A GRIP ON SPORTS
After a few days of preliminaries, we finally get to the meat of the matter. The unit that makes a college football team go. Read on.
• There are glamour positions on the offensive side of the football. Quarterback. Receiver. Running back. And then there are the positions that, well, aren't glamorous. Right tackle, right guard, center, left guard, left tackle. The offensive line. Anonymous guys for the most part. But the engine of any successful football team. Especially this year's Washington State football team. Faithful readers of this column have heard me rant (or pontificate or just plain yell) about this before. If the Cougars want to win, they have to be solid up front. This year isn't any different. In fact, it might be even more important. The quarterback just has to stay upright more often. Sure, the last two seasons WSU has finished ninth in the nation in passing yards. But it's been at a cost. Last season it was 57 sacks, or 4.75 a game. The year before it was 40, or 3.33 a game. Believe it or not, that 2011 total was the Cougars best since 2008, when they threw the ball a lot less in a mostly futile attempt to keep their quarterbacks healthy. (That was Paul Wulff's first season and the year of the scary neck/back injuries to quarterbacks Gary Rogers and Kevin Lopina.) But throwing it less is not an option this year. The Cougars will throw it and throw it and throw it. It's in Mike Leach's DNA. So keeping Connor Halliday – the one experienced quarterback on the roster – upright is a priority. Can they do it? At first glance at the unit's pedigree, you might say no. After all, the front-runners to start include three guys – Gunnar Eklund, Joe Dahl and Elliott Bosch – who arrived in Pullman without scholarships. The label, walk-on, isn't all that accurate in that most guys who take that route at WSU have scholarship offers elsewhere (in Dahl's case, he actually played a year at FCS power Montana after leaving Spokane's University High) and make a conscious decision to reach for a higher level. Still, they are guys who, out of high school, were determined to be a step slower or smaller or less athletic than their peers who received a scholarship to play in Pullman. And they've proved that assessment incorrect. Either that or they've just outlasted their peers. Whatever the reason, they will be counted on this season to protect Halliday's back. Can they do it? If the answer to that question is yes, say to the tune of not giving up more than two-to-three sacks a game, then the Cougars will be one of the highest scoring teams in the Pac-12. If Halliday has time to find anyone of a highly stocked group of receivers (and, to a lesser degree, the running backs have room to run), then the WSU offense will put up points on anyone. But if Halliday is hit and hit hard, especially the first couple weeks, then there is a real danger this season could devolve into another 1-11 or 2-10 debacle. And no one around here who wears Crimson wants that.
• WSU: Not only does Christian Caple have his position preview – hey, it's on the offensive line – today, he also has just about everything you want to know about yesterday's quick scrimmage. He has a story in the paper and a blog post after the fact. He also has this morning's blog post and a whole bunch of videos. Included in last night's post was the news Rahmel Dockery will no longer be part of the football team. Few WSU players have received as much coverage without ever playing as Dockery, whose decision to attend the school was met with hosannas a couple years ago. It's too bad it didn't work out. He seemed like a nice guy who, if you watched video of his high school exploits, was as explosive on the field as anyone the Cougars have recruited recently. … It's Saturday, so we can pass along the Pac-12 blog's mailbag on ESPN.com. … Utah has joined the football facility arms race around the conference, with Washington State still in the process.
• Indians: It's been a long time since the Indians have played in Spokane. But they've used the time wisely, moving into first place in the NWL's second-half standings. Chris Derrick was at last night's 5-1 win over Hillsboro that kept them there and filed this game story and a blog post.
• Golf: It's Saturday all right which also means Jim Meehan has his weekly column.
• Mariners: Kyle Seager was slumping. Not a Nick Franklin-bad slump, but bad enough. So when he stepped into the batter's box last night in the eighth inning with the M's trailing 1-0, Seager (pictured) might have been the last guy you thought would belt a game-deciding two-run home run. But he did. And then Justin Smoak did what he does in the ninth – a solo home run – and the M's had a 3-1 win over Texas. … Speaking of Franklin, he's hitting .199 since July 1. He's still going to be hitting second in the lineup though. The M's are committed to this edition of the youth movement. … Speaking of the youth movement, the young infielders need to pick up the defense a bit. If not, some management jobs could be in trouble. … Speaking of jobs, Ryne Sandberg got a major league managing job yesterday, albeit the interim one With Philadelphia. John Blanchette has a column on Spokane's all-time best baseball product and the long road to this point.
• Seahawks: Say what you will about preseason games – and most of what I would say would revolve around “who needs 'em” – but at least they break up the monotony of practice. The Hawks host Denver tonight in the first home preseason game of the season. … Zach Miller's foot is healed and he was taken off the PUP list yesterday. The tight end will return to practice next week.
• Sounders: So the Sounders sign Clint Dempsey – and then go on the road for two weeks. Heck, Dempsey gets to play a match in his home state, Texas, tonight before he plays in CenturyLink. Doesn't seem fair, does it? Either does Houston's weather, which I have experienced this time of year. Drink plenty of fluids guys. No one wants to be hurt and miss the matchup with the Dynamo.
• No radio today, though I'll be on the next two weeks from Monday through Friday, which seems an awful lot like work to me. I like the days when I'm actually retired retired instead of being mostly retired. Where is Miracle Max when you need him? Until later …