A GRIP ON SPORTS
For the second consecutive week, the Washington State Cougars had to sweat out their opponent's final possession to earn a victory. For the second consecutive week, they did. Read on.
• There is a lot to be said for wins, especially if those wins include your team taking a step or two forward in its progression. And it is hard to argue Washington State didn't take a couple of steps forward during the 35-27 victory at UNLV. The offense, under the control of quarterback Connor Halliday for the first time this season, was more explosive, mainly more efficient and actually scored in the second half, albeit just seven points. The defense dominated the line of scrimmage early, came up with big plays late and did just enough to win. The special teams were solid once again (though I'm sure Cougar fans who like to pit their money against someone else's, if you get my drift, wish coach Mike Leach would have called on Andrew Furney late in the game for a long field goal and a possible 11-point lead). All-in-all, a lot to like. But there were way too many things to dislike once more. Key penalties. Breakdowns in the secondary, mentally and physically. Three sacks. Dropped passes (Marquess Wilson's in the first half was a game-turner, as an 85-yard score there might have put a nail in UNLV's coffin). Strange clock management at the end of the game (see below). Not enough toughness, mentally or physically, as the clock wound down. It all adds up to a simple thought: There is still a lot of work to be done.
• Leach knows it. But he also knows more about his team than he did three weeks ago. The preseason portion of the season is over (and WSU is at the exact same place it was last year at this time, 2-1). Conference play starts in one week. Will the switch be flipped and the Cougars be magically better? No, but I bet you see rotations tightened down at wide receiver and on defense, with the players who have been productive getting more time and others less. Leach alluded to that a couple of times during the postgame show last night, seemingly not all that happy with all the shuffling happening on the defensive side of the ball. Some of it was necessitated due to injuries but I'm sure some of it was to give a look at some backups. Remember, it's not just Leach who is new. The whole assistant coaching staff is new as well. One-fourth of the way into the season, they need to make sure they know who they can count on in crunch time. And it becomes crunch time next week.
• As we said earlier, the Cougars are in the same spot they were last season, needing four wins in their next nine games to earn their first bowl birth since 2003. Where are those wins going to come from? Next week seems to be one and if it is, WSU will again duplicate last season, when it was 3-1 heading into the meat of the Pac-12 schedule. But after the Buffs leave town, finding wins won't be easy unless the play improves. After watching the rest of the conference the first two weeks of the season, some thoughts have changed. Of course, nothing has changed in regard to Oregon. The Ducks still present a near-insurmountable task. Washington and California seems to still present toss-up games. But everyone else seems a bit different. On the positive side for WSU, Stanford and Utah don't seem as tough as everyone thought when the season began (that being written, watch them both win today against USC and BYU, respectively). On the negative, UCLA, Oregon State and Arizona State are much better than advertised, though the sample size is small with all and miniscule with the Beavers. No matter what, the road to a bowl is still pretty pockmarked for the Cougars.
• By the way, if you think Leach would be apologetic about not running the ball on first down during the last Cougar series (a run in that spot would have left less than 10 seconds on the clock when UNLV got the ball back), think again. When asked about it after the game, the Cougar coach said he was upset at himself for not throwing it more during the possession and getting more first downs. The response, according to the Times' Bud Withers, surprised the reporters. And more than a few fans, I'm sure.
• Washington State: Christian Caple just kept putting up posts last night. As I was sitting in the radio studio with Dennis Patchin doing the post-game show, the videos from the Las Vegas interviews kept popping up on the blog. That means I have to link each and every one of them. We start with Mike Leach. Then there is Gunnar Eklund, Gabe Marks (left), Travis Long (above), Marquess Wilson and Connor Halliday (top photo). He also posted Leach's remarks and another post that summarizes the game. And this morning he put up his morning post with his usual comments and links. But that's just the stuff on the blog. There is also the coverage in the newspaper, with the game story, a notebook, his game keys, statistics and scoring. ... Ted Miller has his thoughts on the win at ESPN.com. ... He also has his weekly mailbag.
• Idaho: The Vandals are flying across the country once again, though this week's opponent is a lot tougher than last week's. Idaho is in Louisiana and, as Josh Wright's advance shows, will have their hands full with the LSU Tigers. ... Passing along this Baton Rouge Advocate story about the game just because of the photo illustration made me hungry. ... Utah State has a tough assignment today, facing an angry Wisconsin team in Madison. ... San Jose State tries to duplicate last year's win over Colorado State.
• Whitworth: There might not be a team in the nation, at any level, who has traveled more in the season's first three weeks than the Pirates, who are in California once again for today's game against La Verne. Jim Meehan has an advance as Whitworth tries to start the season 3-0.
• Preps: Let's see, what happened last night? Well, there was a 56-yard field goal by Austin Rehkow out at Central Valley in the Bears' win (Jim Allen has the coverage) and Greg Lee got to see GSL favorite Mead win once again and a shootout between North Central and Rogers, both at Albi. ... We also have our roundup of Friday night's football action.
• Seahawks: The biggest question going into Sunday's game with Dallas is not at quarterback (Russell Wilson is still the guy for the Hawks) but whether Russell Okung will have his back at left tackle. The oft-injured Okung is a game-time decision again.
• Sounders: Expect it to be loud in Portland this afternoon when the Timbers host coach Sigi Schmid's red-hot Sounders on a game that will be televised nationally by NBC. If there is an MLS atmosphere that can come close to rivaling what occurs at CenturyLink Field, it's in Portland, though on smaller scale. ... The Sounders picked up a backup goaltender with a sterling pedigree.
• That's what we have for you today. There is a lot of good college football on today (as is the case most weeks), so enjoy your day. Until tomorrow ...