Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 84° Partly Cloudy

SportsLink

Cougs dazed and confused in Reno

A GRIP ON SPORTS

It's pretty easy to imagine how the typical Cougar fan feels this morning. Disappointed, discouraged and confused. Above all, confused. That last one I understand. I share that final one. Read on.

••••••••••

• Watching the Cougars' 24-13 loss to Nevada, I was at a loss to figure out why Washington State was losing. (As an aside, let me warn you right now, don't call the home school by its old name, Nevada-Reno. No sir. That riles up the locals. One guy called all the way from Missouri last night to complain about its usage on the radio broadcast. It was around 2:30 in the morning in Missouri when he called.) The Cougar defense was so much better at the point of attack for most of the game. Heck, eight times Nevada had possessions that lasted five plays or less and resulted in zero points. Eight times. And the offense was moving the ball, at times with efficiency and precision. It finished with 427 yards of total offense and averaged more than 10 yards per pass. But WSU trailed almost from the beginning. So, like a lot of you, I was searching for answers. Yes, Connor Halliday's first interception hurt deeply. The poor throw to the left sideline led to a short field and the Wolf Pack took advantage, scoring a first-quarter touchdown for a 7-0 lead. Halliday ended up throwing another pick on a pass that bounced off a receiver's hands, which gave the Cougars two turnovers. And seeing that the defense couldn't force any – it has just one, an interception, in the first two games – the Cougars lost the turnover battle 2-0. Yes, there were a few big breakdowns defensively. The first, and most glaring, was caused by some confusion, leading to Cody Fajardo's 55-yard run right up the gut preceding the Wolf Pack's second touchdown. But the ones late, when the Cougars were trying to get Nevada off the field, once again seemed even more important. Still, holding Nevada to 24 points, with seven of those coming off a turnover, doesn't seem bad. Yet it wasn't enough. The Cougars found the end zone just once and it took a perfect Halliday-to-Vince-Mayle connection to make it happen. Otherwise, nothing. A couple of non-calls in the red zone hurt – the waved-off pass interference at the end of the first half was huge, costing the Cougars four points and momentum; though the pass was uncatchable, as called, it didn't matter; the call should have been defensive holding as a grab occurred even before the ball was in the air – but mainly it was self-immolation that burned the Cougars. A couple of cheap false starts, a couple of incorrectly run patterns and a couple of missed field goals by Erik Powell sapped the Cougars' energy and stunted drives. (One thing about the missed field goals: Powell's usual holder, River Cracraft, did not play due to injury. That may have contributed to the wide right misses. It's not definitive, of course, but may have been a factor.) And speaking of energy, it seemed as if there were two speeds on my television set: the one the Cougars were playing at and the one Nevada used. For one of the few times in the Mike Leach era it looked as if the opponent played harder and faster for 60 minutes. Now none of these factors, by themselves, should have made the difference. The Cougars were the better team. But, added up, they led to the debacle you saw, or listened to, last night. Where does that leave this Cougar season, one that seemed so promising less than two weeks ago? Well, it's a given it will last just 10 more games. There probably won't be any bowl game to climax the season. But that's 10 more opportunities to salvage some respect and pride in Pullman. Yes, the Pac-12 schedule is tough (before that kicks in, FCS also-ran Portland State comes to town next Saturday) but the seemingly endless parade of ranked teams gives Washington State the opportunity to make a mark. An upset here or there, while not ensuring the coveted postseason berth, will still give the Cougars something to hang the season on. That's about what's left after two losses in games that left WSU fans disappointed, discouraged and, yes, confused.

•••

• WSU: In two games this season, Halliday has thrown for more than 900 yards. And yet the Cougars are 0-2. That's enough to confuse anyone right there. Jacob Thorpe seemed a bit surprised as well, but he still put together a complete report despite last night's ESPN-forced late finish. Jacob has his game story, keys to the game, statistics and scoring plays in the paper this morning. And his report here on the blog includes video of interviews with Halliday and Leach along with the game book, some thoughts following the game and this morning's post with links. ... Bud Withers wasn't about to miss a trip to Reno and he wrote this column on the game along with this blog post. ... Hey, if you are looking for a positive, the WSU volleyball team took it to Notre Dame in South Bend. That has to count for something, right? ... The ESPN.com Pac-12 blog labeled yesterday's game a "crossroads," so it's no surprise after the loss it said WSU is headed toward another "lost season." The blog also has a mailbag and look at today's games featuring conference teams.

• Gonzaga: As we told you yesterday, ESPN and the NIT worked out the preseason NIT schedule. The Zags will play two games in Spokane and two in New York.

• EWU: The Eagles have a tough task today, what with facing Washington in Chris Petersen's home debut. Jim Allen has an advance of the contest. He also had a post yesterday with questions answered about UW from former S-R staffer Christian Caple. ... We also found some links to Big Sky games today, with the best of the lot including the Utah schools. Weber State is taking on FCS No. 1-ranked North Dakota State while Southern Utah has a date with No. 3 Southeastern Louisiana. ... UC Davis plays a Division II school (as does Montana State and Montana) while Sacramento State tries to post another upset of a FBS school.

• Idaho: Let's try this again. The Vandals open their season in the South, facing one of the Sun Belt favorites, Louisiana-Monroe. John Blanchette has a preview.

• Preps: The first full Friday night of the prep season featured a lot of crossover games between Idaho and Washington schools. Overall, it was a knockout for the Idaho schools, most of whom already had a game in hand. Greg Lee was at one of those contests, Lake City's 29-0 defeat of Lewis and Clark. ... In other interstate battles, Coeur d'Alene routed Central Valley (Jim Meehan has the story), Lakeland raced paced West Valley and University salvaged some Washington pride with a 55-48 win over Sandpoint. ... Host Gonzaga Prep held off Richland as Tom Clouse documents and Wenatchee defeated Mead at Albi. Ferris traveled to Olympia and lost to the Bears. ... We also have a roundup of the rest of the prep football action.

• Seahawks: It's your usual day-after report today, with stories looking back at the key elements of the game (including Richard Sherman's boring night), grades and thoughts from outside sources and conversations with people such as coach Pete Carroll. ... There are also pieces that cover the all-too-often injuries and who played how much in the win over Green Bay. ... As we said before, the 49ers are being roasted in the local papers about how they are handling discipline.

• Mariners: It was an odd night in Arlington. First Rangers' long-time manager Ron Washington (pictured) quits, citing personal reasons, leaving Lloyd McClendon as the lone African-American manager in the big leagues. Then Kendrys Morales – of all people – hits two home runs, part of a season-high four for the M's. And Hisashi Iwakuma has some control troubles, though McClendon and catcher Mike Zunino blamed the home plate umpire (I will say I watched just a bit and there was one pitch to Kyle Seager that split the middle of the plate just under his belt that was called a ball, lending credence to the arguments). But still the M's came away with a 7-5 win, moved back ahead of Detroit for the second wild card and within two games of the A's and the top wild card spot.

•••

• That's it. It has to be. These late night ESPN games are going to be the end of me. I'm just not good at thinking at 12:30 in the morning. Heck, it's hard enough to think at 12:30 in the afternoon. Until later ... 



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

Follow Vince online:






Looking for a Grip on Sports?

Vince Grippi's daily take on all things regional sports has been moved to our main sports section online. You can find a collection of these columns here.