Oct 16, 2021; Pullman, Washington, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Nick Rolovich celebrates after a game against the Stanford Cardinal at Gesa Field at Martin Stadium. The Cougars won 34-31. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Rolovich sues Washington State over vaccine-related dismissal

Former Washington State head football coach Nick Rolovich filed a lawsuit against the university, its athletic director Pat Chun and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee seeking damages after he was dismissed last season for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Washington State fired Rolovich and four of his assistant coaches for cause in October 2021 because they didn’t comply with the state’s vaccine mandate at the time. All state employees were required to be vaccinated by Oct. 19 of that year.

Rolovich had applied for a religious exemption and was denied.

Rolovich’s attorney, Brian Fahling, said in October 2021 that his client planned to pursue legal action. A tort claim was filed earlier this year as a prerequisite for the 32-page lawsuit, which was officially filed Friday.

It was originally reported by the Seattle Times that Rolovich sought $25 million in damages in the claim, but the suit does not specify how much he is seeking.

“Mr. Rolovich’s lawsuit against Washington State University is wholly without merit,” a school spokesperson said in a statement to multiple outlets.

“Washington State University carried out the Governor’s COVID-19 vaccination proclamation for state employees in a fair and lawful manner, including in its evaluation of employee requests for medical or religious exemptions and accommodations. For multiple reasons, Mr. Rolovich did not qualify, and the university firmly stands by that decision. Washington State University will vigorously defend itself against Mr. Rolovich’s claims.”

Rolovich was the state’s highest-paid employee at $3.2 million per year. Yahoo Sports reported at the time of his firing that Rolovich had three years and approximately $9 million left on his contract.

–Field Level Media

Nov 5, 2022; Stanford, California, USA; Washington State Cougars running back Nakia Watson (25) rushes for a touchdown against the Stanford Cardinal during the second quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Washington State rolls into matchup with Arizona State

It is not hard to find numbers that suggest Arizona State and host Washington State are evenly matched, especially on offense, going into their Pac-12 game Saturday at Pullman, Wash.

Both teams are 2-4 in conference play and are seventh and eighth in points scored and yards gained, with both categories slightly favoring Arizona State.

Yet Washington State (5-4 overall) has allowed only 20 points per game, vs. 31.1 for the Sun Devils (3-6), who couldn’t stop UCLA in a 50-36 loss at Tempe, Ariz., last weekend. In particular, the Bruins rushed for 402 of their 571 total yards.

Not that Washington State coach Jake Dickert expects it to be so easy for his team.

“I think Arizona State is a talented defense,” Dickert said. “I think it’s rare for them to give up that type of yardage, but I think there are some opportunities that we need to take advantage of in the run game, but more importantly, do it with our style and our way.”

The Cougars’ way starts with running back Nakia Watson, who has 491 yards rushing among his 668 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns.

In Washington State’s 52-14 blowout of host Stanford over the weekend, Watson ran for 166 yards and a score. Quarterback Cameron Ward threw for 176 yards and two touchdowns, part of his 2,360 yards passing this season.

“They’ll be in four wides a lot, spread you out, throw the ball around,” Sun Devils defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson said.

Henderson is aware the Sun Devils need “to make sure we don’t give the same looks in the secondary and making sure we disguise a little bit more.”

Arizona State has its own weapon in running back Xazavian Valladay, who piled up 92 yards rushing and two scores while making 10 catches for 89 yards against UCLA. Not that Dickert needed any convincing about Valladay, who has 1,061 yards from scrimmage 14 touchdowns (852 and 12 on the ground) this season.

“I’m very familiar with X,” Dickert said. “My three years at Wyoming (as assistant coach), X was one of the best tailbacks in the country. … He’s been phenomenal. He’s perfect for the (Sun Devils’) zone scheme running attack, and just like Nakia for us, always knew he could be a great pass threat.”

In his fifth collegiate season, Valladay has 4,926 yards from scrimmage (4,133 rushing) and 35 touchdowns (31 on the ground).

–Field Level Media

Oct 15, 2022; Greenville, North Carolina, USA;  East Carolina Pirates cornerback Malik Fleming (1) celebrates breaking up a pass attempt against the Memphis Tigers during the second half at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

High-flying ECU visits free-falling BYU

With East Carolina coming off its best win of the season and BYU coming off its worst loss, the teams meet in a nonconference tilt Friday night in Provo, Utah.

After a 3-3 start, East Carolina (5-3) has won two straight — following up a four-overtime thriller against Memphis with Saturday’s impressive 34-14 rout of UCF.

The Pirates never trailed, building a 17-0 first-half lead against the Knights, who had entered the game 5-1 and were undefeated in AAC play. When UCF closed the gap to a touchdown early in the second half, East Carolina outscored the visitors 17-3 the rest of the way.

There was little time for the Pirates to celebrate, with a short week turning their attention immediately to BYU (4-4).

“They’re coming off a couple of tough losses, but we do expect them to get a couple guys back this weekend,” Pirates coach Mike Houston said of BYU. “One of the stiffest challenges of the year will be us going on the road and trying to get a win this Friday night.”

ECU junior safety Jireh Wilson was named AAC Defensive Player of the Week after he recorded his second interception, recovered a fumble and posted three tackles (one solo) in the win.

Meanwhile, it’s been six weeks since the Cougars’ fans stormed the field following a 26-20 win over then-No. 9 Baylor.

BYU has lost three in a row, with Saturday’s 41-14 loss at Liberty more damaging than previous losses to Oregon, Notre Dame and Arkansas.

A fourth consecutive loss would endanger the Cougars’ bowl chances. After facing the streaking Pirates, BYU faces Boise State, FCS school Utah Tech (a non-major opponent that won’t help in bowl consideration) and goes to Stanford.

Saturday in Lynchburg, Va., Liberty won for the seventh time in eight games and Flames fans did their own field-storming.

“I look forward to seeing who wants to come out of this mess,” Sitake said. “It is an easy filter for me, (to) see who wants to join the fight and who wants to not be a part of it. We will get through it.”

On offense, BYU had just 258 yards on 50 plays, but defense has been the Cougars’ bigger problem.

Sitake made changes after the Cougars gave up 644 yards in the 35-52 loss to Arkansas, and he took over defensive play-calling duties from coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki.

Still, nothing worked, as Liberty rolled up 547 yards, including 300 on the ground.

–Field Level Media

Oct 8, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Brigham Young Cougars running back Christopher Brooks (2) runs with the ball against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the second half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

BYU, Arkansas look to rediscover winning ways

BYU and Arkansas, two teams that were among the Top 25 through the first quarter of the season, will look to get back on track when they square off on Saturday in Provo, Utah.

It’s the first-ever meeting for the two programs.

The Cougars (4-2) return home after a 28-20 loss to Notre Dame last Saturday in Las Vegas in which they managed just 280 yards of offense. The setback snapped BYU’s two-game winning streak and dropped them out of the Top 25.

BYU trailed by 19 points early in the second half and worked its way back into contention. The game was still in reach for the Cougars late, but they failed to convert a fourth down with 3:37 to play and Notre Dame was able to run out the clock, exploiting a weary BYU defense that was on the field for nearly 41 minutes and surrendered 496 yards.

“How many plays did we have total? 46?” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “That’s not going to do it. Part of that is defense, get off the field. And offense, get first downs and keep drives going. Just getting more efficient football from our team. … Be balanced. run the ball, throw the ball. That’s what we should be doing.”

The Cougars are facing a team from the Southeastern Conference for just the 11th time. BYU is 4-6 versus the SEC in program history.

Arkansas (3-3, 1-3 SEC) will look to regain some of its early-season swagger after a 40-17 loss at Mississippi State last week. The Razorbacks have dropped three straight games and fallen out of the AP poll after cresting at 10th in the rankings following their third game.

The Razorbacks are beat up and trying to play through a rough stretch. Quarterback KJ Jefferson, who had started 18 consecutive games, was held out against Mississippi State after taking a hit to the head in the loss to Alabama on Oct. 1.

Nickel back Myles Slusher also missed last week’s game, further depleting a secondary that has lost Jalen Catalon and LaDarrius Bishop for the season.

“We need a bye week,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. “We need to get healthy. But we don’t have that. We have BYU Saturday. We’ll go up there and when we get off the plane and get off the bus, we’ll believe we’re going to win.

“That’s just how it is. I’m not worried about the team.”

Pittman’s teams have never lost a nonconference game in his three seasons at Arkansas. They’ve gone 7-0 over that stretch; there were no nonconference games during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

–Field Level Media

Sep 30, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars quarterback Clayton Tune (3) hands the ball off to running back Stacy Sneed (21) during the third quarter against the Tulane Green Wave at TDECU Stadium in Houston, Texas. Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis must play better against Houston to continue win streak

Memphis will look to build on a four-game winning streak when it hosts stumbling Houston on Friday in an American Athletic Conference matchup.

With a win Friday, the Tigers (4-1, 2-0 AAC) can remain at the top of the conference standings and all but doom Houston’s chances for a repeat appearance in the league championship game.

Memphis heads into Friday’s game on the heels of a 24-3 win at home over Temple. The Tigers shrugged off a ragged first half in which they were held scoreless for the first time since 2017 and rolled to the victory.

“We’re doing enough to win games. It doesn’t mean that we’re even close to where we need to be,” Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield said Sunday. “Everything that we’re doing has to get fixed and improved upon quickly because we know we can’t go out there and play like we did (against Temple).”

The Cougars head to Memphis on the heels of a 27-24 overtime loss at home to Tulane on Sept. 30. Houston has played three overtime games this season, a program record, and has dropped two of them.

Houston (2-3, 0-1 AAC) scored 14 straight points in the fourth quarter before Tulane produced a tying TD with 39 seconds left in regulation. The Cougars opted to take the ball first in overtime and kicked a field goal, but Tulane had the final say via a game-winning touchdown pass on its possession.

Prior to the season, Houston was picked to win the AAC in a media poll, edging Cincinnati. Linebacker Donavan Mutin was candid when asked about the Cougars’ struggle to close out games and what needs to be done to turn around the situation.

“(Our opponents) make more plays to win than we do,” Mutin said. “From the head of the snake to the tail of the snake, we need alignment. It needs to be coherent. The message needs to be clear. We’re going to have a chance to do that or not and our season will be the ramifications of whatever we do.”

Quarterback Clayton Tune threw for 208 yards and two scores in the loss, in which he became just the fourth player in Houston history to amass 10,000 career total yards.

Houston has won 16 of its 30 games against the Tigers in the all-time series. The teams have split the 16 contests played in Memphis.

–Field Level Media

Sep 24, 2022; Pullman, Washington, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Cameron Ward (1) throws a pass against the Oregon Ducks in the second half at Gesa Field at Martin Stadium. Ducks won 44-41. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

After dispiriting loss, Washington State aims to rebound vs. Cal

In the southeast corner of Washington State, where Pullman is located, they have a phrase for what happened to the Cougars last weekend against Oregon.

They “Couged it.”

Their fans hope it doesn’t happen again when Washington State plays host to Cal (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) on Saturday afternoon for their homecoming game.

Washington State (3-1, 0-1) blew a double-digit lead in the final four minutes against the then-No. 15 Ducks, allowing 22 unanswered points in a span of less than three minutes. The host Cougars scored a meaningless touchdown in the final seconds to lose 44-41.

“We need to make sure we’re going into every single game ready to go four quarters,” Cougars edge rusher Brennan Jackson said. “We had some great goal-line stands early in the game. That’s kind of the embodiment of finishing.”

Instead, the Ducks scored 29 fourth-quarter points.

“We gotta finish the game out … I think we did that in the first two or three games, but we gotta do it consistently, every single week,” Jackson said. “There’s going to be some great teams. This is a hard schedule, it’s a hard conference.”

Washington State’s Cameron Ward completed 37 of 48 passes for 375 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, one of which was returned for a score in the fourth quarter.

“You saw the best of Cam Ward,” Cougars coach Jake Dickert said. “He has magic with the ball in his hands. …

“(But) you’re not going to win a lot of games giving up 600 yards of offense. … It was them out-executing us in the fourth quarter.”

The Golden Bears opened Pac-12 play with a 49-31 victory against Arizona as freshman Jaydn Ott ran for 274 yards and three touchdowns.

It was the third-highest single-game mark in school history, behind Jahvid Best’s 311 against Washington in 2008 and Jerry Drew’s 283 against Oregon State in 1954.

“Every time I touch the ball, I feel like I’m going to score,” said Ott, who had touchdowns on runs of 73, 18 and 72 yards. “That’s my mentality.”

Jack Plummer added three touchdown passes for the Golden Bears.

Cal leads the all-time series with Washington State 48-29-5.

–Field Level Media

Sep 24, 2022; Provo, Utah, USA; Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall (3) throws the ball against the Wyoming Cowboys in the second quarter at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Jaren Hall leads No. 19 BYU against in-state rival Utah State

Jaren Hall is a rising pro prospect and the BYU quarterback will look to have another big game when he leads the No. 19 Cougars into Thursday night’s contest against visiting Utah State at Provo, Utah.

Hall has topped 300 yards in back-to-back games and has nine touchdown passes against one interception this season for the Cougars (3-1). He matched his career high of four touchdown passes and passed for a season-high 337 yards during Saturday’s 38-24 home win over Wyoming.

He enters the game against Utah State (1-3) with a streak of 115 consecutive passes without being intercepted. It is his third career streak of 100 or more throws without being picked off. He also has streaks of 163 and 119 in his career.

“Jaren’s smart, and he has a great football IQ,” Cougars coach Kalani Sitake said. “… Jaren always wants to get better, and we are lucky to have him as the leader on our team. I just like that he takes care of the football.”

Hall has passed for 1,164 yards this season and has completed 71.5 percent of his passes despite receiver Gunner Romney missing the first four games due to an undisclosed injury.

Hall is on pace to easily outdo last year’s success, when he completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 2,583 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions.

The Cougars racked up 525 yards of total offense against Wyoming to mark the second time they topped 500 this season.

“I’m glad we were able to get the win, and these guys were resilient and played hard,” Sitake said. “We have a quick turnaround for the Utah State game so we need to get ready for that.”

Utah State has lost its last three games by an average of 31 points. The Aggies were shellacked by Alabama, whipped by FCS program Weber State and lost its Mountain West conference opener to visiting UNLV on Saturday.

Making the struggles more maddening is that Utah State matched the program record for victories last season, going 11-3.

“No one is more frustrated than we are,” Aggies coach Blake Anderson said. “We got used to a lot of success last year and right now, we haven’t seen it.”

Utah State committed six turnovers in the 34-24 loss to UNLV, and five were interceptions from quarterback Logan Bonner, a seventh-year senior who began his career at Arkansas State and followed Anderson to Logan after the 2020 campaign.

A year ago, Bonner set program records of 3,628 yards and 36 touchdowns while being picked off 12 times. This season, he has thrown for 753 yards, six touchdowns and eight interceptions.

The Aggies are averaging just 15.5 points per game while allowing an average of 36.

Anderson admitted there isn’t much time to resolve all his club’s issues prior to facing the Cougars.

“Short week against BYU. It’s going to be a huge challenge,” Anderson said. “We have to build on the few things that we did well, try to get better this week and find a way to put it all together in one game. See if we can get that done.”

BYU recorded a 34-20 victory at Utah State last season for its fourth win in the past six meetings.

The series will go on hiatus after the contest because the Cougars canceled the next four season’s worth of games due to its upcoming entrance to the Big 12. BYU will lose scheduling flexibility by leaving the ranks of independent programs.

–Field Level Media

Sep 10, 2022; Provo, Utah, USA; Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Keanu Hill (1) catches a pass against Baylor Bears safety Al Walcott (13) and safety Christian Morgan (4) in the first half at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gabriel Mayberry-USA TODAY Sports

Lopini Katoa’s TD gives No. 21 BYU win over No. 9 Baylor in 2OT

Lopini Katoa scored the decisive touchdown in the second overtime as No. 21 BYU recorded a 26-20 victory over No. 9 Baylor in nonconference play on Saturday night at Provo, Utah.

The Cougars’ defense stopped the Bears on their second possession to seal the win and avenge last season’s 38-24 road loss to Baylor.

Jaren Hall completed 23 of 39 passes for 261 yards and one touchdown for BYU (2-0). Hall also caught a touchdown pass from Chase Roberts, who had eight receptions for 122 yards and one score.

Blake Shapen was 18-of-28 passing for 137 yards and one touchdown for Baylor (1-1). Qualan Jones rushed for two scores and Ben Sims had a touchdown catch.

Hall completed a 20-yard pass to Keanu Hill in the second overtime, which set up Katoa’s 3-yard scoring run. The two-point conversion failed, leaving BYU ahead by six.

Baylor relied on the ground game on their second possession, but two false start penalties created a fourth-and-goal from the Cougars 11-yard line. Shapen’s last-ditch throw was over the head of Seth Jones.

Both teams missed field goals in the first possession of overtime.

Baylor’s Isaiah Hankins lined up for a 43-yard field goal, but his kick missed way to the right.

BYU played conservatively on its possession before Jake Oldroyd was wide left from 37 yards. Oldroyd also was wide left on a 35-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining in regulation.

The Cougars took a 20-13 lead on a double-pass trick play with 1:28 remaining in the third quarter.

Hall threw the ball backward to his left to Roberts, who then tossed the ball forward to Hall on the right. With three blockers in front of him, Hall scampered down the right sideline for the score.

Baylor answered with a 12-play, 79-yard drive with Shapen hitting Sims from 4 yards out to knot it at 20 with 10:01 to play.

The Cougars struck for Oldroyd’s 27-yard field goal on their opening possession. Baylor finally got on the board with 1:37 left in the first half on Qualan Jones’ 1-yard run but the extra point try by Hankins clanked off the right upright.

Hall threw a 20-yard scoring pass to Roberts with two seconds left to give BYU a 10-6 halftime lead.

Baylor took a 13-10 lead on Qualan Jones’ 7-yard run with 10:53 left in the third quarter. BYU knotted the score on Oldroyd’s 39-yard field goal with 6:15 remaining.

–Field Level Media

Houston quarterback Clayton Tune (3) warms up behind Houston offensive lineman Tank Jenkins (72) before the Birmingham Bowl at Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Ala., on Tuesday December 28, 2021.

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No. 25 Houston visits Texas Tech after close call

Two teams that experienced completely different season-opening victories will meet when No. 25 Houston visits Texas Tech on Saturday in Lubbock, Texas.

While the Red Raiders built a 32-point halftime lead against visiting Murray State and cruised to a 63-10 win, the Cougars gave up a game-tying field goal to Texas-San Antonio on the final play of regulation before prevailing 37-35 in triple overtime.

Texas Tech (1-0) and Houston (1-0) each benefited from solid quarterback play.

Red Raiders backup Donovan Smith completed 14 of 16 passes for 221 yards and four touchdowns after taking over when Tyler Shough injured his left (non-throwing) collarbone in the first quarter. Shough had completed six of his 10 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown before suffering the injury that is expected to sideline him for several weeks.

Still, the Red Raiders found the end zone on six straight possessions in the first half.

Texas Tech third-string quarterback Behren Morton was 7-of-10 passing for 97 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He’s now second string behind Smith.

“We are going to prepare for both,” Cougars coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I don’t think their offense is going to change regardless of which one is out there.”

Houston’s Clayton Tune completed 22 of 32 passes for 206 yards and three scores and ran for a team-high 51 yards and a touchdown. He also had the game-winning two-point conversion run in the third overtime. The Roadrunners failed to tie the game on their possession when their conversion pass fell incomplete.

Texas Tech outgained Murray State 605-258 and surrendered just 10 first downs, including none in the second half. Meanwhile, Houston’s defense struggled against the Roadrunners, who amassed 441 yards, including 337 through the air, and led 21-7 entering the fourth quarter before the Cougars rallied.

The Red Raiders have beaten the Cougars in each of the past four meetings and in nine of the past 10 contests, including a come-from-behind 38-21 victory in last season’s season-opening game at NRG Stadium in Houston. Texas Tech scored 31 unanswered points in the second half to rally from a 21-7 halftime deficit.

The Red Raiders will be looking to knock off a Top 25 opponent for the first time since beating No. 21 Oklahoma State in 2019.

While the teams’ meeting on Saturday is a nonconference game, it won’t be in the future as Houston prepares to jump from Conference USA to the Big 12.

“Houston, they are a Big 12 opponent,” Texas Tech coach Joey McGuire said. “This is not a Group of Five team or a lower-level team. They’re a ranked opponent, and we’re going to see each other for a long time, so this is going to be a really good test.

“This is a conference opponent, just getting to play it a year earlier. I’m excited about that.”

–Field Level Media

Central Michigan's Lew Nichols III runs for yardage against Washington State University during the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl game at University of Texas El Paso on Dec. 31, 2021.

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Central Michigan holds off Washington State in Sun Bowl

Lew Nichols III rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown as Central Michigan ended its strange postseason odyssey with a 24-21 Sun Bowl victory against Washington State on a rainy Friday in El Paso, Texas.

Marshall Meeder added three field goals for the Chippewas (9-4), who were originally scheduled to play in the Arizona Bowl until Boise State pulled out Monday due to a COVID-19 outbreak. With Miami having to exit the Sun Bowl for the same reason, Central Michigan struck a deal to bus 300-plus miles from Tucson, Ariz., to El Paso to meet the Cougars.

Nichols scored on a 1-yard run with 57 seconds left in the first quarter to give CMU a 13-0 lead. That followed 49- and 52-yard field goals by Meeder.

A 45-yard punt return by Kalil Pimpleton to WSU’s 9-yard line set up a 15-yard touchdown pass from Daniel Richardson to tight end Joel Wilson with 1:48 remaining in the second quarter. A two-point conversion gave the Chippewas a 21-0 halftime lead.

The Cougars (7-6), who were without their top two running backs and three starting offensive linemen between opt-outs, transfers and injuries, finally got going late in the third quarter behind backup quarterback Victor Gabalis, who replaced the injured Jayden de Laura at the half.

The Chippewas had a chance to extend their lead in the third, but a red-zone fumble and a missed field goal thwarted drives.

WSU got on the board with 4:02 left in the quarter on a 5-yard run by wide receiver Travell Harris out of the wildcat formation. That came after the Chippewas were called for roughing the passer on an incomplete pass on fourth-and-4 to extend the drive.

Travion Brown’s interception gave the Cougars the ball at CMU’s 23-yard line. They took advantage, with Gabalis hitting De’Zhaun Stribling on a 5-yard slant on fourth-and-goal to make it 21-14 with 2:24 left in the third.

WSU’s Ron Stone Jr. blocked a 25-yard field-goal attempt to keep it a one-score game with 12:40 remaining.

The Cougars were stopped on fourth-and-1 from their own 32 on their next possession and Meeder connected from 43 yards to make it 24-14 with 9:11 left.

Gabalis threw a 13-yard scoring strike to Lincoln Victor to cap the scoring with 3:13 remaining.

–Field Level Media