed promise in his first season in Pullman a year ago.
As talented as Ward was at UIW, he’s grown into a completely different quarterback in his second year at Washington State.
Ward now has the Cougars at 2-0 with a win over a top-20, Big-10 team known for its exceptional defense. He’s completed 37-49 passes (75.5 percent) for 451 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in those two wins, and he’s also added 13 carries for 40 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
His pocket presence continues to impress. He can evade the rush with ease, extend plays to complete passes down the field or pick up first downs with his feet. Despite pressure from the Wisconsin front-seven (or six, under its inexplicable 3-3-5 formation), Ward stood strong in the pocket and continued to make intelligent decisions and accurate throws.
The PAC-12 is loaded in its final year of normalcy, but Ward’s play convincingly puts Washington State in the conference championship conversation.
Left without a home, not without determination
Along with Oregon State, Washington State has been utterly robbed by the dynamic media rights phase of college football that has turned the regional, rivalry-based game Americans have loved for decades into an arbitrary conference-realigned circus.
Dickert has had every reason to tee off on the media, on the PAC-12, the Big-10, the NCAA and everyone in between. Instead, he’s handled the situation with utmost class – taking on the responsibility of the program’s success on his own shoulders.
No one knows for certain how the next – and possibly final – chapter of the PAC-12 saga will proceed, but two things are certain: 1., Washington State has exceptional leadership in its football program with Dickert and its entire athletic department under Patrick Chun, and 2., the Cougars deserve to play in a Power-4 conference.
As leagues continue to consolidate and resort to only playing each other, legendary games like this will occur less and less often. The magic of college football will evaporate in a cloud of greed. For the sake of all college football fans, let’s hope this situation is not beyond salvation.
On the #RisingTide radar: Lincoln Victor
Lincoln Victor was a huge part of Saturday’s win. The 5-9 senior from Maui, Hawai’i, was a factor in multiple phases of the game, completing a 39 bomb on a double-pass play to set up a Washington State score, grabbing seven receptions of his own for 55 yards and a crucial touchdown, and he also served as kick returner.
Victor had 14 targets in the Week 1 win over Colorado State and 10 more Saturday, proving his importance to Ward and the Washington State passing attack.
Coming out of high school, Victor was an under-looked 3-star athlete despite averaging 230 all-purpose yards per game. He saw limited action in his first two seasons at Hawai’i before transferring to Washington State in 2021. He paid his dues on special teams while playing a minor role in the passing attack the last two years, but now has emerged as the favorite target for Cameron Ward and this high-powered Cougar offense.