A GRIP ON SPORTS
If you woke up this morning thinking you were in some sort of reality TV version of "Groundhog Day," don't fret. You aren't alone. Pretty much every Cougar fan in America feels the same way. Read on.
• Did last night's game have a familiar feel? Sure it did. And we're not just talking about the Mike Leach era. That is the legacy of Cougar football. Great offense, mainly due to great quarterback play. And suspect defense. Over the years, it's been that way more often than not. Whenever the Cougars have studs on defense – or a group that plays collectively like a swarming animal – then they do well. Heck, that was the case with the Palouse Posse and there was basically a manager at quarterback back then. The Cougars have more than that at quarterback right now, much more. Connor Halliday once again threw for more than 500 yards and, at times, was so locked in it looked as if Rutgers decided its front seven was so strong, it didn't need defensive backs. Because the back guys seemed non-existent. He also threw five touchdowns passes, could have another one fairly easily and tossed just one early interception. But football isn't just a game of offense, even these days. The Cougar defense, breaking in two-and-a-half new secondary starters (corner Daquawn Brown started a few games last season), needed to get a few stops, either through forcing punts – it did that four times – or turnovers – it did that just once, and it led to a disappointing field goal. And the Cougar special teams just has to get the ball to the offense. Not in great position, but just deliver the ball to it. That was a given last year when Leon Brooks waved his arms above his head more often than a Mariners outfielder when Chris Young is pitching. If River Cracraft had taken a page from Brooks' playbook last night, the Cougars probably would be 1-0 right now and everything else would be glossed over. But, no matter what the final score was, WSU fans understand they can't gloss over the defensive struggles. They started up front, which was supposed to be the strength of the unit. It continued with the linebackers, where starter Cyrus Coen was missing, though it couldn't have been due to the ankle he rolled earlier in the week because the Cougars never have injuries. Besides, his replacement, Mitchell Peterson, walked on the field and led Washington State in tackles. But mainly the defense struggled because the secondary is such a work in progress. The Rutgers' running game had some huge plays – explosives as the coaches like to call them – that were decent runs turned into gashers mainly due to bad tackling or over pursuit by the wet-behind-the-ears secondary. If there is any positive to be taken from that side of the ball, it's that the secondary should improve as the weeks wear on, if only through experience. Heck, Teondray Caldwell, who basically took first-round NFL draft pick Deone Bucannon's spot at safety, has been practicing on the defensive side of the ball for less than three weeks. A former running back, though a highly thought-of high school defensive back, Caldwell played every snap until he limped off the field in the fourth quarter. If he's healthy, which is always a given in Pullman, he should only continue to improve. He, and his position-mates, will need to. Rutgers is hardly an offensive powerhouse, though its offensive line was dominant at times and running back Paul James (pictured) blasted some folks en route to 179 rushing yards. Against the offenses the Pac-12 has to offer, the defensive line, as Leach said, will have to be more assertive and aggressive if it wants to compete. So will the rest of the defense. But that's not a new story, is it?
• By the way, Leach decried what he sees as the Cougar's "it's-OK-to-get-close" culture, saying afterward the players will probably be patted on the back 20 times before they get back to their Pullman apartments. I'm not sure whom Leach was referring to there. It certainly couldn't be the Cougar fans who were on social media last night. They were not in a patting-on-the-back mood. Stabbing in the back, maybe, but not patting. As typical as the last Seattle game may have played out, the Cougar nation seems, like Leach, a bit fed up with just coming close. The fans expect more this season. They may still get it – there are, after all, still 11 regular season games yet to be played – but after one night anyway, the Cougar faithful seemed to have lost its belief a bit.
• WSU: Jacob Thorpe and John Blanchette took care of the coverage in the paper and here at SportsLink, with Jacob putting together the game story and the keys to the game and John supplying a column. Jacob also posted the post-game notes from WSU and the statistics, which also ran in the paper. ... This morning, Jacob has his usual post with links. ... Tyler Tjomsland was also at CenturyLink and has these photographs, including the one at left of the Cougars' last offensive play. ... The West Side media was also at the game, with Bud Withers and Larry Stone both offering columns in the Times and Don Ruiz a game story in the News Tribune. ... Ted Miller marveled at how familiar the loss seemed in a piece for ESPN.com's Pac-12 blog while, before the game, there were a couple of WSU-related posts.
• EWU: Speaking of WSU, former Cougar wide receiver Blair Bomber, who missed a lot of time in Pullman due to injury, has stepped up for the Eagles. Jim Allen has the story. ... Jim also has a morning post today with links as well as a summary of yesterday's live chat.
• Idaho: The Vandals who hail from the state of Florida are looking forward to going back this Saturday to face the Gators in the Swamp. John Blanchette connected with them and has this story and blog post. ... The Vandal's volleyball program is back in the Big Sky, the school's home oh-so-long-ago. Jim Meehan has that and more in his college volleyball notebook.
• Indians: Spokane won its final regular season game at Avista, 5-3, and now heads on the road to Vancouver. After that, the postseason games are still to be determined. Chris Derrick tries to sort it all out with this blog post and game story. ...
• Golf: A local golf pro has been named the 2014 PGA Teacher of the Year. Jim Meehan has the story.
• Seahawks: I didn't see much of the Hawks' loss at Oakland to end the preseason, but considering the score was 41-31 maybe I'm glad I didn't. I do know the Raiders' Derek Carr, a rookie quarterback, had a good game and few of the Hawks did. ... Bryan Walters, trying to make the team, had his ups and downs. ... Of course, few starters played and a bunch of players were left in Seattle due to injury or other reasons. ... Everything is just fine, according to Pete Carroll, and the Hawks will be ready for their season opener next Thursday against Green Bay. ...
• Mariners: The M's had the night off but that didn't stop them from making news. Jesus Montero seemed to have some sort of altercation in Boise and the M's tried to make things right after a company they are associated with had a huge problem. ... The M's bullpen is setting a standard. ... Who can help when September gets here?
• Got to love these night games. Arrived back home around 1 a.m. after the WSU postgame call-in show last night, but it could have been worse. The game could have been four hours long instead of three-and-a half. Small victories. Until later ...