In his first start, the sophomore comes off an injury for 104 yards, including a 34-yard run.
PULLMAN — Nobody was quite certain what to expect out of Chris Ivory.
The sophomore running back from Longview, Texas, hadn’t played since suffering a concussion against Arizona State on Oct. 6.
Yet with the Cougars backfield banged up, Ivory found out before the game a lot would be expected of him: He’d make his first start, with Kevin McCall only available on a limited basis.
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Ivory responded in a big way, rushing for 104 yards on 15 carries.
“We needed him,” coach Bill Doba said. “He’s a big-time back. Has good speed, and with him, 5- or 6-yard carries become 14-yard gains. It’s sure good to have him back.”
Two weeks ago, in a 27-7 victory over UCLA, starter Dwight Tardy rushed for a career high 214 yards on 37 carries but tore his left ACL on his final carry — a 51-yard touchdown rush — and was lost for the season.
Then, last week, Tardy’s replacement, McCall, suffered a leg injury against California and didn’t practice until Thursday. Coaches weren’t sure how healthy McCall was and wanted to use him in a limited role against the Cardinal.
“I felt fresh, probably better than I ever have,” Ivory said. “I was expecting to play well. I hadn’t played in so long, I was anxious.”
Ivory turned several runs that initially appeared doomed into positive gains by bouncing off tackles, including one in the second quarter for 34 yards.
“That was a Jerome Harrison play, if you ask me … He was making a lot of runs that reminded me of Jerome Harrison tonight,” offensive lineman Dan Rowlands said of WSU’s star running back in 2005. “He makes us look better.”
“Sometimes I look down the sideline and am amazed at what he does,” wide receiver Brandon Gibson said. “He’s explosive. His first step is just unbelievable.”
In a lot of ways, Saturday’s explosion had long been awaited in Pullman. Coaches and teammates were impressed with his fall camp and knew it was only a matter of time until Ivory burst onto the scene.
“He was [a] guy who, coming into the fall, we knew he had that type of ability,” said quarterback Alex Brink. “The running game was real key for us those past few drives, to control the ball and open up the passing game.”
Ivory did show rust early in the game, however.
He fumbled twice in the first quarter, the first coming on the Stanford 6-yard line, squandering a sure score for WSU. The second came on the Stanford 29, but Ivory recovered it.
He also had to leave the game with cramps in the third quarter, to get stretched out by trainers.
“He kind of ran out of gas there for a while,” Doba said.
The flash showed by Ivory in his first career start had the Cougars excited for the future.
“I’ve been waiting for him to break out for a while now,” Gibson said. “For years to come, people will see how special he is.”