No. 21 Washington State looks like Pac-12 contender in impressive 38-35 win over No. 14 Oregon State

Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward throws a pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Oregon State, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

No. 21 Washington State has the looks of a legitimate contender in the Pac-12.

The WSU offense just could not be stopped in an impressive 38-35 home win over No. 14 Oregon State on Saturday night in Pullman. Washington State’s lead was 35-14 entering the fourth quarter and the Cougars were able to withstand a furious Oregon State comeback to hang on for the win.

And it was the combination of quarterback Cameron Ward and receivers Josh Kelly and Kyle Williams that stole the show for the Cougars in a battle between the final two remaining teams in the Pac-12.

Ward continues to thrive in the system of first-year WSU offensive coordinator Ben Arbuckle. In this one, he completed 28 of his 34 attempts for 404 yards and four touchdowns. He also had a touchdown on the ground in the win.

Ward just tore the Oregon State defense up all night, and Kelly made several highlight-reel plays. Kelly, a Fresno State transfer, caught eight passes for 159 yards and three touchdowns. His first touchdown was an electric 44-yard catch and run that increased WSU’s lead to 21-7 early in the second quarter.

Later on, he caught an 11-yarder right before halftime after a great effort from Ward, who extended the play and found Kelly wide open in the middle of the end zone. And then in the third quarter, Kelly made a ridiculous, sprawling one-handed touchdown grab in the left corner of the end zone.

While Kelly reached the end zone three times, it was Williams who led the Cougars in receiving with 174 yards on seven catches. He made his presence known in the first minute as Ward found him behind the Oregon State defense for a 63-yard touchdown on just WSU’s second offensive snap of the game.

It was a play that set the tone for the entire game. Oregon State’s defense was always on its heels, including in the final minutes of regulation when Ward found Williams for a 35-yard gain on a pivotal third-down play. In all, Washington State put up 528 yards of offense in the win.

Oregon State wants to lean on its running attack and control the clock, but Washington State’s hot start forced the Beavers to play from behind and go to the air. It put Oregon State quarterback DJ Uiagalelei in an uncomfortable position, and Washington State was more than willing to let him sit in the pocket and make decisions.

Uiagalelei, just like he did the last few years at Clemson, struggled to consistently throw the ball with accuracy and anticipation. Uiagalelei completed only 17 of his 34 attempts for 198 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

The Beavers were able to run the ball, racking up 242 yards and four touchdowns, but the early deficit made it difficult for OSU to play the style it prefers. And that played right into Washington State’s hands.

Now 4-0, Washington State is set to continue to move up in the rankings. The Cougars have a bye week next week before going on the road to UCLA on Oct. 7. With an offense this potent, Washington State has the chance to be in the Pac-12 race deep into the season.