A GRIP ON SPORTS
It's not often I see the other side of midnight anymore. It was a time I used to visit quite often in my younger days, either for work or pleasure. But not much anymore. Last night, thanks to a combination of work and pleasure, we were still awake at 2 a.m. But not really. Read on.
• The newest chapter in my work life (though I am officially retired) comes in the form of the Washington State post-game call-in show. It's work, sure, but it's also a pleasure to be doing something so different with someone so professional – it may not be obvious to those listening, but the way Dennis Patchin handles the multiple behind-the-scenes tasks associated with a show like this is impressive. Last night, thanks to the 7:30 ESPN2 start, more than 60 passes by WSU and Oregon's how-many-snaps-can-we-take-in-30-seconds offense, our part of Saturday night's postgame didn't begin until Sunday morning. And, yes, I was yawning quite often (insert your even-he-was-bored joke here). But we received a few calls, we talked about Oregon's dominating second half and the Cougars better-than-anticipated first one, and the hour went by quickly. And yet we never really were able to answer the biggest question, one that's been hanging over Washington State since the season began. Why do the Cougars have so much trouble scoring after halftime? Everyone has an opinion, I'm sure, and later this week I'll come up with four or five and put up a poll on the matter. But last night, though we talked about it in depth, I'm not sure we came up with a consensus. My guess: The Cougars have only so many weapons on offense and once the defense can see how they are going to use them against it, the opposing coordinator can make adjustments WSU just can't match. But honestly it's just a guess and nothing more. I don't think the Cougars' second-half woes are mental as much as they are physical. I'm not saying the Cougars wear down, though they probably do to some degree because their depth isn’t nearly as strong as most of their opponents. Instead I'm saying there aren't all that many playmakers on offense to turn to. Let's take one example. How many deep threats do the Cougars have? The correct answer is one, Marquess Wilson. The rest of the receivers, from freshmen Gabe Marks and Brett Bartolone (pictured) to sophomore Isiah Myers and the rest are more of the possession type. Last night Kristoff Williams, who may be another deep threat some day, played some and ran a vertical route, but, really, other than Wilson there doesn't seem to be anyone else who is going to challenge safeties over the top. Which might be why you haven't seen Mike Leach's famous four verticals passing game often if at all this season. It's a weapon Leach uses – or at least the threat of it – to open the underneath game, to clear space for the screen game, to help the rushing attack. Without it, or at least without the threat of it, defenses can take away the shallow stuff easier, making the throwing lanes tighter and limiting the run after catch. If they find the deep game before the year is out, the 400 yards the Cougars have been passing for each game may just turn into 500 to 600 yards a game.
• With a couple minutes to play out in Cheney last evening, the red of Roos Field was covered with the blood of Eastern Washington's Big Sky Conference title hopes. The Montana Grizzlies had gashed them on the ground and the Eagles were dying a death of 407 (as in Montana's rushing yards) cuts. But it wasn't over and the Eagles, bleeding maybe but not knocked out, converted three huge plays – two touchdown passes and an on-side kick – to pull out a 32-26 victory. If Eastern goes on to win the Big Sky title, to play in the FCS playoffs, to have postseason success this season, you can probably point to linebacker Ronnie Hamlin's fourth-quarter forced fumble at the Eagles 5-yard line (and Evan Day's recovery) as the play that saved their season. If the Grizzlies score there, the game was probably out of reach. Instead, EWU had life. And they had a couple of miracles.
• Washington State: Christian Caple was up late Saturday night as well – I know, because he was answering tweets wishing him a happy birthday (what is it Christian, your 17th?) in the early morning hours. He also put up a postgame blog post (to go with a pregame live chat), put together all the usual coverage items – a game story, scoring, statistics, keys to the game – along with the post this morning with links and more. Jim Meehan took over the duties of writing the notebook while John Blanchette added his column.
• EWU: Jim Allen was out in Cheney and has the story from the Eagles big win. He also had some help from Greg Lee, who added this sidebar to the coverage, and from photographer Tyler Tjomsland, who added this picture story. I expect Jim to be back sometime today with Big Sky Conference links as Montana State remained undefeated and Weber State winless. The big story in the conference is newcomer Cal Poly is 4-0 overall and 2-0 in conference play.
• Idaho: The Vandals didn't show up in Chapel Hill yesterday, falling behind 28-0 before they had a first down in a game they would ultimately lose 66-0. Josh Wright filed a blog post last night and we ran this story. I also ran down a story on the game from North Carolina. … The class of the WAC is either Utah State, which had no trouble with UNLV, San Jose State, which shut out Navy in Annapolis, or Texas San Antonio, which won on the road as well.
• Whitworth: The Pirates improved to 5-0 with another road win – if you are counting, that's four. Coach John Tully's team had to hang on, but they defeated Pacific (Ore.), 28-25. Whitworth has a big one next Saturday when Willamette comes to the Pine Bowl.
• Chiefs: The home opener went just about how Spokane wanted it, other than that falling-behind-by-a-goal-early-on thing. The Chiefs rallied for a 5-3 win over Tri-Cities. Jess Brown has the story.
• Seahawks: The road awaits the Hawks, though St. Louis isn't the toughest road trip they could make. Seattle has given Rams quarterback Sam Bradford fits since he's come in the league and hope to continue the trend this morning. … It is Sunday, so Danny O'Neill takes his usual look around the NFL.
• Mariners: If there was one element the M's could count on for most of this season, it's been the bullpen. But it's melted down on occasion and Saturday was one of those occasions. The group gave up Jason Vargas' hard-earned lead in the ninth and gave up the game in the 10th as Oakland rallied for a 7-4 win. … As we've said before, it is Sunday, so Larry Stone has his column, notebook, power rankings and awards.
• Late nights (or early mornings) mean not enough sleep before I put together this blog post, so I apologize for any typos, grammatical errors or just plain stupidity. I blame it on lack of rest. It's a federally recognized excuse. Until later, when I've had more sleep …