Washington State upsets No. 19 Wisconsin for 2nd straight year

Washington State defensive end Brennan Jackson (80) tackles Wisconsin running back Chez Mellusi (1) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
Wisconsin's offense was again inconsistent. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

In Week 2 of 2022, Washington State faced No. 19 Wisconsin and stifled its rushing attack on the way to a 17-14 upset win.

In Week 2 of 2023, Washington State faced No. 19 Wisconsin and stifled its rushing attack on the way to a 31-22 upset win.

It was déjà vu on Saturday between the Badgers and Cougars, but with some crucial differences. First and foremost, beyond the change in setting from Madison to Pullman, was the change in Wisconsin's coaching staff, as last year's loss to Wazzu helped precipitate the firing of Paul Chryst and the hiring of Luke Fickell.

Fickell's main order of business this offseason was to reshape the Wisconsin offense from a unit that wouldn't look out of place 30 years ago to a high-octane Air Raid offense, nabbing offensive coordinator Phil Longo and transfer quarterback Tanner Mordecai to run the show.

Two games into the season, the "Dairy Raid" has so far been a mixed bag. Wisconsin's offense put up a respectable score in its 38-17 season-opening win over Buffalo, but that was mainly attributable to 298 combined rushing yards from Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen. That duo combined for 69 yards on the ground against Washington State, putting responsibility on Mordecai to move the ball.

Washington State got the start it wanted, riding its hurry-up attack to two touchdowns in its first three drives against a seemingly unprepared Wisconsin defense. That was the good for the Cougars. The great came late in the second quarter, when the roommate duo of Ron Stone Jr. and Brennan Jackson posted a strip sack and scoop-and-score to push the lead to 24-6.

Mordecai got on track in the third quarter, leading a pair of touchdown drives while the Cougars offense started losing steam. The Badgers moved within a two-point conversion of tying the game, but a Mellusi run to the outside fell short and left them down two points heading into the fourth quarter.

Like its game against Buffalo, drops became an issue for Wisconsin, particularly on a long pass to Bryson Green that would have moved them into field-goal range. Two more Wisconsin drives fell short, leaving the door open for a Nakia Watson touchdown to put the Cougars over the top.

It's a second straight win over the Badgers for Wazzu head coach Jake Dickert, a Wisconsin native, and a nice way to start 2023 amid the program's increasingly grim outlook on the conference realignment board.

Cam Ward finished 20-of-32 for 212 passing yards and two touchdowns plus a team-best 42 yards on the ground, while Mordecai was 25-for-40 for 278 passing yards and a touchdown.

Washington State will face Northern Colorado next week before getting No. 16 Oregon State in Week 4. Wisconsin has Georgia Southern before opening Big Ten play against Purdue.