A GRIP ON SPORTS
It's not often there's a college football game played on the Palouse in which the temperature is north of 90 degrees at the start. Certainly not in Moscow, where the Idaho Vandals play inside their air-conditioned dome. But it's possible in Pullman and such was the case Saturday. Yet the weather wasn't a factor, and was not even the hottest topic as Washington State routed Southern Utah. Read on.
• I can count on one hand the times recently the Cougars have dominated a team as completely as they did the Thunderbirds yesterday. It was the best performance by a Mike Leach team at home in his short WSU coaching tenure. Sure, it was expected, but how often has the expected happened in Pullman lately? With the Cougars winning, I mean. There have been many football games during the rebuilding process in which WSU has been kicked around – as expected – but rarely has the boot been on the Cougars' foot. Yet the 48-10 win might have been different if not for one play turned in by a backup linebacker. Let's take you back to the second quarter. The Cougars led 14-10 but SUU was going toe-to-toe in the trenches with its FBS foe. The only saving grace for WSU was its speed. That had shown in its two scoring drives, most notably in a 43-yard pass from Connor Halliday to Dominique Williams. However, the Cougars fourth drive had just ended in an interception in the end zone when Isiah Myers broke off his route and Halliday's pass ended up in the hands of a diving Thunderbird, LeShaun Sims. With the running game clicking, Southern Utah had a chance to march down the field and lead at halftime. How would have WSU responded to that? We never found out because on a second-and-7 from the SUU 36, Jared Byers, the pride of Pullman, came through clean on a blitz and hit Aaron Cantu just as he was throwing an out to the right side. The ball sailed high and freshman cornerback Daquawn Brown intercepted it before stepping out of bounds. Three plays later Halliday threw a perfect bomb to Williams for a 55-yard touchdown (pictured) and less than four minutes later Damante Horton returned another interception for a score – the third of his career – and WSU was up 28-10 at half. And the Thunderbirds were done. The final score masked the tough nature of the first quarter and a half. But the Cougars persevered, more than likely because, as Gabe Marks said in the postgame, after where they've come from, they don't take anyone lightly. They need wins and they don't care at whose expense they are earned. And that's a good attitude to have.
• WSU: As we said above, this was the most complete victory of the Mike Leach era at Washington State, though it took the defense a bit of time to get the hang of Southern Utah's attack. Christian Caple had little trouble dissecting the game afterward, though he may overwhelm your computer with the sheer number of blog posts. We'll start there, with videos of interview sessions with Mike Leach, Connor Halliday, Austin Apodaca, Dom Williams, Gabe Marks, Damante Horton and Kache Palacio. Add in a quick post after the game ended, a tale of the tape, his live chat, highlights, Leach's comments, the official game book and notes along with this morning's post (with links) and the online report is pretty complete. But that would leave out the newspaper coverage and we can't do that. There is Christian's game story, his notebook, keys to the game, the statistics and the scoring summary. But there is more. We can also pass along John Blanchette's column and Tyler Tjomsland's photographs. … Christian's morning post has about all the Pac-12 links you'll need, but we will pass along the weekly helmet stickers from ESPN.com because a Cougar earned one.
• EWU: For the second time this season, the Eagles were neck-and-neck with a FBS foe at halftime. But, unlike the win at Oregon State, the second half proved to be Eastern's undoing Saturday. Toledo, facing a 0-3 start with a defeat, turned up the defense and came through with a 33-21 win, handing the Eagles their first loss of the season. … A simple day around the Big Sky with Montana handling host North Dakota in a league contest while Portland State, Sacramento State, Idaho State and Montana State all won. Only Weber State had a rough one, giving up 70 points for the second consecutive week in a loss to Utah State.
• Idaho: The Vandals gave highly regarded Northern Illinois all it could handle for much of the game. It was tied at 35 in the fourth quarter and UI had the ball. But an Idaho fumble kick-started the Huskies and helped them score 10 unanswered points in a 45-35 victory. Josh Wright has the game story and tries to catch the flavor of Paul Petrino's post-game press conference in this blog post.
• Whitworth: The Pirates had little trouble with the Poets from Southern California, winning 38-17 at home. Jim Meehan was in the Pine Bowl and has the game story.
• Preps: Ferris was able to stymie Shadle Park's high-powered passing game with a three-man rush and eight in coverage. But as Shadle coach Alan Stanfield saw it, it wasn't the formation as much as the players who were manning the spots that made the difference. Greg Lee's notebook looks back on the prep football weekend. … Mike Vlahovich was at the Highlander Invitational cross country meet yesterday and filed this report.
• Mariners: Taijuan Walker was the first of the “Big Three” to debut in the bigs, so it's no wonder his arrival was met with quite a bit of hype. But since then, football season has kicked in and the Mariners have retreated to the inside pages. Which might explain how James Paxton's first two starts seem to have flown under the radar. But the lefthander (pictured) has been pretty darn good, and was again Saturday in St. Louis, pitching the M's to a 4-1 win over the Cardinals. … Friday's meltdown was another symptom of how young the team is right now. … Kyle Seager stays consistent by having a consistent routine.
• Seahawks: OK, game day is finally here. No more hype and/or expectations. It's time to decide it on the field. The 49ers are in Seattle to face the Hawks. Sunday Night Football. Which begs the question: Who has the emotional edge? Which begs another question: Does it matter? It is, of course, the “biggest game ever“ with the entire nation watching. Or not. … The Hawks made another move yesterday to bolster their thin (relatively speaking) defensive line. … The weather could turn rotten tonight. … Just who is the best in the NFL? Here's one man's opinion.
• Sounders: The best team in the MLS right now is in Seattle. Yes, the Sounders' defense is really good, but it's the guys up front that have separated Seattle from the rest of the league. … Seattle's roster is set for the rest of the year.
• That's it for this morning. I was up late last night watching the end of Arizona State's win over Wisconsin – nd the aftermath. Rarely have I seen a screw up of those proportions at the end of a contest. The Badger quarterback was the first to mess up, not getting his knee down to kill the play – I watched the replay three times and am convinced his left knee never touched the grass; that's means when he put the ball on the turf it should have been ruled a fumble – and the Pac-12's always reliable officials messed up by blowing their whistles (you could hear them on the TV). Yet they still allowed an ASU player to lay on the ball as if he was recovering a fumble until it was too late to spike the ball. Amazing. The only blameless folks in this mess? The Sun Devils. They didn't do anything wrong. It was a fumble – or at least close enough to have been reviewed – and it probably should have been ASU's ball. Instead, there was confusion, finger-pointing and lamenations. Pac-12 football at its finest. Until later …