With a victory over Iowa State, the Cougars can win 11 games for the first time in school history. "We still have an amazing opportunity," said WSU linebacker Jahad Woods.
If you are worried about the mindset of the Washington State football team after losing to Washington in the Apple Cup, then being controversially left out of a New Year’s Six bowl game, don’t be.
The Cougars, according to sophomore inside linebacker Jahad Woods, are long past those disappointments, and the focus is squarely on beating Iowa State in Friday’s Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas.
The Cougars can win 11 games for the first time in school history. On two other occasions, WSU had a chance to win an 11th game before losing in the 1997 and 2002 Rose Bowls.
“We still have an amazing opportunity,” Woods said. “It’s a once-in-a-life opportunity to be one of the best Cougar teams in history. It really wasn’t hard to refocus with the opportunity we have of going to a great bowl game, and playing a great opponent. So we refocused really quickly.”
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Woods, 6 feet and 225 pounds, has been a fixture in the middle of the defense for the past two seasons. He moved into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman last year after Peyton Pelluer was lost for the season with a leg injury. Woods, who happily wears No. 13 — “It was given to me by coach (Alex) Grinch; I liked it and I stuck with it” — quickly made an impact.
Last season, he finished second on the team with 64 tackles and third on the team in 11 tackles-for-loss. He was the Pac-12 defensive player of the week in WSU’s win over No. 5 USC when he had a season-high nine tackles including a game-clinching forced fumble on a sack.
Not bad for a player whose only Division I offer was from Washington State even though he was a star at Helix High School in La Mesa, Calif.
“I couldn’t turn it down, and it was the best opportunity for me,” Woods said. “I love everything about Pullman, the campus, the university, the experience, the fans. It’s been an amazing experience, and I am lucky it was my only offer.”
He made the Cougars look very smart last season when he filled in so ably after Pelluer was injured.
“It was pretty tough because Peyton was obviously our leader, and it was real unfortunate,” Woods said. “I was a redshirt freshman and still learning, but I found a way to step up and I felt like I had a pretty good year.”
This season, Woods and Pelluer have combined to be quite a force as inside linebackers. Pelluer leads the team with 86 tackles, and Woods is second with 73.
Woods, who was named honorable mention All-Pac-12, also has three sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He was named Pac-12 defensive player of the week for his performance in the Cougars’ 69-28 win over Arizona last month in which he had a career-high 11 tackles, forced a fumble and recovered another one.
“It helped out tremendously having that experience last year,” said Woods, who has had all of his four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in the past five games. “It’s part of our defensive philosophy to get the ball out and I try to do that every game.”
Woods has proved that he not only belongs in Division I football, but he can also excel at the highest level.
“I definitely have that confidence, and I want to be known as the best player on the field, and as a player that helps the team, and helps us win,” he said.
This week, he is focused on stopping Iowa State junior running back David Montgomery, who has rushed for 1,092 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Cyclones are 7-1 since freshman quarterback Brock Purdy was inserted into the lineup and he has a dangerous and big target, 6-foot-6 and 225-pound receiver Hakeem Butler, who is averaging a remarkable 22.1 yards per catch on 51 receptions.
“Iowa State has an awesome offense and a lot of playmakers,” Woods said of the Cyclones, who despite some big individual numbers ranked 105th in yards per game at 359. “But we’re not going to do anything different; we’re going to play our brand of football.”
And only a victory will do.
“It’s very important, because obviously we came up short in the last two bowl games (against Minnesota and Michigan State),” Woods said. “With the stakes being even higher — having the best record in WSU history — this is super important.”