A GRIP ON SPORTS
Yesterday was a Saturday to remember. The Cougars won their third road game of the Pac-12 football season, something that hasn't occurred since 2006. The Eastern Eagles clinched the Big Sky championship and have a chance to post an unbeaten conference record. And we got to watch an oil tanker-full of college football. Read on.
• Watching football on TV yesterday was our priority. From mid-morning until late at night – the Oregon State loss at Arizona State did not become official until around 10 p.m. – we enjoyed an orgy of college football. But we still had to work. And it was while working I came to an epiphany. Connor Halliday's play during the Cougars' 24-17 win over Arizona in Tucson may have been his best game as a WSU quarterback. Before you laugh and point out Halliday has thrown for a school-record 557 yards in a loss at Oregon earlier this year, or the 521 he put up in the win at California, or even the 494 he had at home against Arizona State in the win two years ago, remember numbers don't tell the entire story – especially for the quarterback position. There is the leadership factor, a hard-to-quantify quality that Halliday (pictured) seems to have in spades. If he didn't, there is every reason to believe his 19 interceptions this season would have caused a team meltdown. But they haven't. The rest of the Cougars, even the defense that has to try to limit damage after those picks, have his back. That's why yesterday's win was even better than that come-from-behind ASU win of 2011. In that one Halliday wasn't the guy. The 2011 team was really Jeff Tuel's team. Yes, he was injured and unable to play. But if he had been healthy, Tuel would have been the quarterback. No one in the locker room, not even Halliday, would have argued that. Then there is another overarching element of being a quarterback: winning. Yes, I know. Winning is a combination of a lot of things, many of which a quarterback has no control over. Did Halliday win the USC game? As the starting quarterback he gets the mark next to his name, but the Cougar defense did the crucial work in that one. The best thing about Halliday's performance that day was he didn't make too many mistakes for the defense to overcome. The Cougars won at Cal too, and Halliday had a huge part in it. But the Bears are awful and the game was never in doubt in the second half. He had better numbers against Southern Utah and Idaho, but both of those opponents were defeated even before the game began. Last night was different. If the Cougars were going to win, Halliday had to be near-perfect. He was. Even his one interception was the result of a typically rotten Pac-12 call. Tra-Mayne Bondurant shoved River Cracraft off his route while the ball was in the air and grabbed a pass that was thrown in the exact right place. But the obvious pass interference – it could be used for the instructional video next year – wasn't called. And that pass became about the only blemish on Halliday's day. It culminated in the final drive, with the game tied at 17 and time running down. The Cougars needed to score to win. On the drive, which covered 80 yards and took 4 minutes, 44 seconds – kind of unCouglike, huh? – Halliday was 6-for-6 passing for 73 yards. He picked up two more on a “scramble.” He took a couple sacks instead of forcing balls. He checked into a run when needed. He put the ball to Teondray Caldwell exactly where it needed to be – Caldwell made a season-best catch on the sideline – after moving around to gain time. He drilled the ball into Isiah Myers when Myers came open on a third-and-4 – and Myers did the rest. The Cougars didn't settle for a field goal. They put it in the end zone and forced Arizona to do the same. The Wildcats couldn't. Though Halliday “only” threw for 319 yards (and two touchdowns), he was clearly the best quarterback on the field – UA's home field I might add. And at his best.
• By the way, I had talked about this on the post game call-in show with Dennis Patchin long before I watched Jacob Thorpe's video of Mike Leach's post-game interview. In it, Leach calls Halliday's performance the best of the season. Who am I to argue with a guy who makes his kind of money? OK, I will. Leach didn't go far enough. Halliday has never been better.
• One last thing and this is aimed at Cougar fans who use Twitter and other social media. Lay off Megan. She was just doing her job. And the Cougars won. So there is that.
• WSU: I must admit, I don't have the official record book, but Jacob may have set a Pac-12 record yesterday for the most post-game interviews posted by a beat writer. He put up six videos covering seven player and/or coaches interviews after the win in Tucson. There is Leach, Halliday, Deone Bucannon, Darryl Monroe, Myers and Marcus Mason (pictured) and Dom Williams together. … Jacob also has his game story, a notebook, the keys to the win, a postgame blog post, postgame notes and a pregame chat. We can also pass along the statistics and the scoring. … The WSU men won their late-night battle with Lamar and we have a story to pass along. Jacob, using the magical powers of the Internet, passed along the box score and a blog post as well. … He also had a morning post with links today. … The Cougar women had opportunities but couldn't get the ball into the net and lost in a shootout to Illinois. … Bud Withers has his take on the WSU win along with a notebook. … From ESPN.com's Pac-12 blog we can pass along what we learned yesterday – which includes this line: “If the UW athletic department is looking for a positive byproduct of the recent 2-4 stretch, it’s that the Sarkisian-for-USC campaign has died down significantly.” – and the weekly awards. … Yes, WSU is only one game away from bowl eligibility. But there are a lot of bowl eligible teams in the Pac-12. In fact, if either Utah or Colorado wins out and WSU wins the Apple Cup, there will be 10 eligible teams. Someone with six wins may stay home.
• Gonzaga: The Zags will host a usually-tough Oakland team today at 5. We have a short advance to pass along. Oakland is a bit short-handed and comes in without a win.
• EWU: The weather was probably near perfect yesterday in San Luis Obispo – it usually is – but the home team didn't enjoy it as Eastern cruised to a 35-22 win. Jim Allen enjoyed the warmth and passes along a game story and a notebook from the victory. … The Eastern men's basketball team is in action this evening at UW. It starts at 5.
• Idaho: The Vandal basketball team won again, but coach Don Verlin wasn't a happy camper. Josh Wright explains why in this blog post and story. … The football team didn't lose as it sat out the Saturday with a bye. Let's hope they didn't watch next week's opponent.
• Whitworth: The Pirates earned a road win Saturday at Lewis & Clark, the 100th win in coach John Tully's tenure.
• Chiefs: Shootouts were unkind to local teams yesterday as the Chiefs also lost in one, 3-2 to Regina. Thomas Clouse has the story.
• Preps: The playoffs were still in full swing yesterday, though the Spokane-area large schools didn't fare well in the state volleyball, a rare happenstance around here. The smaller schools did well though. … Central Valley's soccer team scored a touchdown against Camas and moved on to next week's 4A semifinals. … East Valley couldn't hold a lead in the 2A football playoffs while Freeman just kept building on its advantage, as did Cusick.
• Seahawks: Today's game with the Vikings is not only a matchup between NFC foes, it is also a matchup of arguably the two best running backs in the NFL. … Should Pete Carroll be coach of the year? … The Hawks activated Russell Okung yesterday and cut quarterback B.J. Daniels. I'm sure you heard the news on Twitter. It was everywhere. … Yes, we have Percy Harvin news. We wouldn't leave you hanging like that. And, just for fun, we'll throw in some Golden Tate. And some news about the kicking game as well.
• Mariners: Is there a free agent out there that is perfect for the M's? No. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't sign somebody.
• That's it for this morning. I hope you have a nice relaxing Sunday. And by that, the Hawks don't turn what should be a rout against Minnesota into a nail biter. That would tick off everyone around here. Until later …