MADISON – All the positive vibes and momentum that Paul Chryst’s team seemed to generate with its season-opening win dissipated in a stunning loss at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
UW suffered three turnovers, the last a fumble by tight end Clay Cundiff in the Washington State 12 late in the final quarter; committed 11 penalties for 106 yards, missed two field goals and struggled to move the ball consistently against a Washington state team that entered 17 ½-point underdogs on the day.
Washington State got enough big plays from quarterback Cameron Ward and tailback Nakia Watson to take a 17-14 win that stunned the crowd of 74,100.
UW (1-1) closes a non-conference play next week against a visit to the state of New Mexico, which took a 0-2 record in its game on Saturday-evening in Texas-El Paso.
“A game like this belongs to everyone,” Chryst said. “Starting with myself and every person in that locker room…
“This must be one that burns. It stings where it drives you to get better.’
There was no pain for Washington state. The Cougars, coached by Kohler native Jake Dickert, improved to 2-0.
BOX SCORE: Washington State 17, Wisconsin 14
Ward completed 17 of 28 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown against a UW defense that used as many as six defensive backs and as few linemen as one in certain schedules.
“I think he’s a good quarterback,” Chryst said. “That’s what we thought when we went in and we still think that today.”
Watson, who played two seasons at UW before transferring, caught the game-winning 31-yard touchdown pass and ran 11 times for 34 yards and a touchdown against his former teammates.
Safety John Torchio pointed to too many missed tackles, including some he missed, as a problem.
“I come across as calm,” he said. “But trust me, this stings a lot. This sucks. This is a terrible feeling. Obviously we need to push forward and focus on our next opponent.
“But you feel this for the rest of the season. You feel this pain. Losing at home.”
Quarterback Graham Mertz completed 18 of 27 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.
However, UW’s ground game was thwarted for most of the day.
Braelon Allen had 98 yards on 21 carries and Chez Mellusi finished with 44 yards on nine carries.
And the punishments were brutal.
The offensive line was responsible for five for 56 yards. Tight end Hayden Rucci was called up for a block in the back on a 26-yard run by Skyler Bell. Cundiff was charged with a personal foul (15 yards) for pulling a player from a pile at the end of a game.
“You have to clean it up,” Mertz said. “We learned that today.”
Cundiff’s penalty, after a Washington state defender intercepted a pass from Mertz but lost the ball almost immediately through a fumble, moved the ball from 20th to 35th. Two plays later, Cundiff fiddled after a 24-meter win to the 12.
“I just have to be careful in the middle of the field,” said Cundiff, who had touchdown catches of 17 and 10 yards.
Members of the UW defense knew before kick-off that they had to restrain Ward and Watson.
Watson scored on a 2-yard run in the second quarter to give the Cougars a 7-0 lead and won 11 yards at a second and 6 late in the game to pick up a crucial first down that helped the Cougars to beat the last 5. minutes 14 seconds.
He broke Kamo’i Latu’s attempted safety on the UW 30 on his 31-yard touchdown reception.
“I have to make the tackle,” Latu said.
Wisconsin’s attack gets off to a slow start, but Graham Mertz’s TD against Clay Cundiff gets Badgers on board
UW’s offense sputtered into the first three series, generating just 100 yards on 33 plays (3.3 yard average), and the Badgers trailed 7-0 with 9:10 to go in the first half.
Bobby Engram’s unit took over at the UW 35 after Washington State’s Colton Theaker drove the kickoff out of bounds.
The Badgers took advantage of the field position by putting in 65 yards in just six games and 3:05 for a touchdown to forge a 7-7 draw.
Mertz capped the drive with a beautiful pass to Cundiff for a 17-yard score with 6:05 left in the half.
UW got the ball back at his 38th back after Washington State went three and out, but a personal foul on Jack Nelson’s left tackle (hands to face) eventually left the offense in a first and 25th hole.
The Badgers eventually fired and Andy Vujnovich and Dean Engram combined to pin the Cougars on their 4 as Engram caught the tip cleanly.
With only 1:33 on the clock, Washington State remained offensively aggressive, trying to pass all three downs.
After a 9-yard gain on the first down, Ward was sacked for a 6-yard loss to the 7 by Latu to set up the third and 7 with 1:09 left.
Cornerback Cedrick Dort then broke a short pass in third and the Cougars lined up to kick with 1:06 left and UW with one time out to go.
Wisconsin goes into halftime with another touchdown from Cundiff
The Badgers drove 45 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in five games, with Mertz hitting two huge pitches.
He struckout Keontez Lewis for 40 yards to Washington State 5 for third and 10. That left Mertz on 5 for 8 for 79 yards, with five conversions, in third.
A first-down finish and delay to play left UW in second place and 10, but Mertz gave UW the lead with a 10-yard pass to Cundiff with 20 seconds left in the half.
Defensive end Brennan Jackson broke free from the left side of the UW formation, but Mertz didn’t panic and threw a charge at Cundiff to help UW take a 14-7 lead.
Washington State Special Teams Get Big Game in Third Quarter
The Washington State special teams provided the first big game of the second half when Renard Bell drove Jack Van Dyke’s kick-off 73 yards back to the UW 27.
The Cougars eventually settled for a 26-yard field goal from Dean Janikowski to score within 14-10 with 11:20 left in the third quarter.
UW went three and out, but the Cougars got the ball back on their 27 on a 53-yard punt by Vujnovich and a great tackle by Latu, which resulted in a minus-2 yards return.
The Cougars faced third and 10 of their 47 when they caught a break that kept a drive alive that eventually resulted in a touchdown.
Latu put pressure on Ward to a foul pitch, which was intercepted by cornerback Jay Shaw. Shaw fumbled, however, and the Cougars recovered at the UW 49.
Washington State Cameron Ward and Nakia Watson Benefit from Wisconsin Revenue
Six games later, Ward Watson hit the flat and the former UW tailback turned away from Latu at 30 and sailed clear to the end zone to help the Cougars take a 17-14 lead with 5:12 left in the quarter.
UW then overcame holding calls against right tackle Logan Brown and centered Joe Tippman to drive to Washington State 31, but the drive stopped at 25 and Vito Calvaruso, who missed from 51 yards in the first half, missed from 43 yards on the first game of the fourth quarter.
The Cougars took over at 25, but went three and out, with outside linebacker Nick Herbig taking a huge sack on third and 5.
UW took over at 35 after the punt, with 13:01 to go.
The Badgers overcame more penalties and went on to be first to 10 on the Cougars’ 35 with 6:42 to go.
Cundiff found an opening in the Washington state zone and Mertz threw an accurate pass, but Cundiff failed to protect the ball.
With Ward and Watson making big moves, the Cougars ran out into the final 5:14 to give Dickert a huge homecoming gift.
“I didn’t even want to take my pads off,” Herbig said when asked about the loss. “It sucks. Frankly, I don’t want to be here right now.
“But it is what it is. We lost. They were the better team today. We have to take it to the limit today and move on.”
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin football team falls to Jeff Dickert, Washington State