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Cougars do something Saturday night we haven’t seen in a while

A GRIP ON SPORTS • It wasn’t all that long ago, in geologic terms, that Washington State used to defeat Oregon in football with regularity. But in football fan terms, eight years is a lifetime. Which is part of the reason why WSU’s 45-38 double-overtime win last night in Eugene was so unexpected – and feted. Read on.

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• Remember the turn of the century? It was a simpler time, sure, and more of the Cougars' time. In football, anyway. Three consecutive 10-win seasons, the last of which came in 2003. That was also the last time they won in Eugene, something we mentioned here yesterday. Why did we mention it? Mainly because the game was replayed throughout the week on the Pac-12 Networks. It was also replayed Saturday in Oregon. Not the rout nature. Certainly not. But the team in the crimson uniforms celebrating on the same field, that was similar. Not since then had it happened, so it’s little wonder these Cougars made up for lost time. There was yelling, there was screaming, there were even noises I couldn’t describe here, not because they weren’t family friendly but, listening to them over the radio feed, I’m not sure if they would be best described as roars, shouts or bellows. Let’s just call them expressions of joy and leave it at that. And why not? When you open the season losing at home to Portland State – note to fans, the Vikings are actually pretty good and their 66-7 win over North Texas State, another FBS school, yesterday led to the Mean Green’s coach being fired – bouncing back to win three of your next four games is worth celebrating. WSU’s only loss since the debacle in Pullman came last week at California, a team that can rightfully say it can play with anyone in America. Which means, considering the Cougars went toe-to-toe with the Bears in Berkeley, what exactly? If you want to use the comparison test, then you could make an argument Washington State can also play with anyone in America. Literally, that’s not true. The Cougars can only play the teams on their schedule – and then, possibly, the South champion in the Pac-12 title game. And there it is. The overreaction of the year. Even more than the ones Cougar fans had after the PSU defeat. But, really, if Washington State ever plays a complete game, I wouldn’t want to be a fan of its opponent. After all, losing to the Cougars is the Pac-12-fan-base equivalent of losing to, I don’t know, a Big Sky school? That’s how far the Cougs have fallen in respect over the years/ But this isn’t your big brother’s WSU. This team can play defense – and has figured out how to overcome its flaws on that side of the ball. For the first time in a while, we’ve seen the defensive side of the ball make adjustments in-game and they work. Sure, Oregon gashed WSU for 410 yards rushing – that’s almost a quarter-mile folks – and yet the Cougar defense held the Ducks to four touchdowns in regulation. That’s passable in the Pac-12. And will be even more passable when Luke Falk’s offense starts putting it together. Yes, I wrote that on the day after WSU gained 641 yards of total offense, including 505 through the air. But look, Falk is still young. He’s still learning. He’s still leaving a lot of mileage on the field either through indecision – leading to about five of the seven sacks yesterday – or misidentification – finding the open receiver is an art in Mike Leach’s system, one Falk is still mastering. But he’s young and he’s getting better. Meanwhile, though no one will confuse Oregon’s defense with the Desert Swarm or the Palouse Posse, WSU did some gashing of its own, including 176 yard rushing for the three-headed monster of Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and Keith Harrington – plus 113 more yards receiving. And, if Harrington learns how to hold on to the football – I’m pretty sure two lost fumbles will lead to a trip to the beach this week – then WSU should be able to attack consistently on the ground as well as through the air. That balance, fueled by an offensive line that Leach criticized after the California game, should allow the Cougars to compete with everyone on its schedule, including Stanford and UCLA. Win? That’s a different question. The overreaction would be to say yes. Actually, hell yes. But reality is the Cougars are still playing a lot of youngsters in a lot of key spots. There will be ups and downs the final seven games of the season. The ups, like the one they experienced yesterday at about 7 p.m., are going to be pretty high. But the lows, like what could be possible in Pullman next Saturday around 4:30 if WSU allows the Oregon win to infect its preparation, could be awful low. That’s why this week is so important. It will tell us where the Cougars are headed the rest of the season. They will be favored, which is only right. If they play like bullies and pound OSU, then it shows they have matured. If they play flat, get pushed around and lose, well, that’s not good. My guess is you are excited to find out what team will show up. And how many times have you been able to say that in the past 12 years?

• By the way, I’m not sure how the Oregon folks scored the Falk-to-River-Cracraft-to-Robert-Lewis touchdown. I do, however, know how it probably would have been scored at the high school level, because I’ve seen it before – and spent a long time running down the correct way to score it, even buying a book that explained such decisions. Though the play I saw was done on purpose. I once witnessed a prep game decided on a hook-and-lateral, which is analogous to last night’s game-winning score. It’s just that Cracraft didn’t toss the ball to Lewis on purpose. As the ball didn’t hit the ground, I’m pretty sure Cracraft should have received a reception and 3 yards, while Lewis should have not received a reception but 1 receiving yard and a touchdown. It sure looked like Cracraft had possession to me, though I guess an argument could be made he never did, so the ruling of a 4-yard pass to Lewis would be correct, meaning the play would be scored just like a tipped pass. No matter what, the Cougars earned the points. And the double-overtime victory.

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• WSU: So Jacob Thorpe did something yesterday the last three Spokesman-Review beat writers never did: write a football game story from Eugene in which Washington State was the winning team. Jacob also has a notebook, the keys to the game and the scoring in today’s paper. He also had a bunch of items on the blog last night, including the official stats and notes and video of interviews with Falk, Leach and other players. Today he has a morning post on the blog. ... The win led to WSU’s Twitter account doing something funny, but probably will be the subject of an apology today. ... It also led to this summary by ESPN.com’s Pac-12 blog and Ken Goe’s column on Oregon’s problems. ... Utah is in the conference driver’s seat – for now. ... College Game Day was in Salt Lake City and they asked John Stockton to make the picks.

• Gonzaga: The Bulldogs held their annual Kraziness in the Kennel and Jim Meehan was there. He has this story and blog post on the season kickoff event. ... The volleyball team snapped a three-match losing streak.

• EWU: Were we talking about overtime wins? Yes we were. The Eagles picked up one yesterday as well, and they had to rally from 15 points down in the fourth quarter to do it. Yet, as Jim Allen writes in this game story and notebook, they got it done over Cal Poly, 42-41. ... Tyler Tjomsland also has a photo gallery from Cheney. ... The win was just part of a crazy day in the Big Sky, one which John Blanchette summarizes in this column. ... How crazy was it? Montana lost another quarterback – Coeur d’Alene’s Chad Chalich – to injury and then lost to lowly Weber State. North Dakota, which edged Portland State recently, lost at home to Idaho State. And Northern Arizona couldn’t get past UC Davis. At least Montana State did what it was supposed to do, defeating Sacramento State.

• Whitworth: The Pirates battled past Puget Sound 24-7 in a game that pitted two of the better offenses in Division III. However, the quagmire conditions in Tacoma made the game a sloppy one, according to Todd Milles’ News Tribune story. ... The men's soccer team won again but the women lost.

• Chiefs: Spokane’s long early season road trip ended with a 5-4 overtime loss at Everett last night. ... Tri-City lost at Prince George 4-1.

• Preps: You don’t see a game start at one school and finish at another all that often. Jim Allen has this piece on one that did Friday night. ... You do see Gonzaga Prep win a lot of football games, however, as the Bullpups are doing this season again. Greg Lee has that and more in this notebook. ... North Central's Justin Janke raced to a prestigious cross country title.

• Seahawks: The Hawks will face the challenges presented by the Bengals in Cincinnati this morning, and they’ll have to do it without Marshawn Lynch. Is this the way it’s going to be from now on? ... They will have Russell Wilson at quarterback, however, as well as one of the NFL’s best tight ends. ... Seattle made a couple roster moves in preparation for the contest.

• Mariners: What type of manager will the M’s pick this time? Larry Stone examines their choice – and the leading candidate.

• Sounders: Is this the last hurrah for the core group of original Sounders? ... The U.S. National Team couldn’t get it done against Mexico in the Rose Bowl on Saturday, losing 3-2 and missing out on a chance to play in the Confederations Cup next year in Russia.

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• That’s it for today. I’m wondering how bad the hangovers are for Cougar fans today. I’m guessing pretty bad. Until later ...




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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