PULLMAN — Washington State has 11 regular-season games left to play, but the Cougars will be hard pressed to top their season opener for stunning developments.
Not only did the Cougars, winners of just five games the previous three seasons, wallop Idaho State 64-21 Saturday, but they did so with starting quarterback Jeff Tuel limited to six plays by illness and, later, a broken collar bone.
One year after scoring just 28 first-quarter points all season, the Cougars scored 23 in the first 14 minutes and led 40-0 at the half.
The leader of the offense was last-minute starter Marshall Lobbestael, somewhat of a forgotten man until he completed his first nine passes Saturday before 22,034 fans.
The WSU defense, ranked among the nation’s worst overall and against the run last season, shut out Idaho State for 2½ quarters and limited the Bengals to a total of 23 yards rushing.
The Bengals racked up 453 total yards, but they passed the ball 54 times, and much of the yardage came against WSU’s reserves.
Toss in 590 yards of total offense for the Cougars — their best performance since 2008 — and a day of gorgeous sunshine on the Palouse, and there was little to complain about other than Tuel’s injury.
“Obviously, it’s a pretty big loss, but Marshall and Connor (Halliday, new No. 2 quarterback) played well today,” defensive end Travis Long said. “We can’t dwell on it too much.”
Offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy added: “It’s just a fluke deal. I mean, it’s the game of football. These things can happen. I feel sorry for Jeff, but he’ll be back at some point.”
WSU coach Paul Wulff said he expects Tuel to miss “four to six weeks.” The right-handed Tuel broke his left collar bone when he was driven out of bounds on a running play late in the first quarter on his first series (WSU’s third).
Tuel was not made available to the media, but teammates and coaches said Tuel remained upbeat after returning to the sidelines in a sling.
Coaches said Tuel begged to go into the game after his stomach virus eased up early in the game.
“A great teammate … a great leader,” Lobbestael said.
Lobbestael, a senior and former starter who threw just 15 passes last season, completed 14 of 19 for 230 yards (9 short of his career best) and his first two touchdowns since 2009.
“Marshall played outstanding,” Sturdy said. “I’m very proud of him. He’s a great young man.”
The Cougars dominated smaller Bengals on the line of scrimmage on offense and defense. Eleven Cougars caught passes, and speedy little freshmen Rickey Galvin and Marcus Mason keyed a running attack that gained 289 yards, the most at WSU since 2006.
The Cougars, 1-0 for the first time since 2005, attempt to go 2-0 for the first time since their 3-0 start in ’05 when UNLV (0-1) visits Pullman next Saturday at 2 p.m.