Overdue for something good to happen to them, the victory-starved Washington State Cougars ran out of the Pac-10 basement Saturday. The Cougars, who had...

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PULLMAN — Overdue for something good to happen to them, the victory-starved Washington State Cougars ran out of the Pac-10 basement Saturday.

The Cougars, who had been relying on their passing game, traveled on the ground in shocking UCLA 27-7 before 31,027 spectators in Martin Stadium.

Redshirt sophomore running back Dwight Tardy led the way with a career-best game of 37 carries for 214 yards and two touchdowns, the final one a 51-yard dash with 42 seconds to play.

Tardy had averaged 39.7 yards during the Cougars’ four-game losing streak and had grown tired of hearing the questions about what was wrong with the Cougars’ running game.

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“As a running back, it hurt,” he said. “I kept asking myself, ‘Am I good at all? Should I really be here?’ I was kind of down and out.”

After the game, he and the rest of the Cougars were wearing smiles for the first time since the Sept. 15 victory over Idaho.

The league-rattling triumph Saturday improved the Cougars to 3-5 overall and 1-4 in the Pac-10 and was the first conference defeat for UCLA (5-3, 4-1).

“We needed that one,” said WSU coach Bill Doba. “That was great.”

The Cougars’ defense contributed its best performance of the year, holding the Bruins to 267 total yards. The Cougars, who amassed 545 offensive yards, had a huge advantage in time of possession — 38 minutes to the Bruins’ 22.

WSU quarterback Alex Brink completed 28 of 46 passes for 271 yards, with one touchdown and an interception.

UCLA’s Patrick Cowan, playing with injuries, completed 17 of 36 passes for 167 yards.

Brink’s only touchdown pass of the night — a 5-yarder to Brandon Gibson with 7:31 to play — gave the Cougars a 20-7 lead. Michael Bumpus made a great catch for a 21-yard gain on the drive.

“We said these next five games are a new season for us,” said Brink, referring to the team regrouping during the bye week after the 53-7 thrashing at Oregon. “And so this is just one of five, but we’re going to take it one practice at a time, one game at a time.”

Coaches and co-captains pushed a lot of the right motivational buttons during the week. Players mentioned a speech by running backs coach Steve Broussard delivered Friday night as especially effective.

“He got everyone fired up,” said free safety Husain Abdullah. “He said it’s time to go to work and we went to work today.”

The victory wasn’t secure as the Bruins drove to the Cougars’ 14 with less than three minutes to play but Cowan overthrew Terrence Austin on fourth-and-three.

Tardy’s final touchdown was pure window dressing. Tardy, whose 214 yards tie him for ninth in WSU game performances, found special satisfaction in having a big night against UCLA, a school that courted him but never offered him a scholarship.

The Cougars’ ground output was a big surprise — UCLA had allowed only 79.6 rushing yards a game and had allowed only three rushing touchdowns in seven games.

One of the blockers opening holes for Tardy was true freshman Andrew Roxas, who had never played center until Saturday. He started in place of Kenny Alfred, out with a concussion.

UCLA lost two key players in the first half. Starting running back Kahlil Bell, who opened the scoring with a 50-yard run on the third play from scrimmage, left with a right knee sprain. He entered the game as the Bruins’ leading rusher with 728 yards.

Leading receiver Brandon Breazell exited in the second quarter after taking a hellacious, but legal, hit from safety Xavier Hicks on an incompletion.

The victory was hardly flawless.

Leading 13-7 late in the third quarter, the Cougars had first-and-goal on the Bruins’ 1-yard line and failed to score. UCLA defensive tackle Kevin Brown blocked an 18-yard field-goal attempt on fourth down.

Another blown opportunity came in the second period, when a penalty on tackle Vaughn Lesuma nullified a completion to the UCLA 5-yard line and Romeen Abdollmohammadi missed a 50-yard field-goal attempt.

After leading 10-7 at halftime, the Cougars had moved ahead 13-7 in the third quarter on a 24-yard field goal by Abdollmohammadi after a 63-yard drive.

One of the day’s most important scores for WSU was its counter-punch touchdown after UCLA had opened with Bell’s easy score. Tardy scored on a 1-yard plunge to complete a 10-play, 61-yard drive to pull WSU into a 7-7 tie.

That touchdown kept the noisy crowd from drifting into a “Here we go again — losing” mentality. Three hours later, the fans were jumping the rails and swarming the team on the field. In a season of stress, joy returned to the Palouse.

Craig Smith: 206-464-8279 or csmith@seattletimes.com

Bruins left in ruins
The Cougars have beaten UCLA six of the past seven meetings:
Year Winner, score City
2007 WSU, 27-7 Pullman
2006 WSU, 37-15 Pasadena
2005 UCLA, 44-41 OT Pullman
2004 WSU, 31-29 Pasadena
2003 WSU, 31-13 Pullman
2002 WSU, 48-27 Pasadena
2001 WSU, 20-14 Pullman
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