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Grip on Sports: How do you fail to win? Let us count the ways

The USC Trojans celebrate after USC blocked a WSU kick during the second half of a college football game on Friday, September 21, 2018, at LA Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, Calif. USC won the game 39-36. 

Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
The USC Trojans celebrate after USC blocked a WSU kick during the second half of a college football game on Friday, September 21, 2018, at LA Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, Calif. USC won the game 39-36. Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • There are a lot of reasons Washington State lost to USC last night in Southern California, some of them self-inflicted, some of them not. Care to review? Read on.

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• Any loss is a culmination of many things, some small, some large. But last night’s 39-36 USC decision over the Cougars seemed especially overloaded. If we wanted to count, we could probably come up with a dozen. However, our time is limited, so let’s see how many we can get to. 

• Falling. Is the Coliseum turf under renovation too? I counted at least a half-dozen times when Washington State players slipped to the turf when they didn’t want to, including, most importantly, on the late, game-tying field goal attempt. I think James Williams slipped down more often than ESPN showed his fiancé, and that’s saying something.

The Cougars rarely play on grass so that might be part of it. But this grass had more divots than the landing area at Pebble Beach’s 18th hole. On Sunday of the U.S. Open. 

• Failing. Last year Jay Edwards was a Conference USA referee. You know, one of the conferences that isn’t a Power 5 one. Last night he was the referee in the Pac-12’s only nationally televised game. (No, I don’t know why.) And his crew, populated with many Pac-12 veterans, embarrassed the conference. Again.

There were a lot of iffy calls, both ways, including but not limited to poor spots, possible fumbles, foot-tapping catches and the like. But the most egregious miss might have been the most important. It is certainly the most embarrassing. 

Porter Gustin, the USC defensive end, missed the first half last night due to a targeting call in the second half of the Texas loss. Late in this game, after (and that’s important) Gardner Minshew threw an incompletion, Gustin left his feet, led with the crown of his helmet and crushed a defenseless Minshew, who was being held up by another Trojan.

It is textbook targeting. It happened right in front of Edwards, who is supposed to be focused on the quarterback. Nothing was called. The ESPN replay showed it clearly. The replay official, who has the power to buzz in and look at it, did nothing. Player safety? All I know is if players sue the NCAA down the road the play will be Exhibit 19,492 in the lawsuit.

How it was missed is beyond me. At least another possible targeting call earlier in the game was reviewed by replay and, though it wasn’t called, was given the second-look it deserved. Oh, wait, that came against the USC quarterback. 

• Decisions. One of the most impressive aspects of Minshew’s first few games in charge of the WSU offense has been his decision making. Oh sure, he’s had some lapses, but everyone does. Last night on a third-and-6 in USC territory on the final drive, he checked into a run. That’s his right. (It also looked as if the left side of the offensive line was unaware of the check.) But it was the wrong decision, as Minshew admitted later. 

Kudos to Minshew for accepting blame. It’s just another reason why he’s already the leader of this offense.

• Physicality. The Cougar defensive backs locked up Eastern Washington’s receivers – and Wyoming’s and San Jose State’s – last week, leading Ryan Leaf to say, often, they got away with pass interference. But it wasn’t called. And wasn’t called often in any of the first three games.

Last night it was called almost every time. What changed? The venue? The officiating crew? The spotlight? All of the above is probably the right answer.

• Drops. No, we are not talking about the receivers. WSU’s group held on to the ball for the most part last night as well as they have in any game the past few years.

Nope, we are talking about one drop in particular. That would be from Trey Tinsley on the extra point following Max Borghi’s powerful third-quarter touchdown run. The snap was perfect. The hold wasn’t. And the point was lost. 

Such things help keep hope alive for the trailing team. The door seemed to open a bit. And USC answered with another of its handful of big plays, a 50-yard touchdown pass that included a couple of missed tackles.

•••

WSU: Late-night games, Friday or not, are hell on newspapers with print deadlines. Theo Lawson did the tough work, putting together a game analysis as it ended, picking the difference makers, and also adding a short story on the attendance. On that latter point, remember the 52,421 number is tickets sold, not people at the game. … Tyler Tjomsland was in the Coliseum and put together the photo report, which we draw on heavily here. … I watched at home, like many of you, and wrote a TV Take. … The guys in the office gathered the highlights and paired them with a recap. … We also can pass along the coverage from Southern California in a game USC coach Clay Helton probably needed to win to save his job. … The soccer team traveled to Westwood and defeated eighth-ranked UCLA 1-0. … Elsewhere in Pac-12 football today, the big game pits Oregon and Stanford. … Arizona travels to Oregon State. … In Seattle, Washington will host surprising Arizona State. The Huskies have struggled with this matchup recently. … UCLA is losing a quarterback.

EWU: Cal Poly will bring its triple-option offense to Cheney today and Ryan Collingwood will be there. He is there for you now with this preview. … Ryan also picks the winners of today’s conference games and joined Larry Weir yesterday for a Press Box pod. … Around the Big Sky, Montana State opens conference play against Portland State. … Sacramento State travels to Montana. … Idaho State has to deal with North Dakota. … Southern Utah is on the road at Northern Arizona. … Northern Colorado is at Weber State.

Idaho: The Vandals play their first Big Sky football game in a few years today, opening at UC Davis. According to Peter Harriman’s preview, Idaho expects a few wrinkles from the Aggies.

Whitworth: The volleyball team rallied for a win.

Preps: Friday nights should be reserved for high school football, as there is plenty to go around. Dave Nichols was at Central Valley’s 31-14 win over Mt. Spokane. He was joined by Jesse Tinsley, who has the photo report. … Jim Meehan covered Coeur d’Alene’s 42-20 win over No. 1 Highland. … We also have a football roundup and another from Friday’s soccer action.

Seahawks: So what the heck is going on with Earl Thomas? He didn’t practice yesterday, he wasn’t hurt and no one is saying why he wasn’t going through drills. Whether he will play is anyone’s guess. … Others won't play. … If the Hawks lose tomorrow, they will be 0-3. You don’t want to be 0-3. … There are brothers and there are mentors.

Mariners: The rain came to Arlington last night, but it didn’t save the M’s. They lost 8-3 in a game shortened by the wet stuff. … Texas fired its manager yesterday and replaced him with a former Mariner one. 

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• We had a major computer problem this morning, with our MacBook Pro deciding to crash after most of the stories were gathered. It cost us a majority of our work. That is why the report from around the Pac-12 and Big Sky is extremely limited. Sorry. Until later … 

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