RENO - Nevada showed, without question, that it isn't ready for the prime time.
Washington State returned an interception for a touchdown late in the first quarter, and the Cougars went on to score on their ensuing four possessions in the first half en route to an easy 55-21 victory over Nevada before a crowd of 17,552 Friday night in a nationally televised nonconference football game at Mackay Stadium.
The loss was Nevada's fourth straight, dating back to the final three games of the 2004 season. It also was Nevada's third straight embarrassing setback on national TV. Last year, Nevada opened the season with a 38-21 loss to Louisiana Tech and then lost 58-21 to Boise State in its season finale.
It was an utter disappointment for Nevada coach Chris Ault, who obviously expected better things on both sides of the ball.
"We got beat in every phase of the game, offense, defense and the kicking game," said Ault, whose team yielded 534 yards. "Washington State did a fine job.
"We played very poorly. I was disappointed in this defense because we were so inconsistent. There is no excuse for our performance. Nothing they did surprised us. We just didn't play well. I was disappointed in the first half with the offensive front."
As well he should be.
The Pack turned the ball over once on an interception, yielded five sacks, dropped four balls and gained only 97 yards in total offense.
Washington State took a 7-0 late in the first quarter when redshirt freshman Mike McCoy couldn't handle Rowe's pass at the 35. The ball popped up in the air, and Eric Frampton picked it off and raced 37 yards down the left sideline for the score. Loren Langley's PAT made it 7-0 with 3:13 left.
It was McCoy's second drop of the game, and the Pack had trouble holding onto the ball the entire first quarter, dropping four balls in all.
"That really got us going," WSU coach Bill Doba said. "It was a tight game until the second quarter. What got us going was the interception for touchdown."
Rowe rolled out on a bootleg, and when the defensive end didn't bite, he stopped and threw to McCoy, who appeared to have turned upfield before he had control of the ball.
"Mike's a redshirt freshman," Rowe said. "He's never played before. Maybe I got flustered after that."
Nevada failed to move the ball on its next possession, and Michael Bumpus' 21-yard punt return gave the Cougars excellent field position at Nevada's 44, and they didn't waste it. Bumpus returned five punts for 157 yards, including an 87-yarder in the third quarter.
Sophomore quarterback Alex Brink hit Trandon Harvey for eight yards, and after the Cougars picked up three yards and a first down at the 31, Brink tossed a screen pass to Jerome Harrison, who turned it into a 15-yard gain down to the 18. On the next play, Brink found Bienemann wide open behind linebacker Jeremy Engstrom.
For the second straight series, Nevada went without a first down, and an 11-yard punt return gave the Cougars possession inside Nevada territory at the 49 with 13:13 left in the half.
Brink's 14-yard pass to Bumpus and a 10-yard run by Harrison gave the Cougars a first down at the Pack 17. After off-setting penalties, Harrison gained 13 yards down to the Nevada 4. Replays showed that Nevada may have stripped the ball from him, but the officials didn't agree.
Three plays later, Nevada appeared to have forced another fumble at the 1, but officials ruled Jed Collins' forward progress has been stopped. Langley came on to kick an 18-yard field goal to make it 17-0 with 9:51 left.
Then came perhaps the most embarrassing few minutes of the game.
Punter Justin Bergendahl pinned Washington State back at its own 1 with a 51-yard punt. Nevada had the Cougars right where they wanted them.
Facing a third-and-9 from his own 2-yard line, Brink (15 of 23, 202 yards, 3 TDs) fired a slant over the middle to Jason Hill for 47 yards and a first down at the 49. Nine plays later, including conversions on third and fourth down, the Cougars reached the end zone again on Brink's 6-yard scoring pass to Hill (5-92) making it 24-0, capping the 12-play 99-yard drive.
"We had them backed up," Engstrom. "We should have stopped them and forced a punt. We just didn't execute."
Not against the run. Not against the pass. The Cougars, led by DeMaundry Woolridge's 133 yards on the ground, all in the second half, and 121 by Harrison, went through the Pack defense without much resistance. The Cougars also had 287 yards passing.
The Cougars added a 28-yard field goal by Langley on their next drive, taking a 27-0 lead into the locker room.
Nevada finally got on the board on its first possession of the second half, as a 15-yard penalty gave the Pack great field position at the WSU 47.
B.J. Mitchell (13 carries, 59 yards) rambled for 21 yards, and three plays later, Rowe (19 of 32, 219 yards) tossed a 21-yard scoring pass to Caleb Spencer, who had a career day with seven catches for 126 yards.
Rowe actually bobbled the snap, but recovered in time to throw a nice pass to the left corner of the end zone.
Washington State drove 66 yards on its next possession, as Brink tossed a 22-yard scoring pass, capping the four-play drive to make it 34-7.
"Nothing against them, but we improved," Doba said. "It's our second game and their first. We made adjustments. If we had played each other on the first game, it would have been closer."
That isn't much consolation for the Pack, which must turn things around because arch-rival UNLV is coming town.
"I've never had the cannon," Rowe said. "I've never beaten UNLV. We have to put this behind and go after UNLV. It sucks to lose, but what can you do after the fact."
Notes: Charles Wilson appears to have cartilage damage to his left knee, according to Ault... The interception return by Frampton was the second straight game that Nevada had an interception returned the distance. Boise State's Cam Hall returned a pass 52 yards last season ... Nevada's offense was so sluggish that punter Justin Bergendahl was forced to punt 10 times.
Contact Darrell Moody at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (775) 881-1281