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Grip on Sports: Never be concerned about the Cougars’ returning receivers as there will always be talent in Pullman

Washington State Cougars wide receiver Easop Winston  runs the ball for a touchdown against USC last Friday  at L.A. Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State Cougars wide receiver Easop Winston runs the ball for a touchdown against USC last Friday at L.A. Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • If there is one lesson that had to be learned over and over again in Mike Leach’s tenure at Washington State, it is to never be deceived by graduation or defection in the wide receiver corps. Yes, players always leave. But someone is always waiting to step in. Read on.

••••••••••

• Over the half-dozen years Leach has been in Pullman, the Cougars have graduated wide receiver after wide receiver. When you play eight or nine of them each game, it’s to be expected, I guess. But what took a while to understand, no matter how good the wide receivers who leave, from Isiah Myers to Dom Williams, from Gabe Marks to River Cracraft, there are always other great ones waiting to emerge.

This year’s breakout star? It may be Easop Winston, Jr.

Winston doesn’t lead the Cougars in receptions this season – that would be Tay Martin, with 27. He doesn’t lead them in yards per catch – that would be Dezmon Patmon at 12.4. But he does lead them in the most important category: touchdown catches.

His four is one-third the WSU total. And is even more impressive considering he is getting on the field for the first time as a Cougar. Theo Lawson goes into his story in-depth this morning.

Yes, Winston is a junior college transfer, coming to Pullman from the City College of San Francisco. He spent last year redshirting, learning the offense and learning what it takes to be a major college receiver. He learned both well.

And though he may be a junior, he’s a rookie. As is the Cougars’ quarterback, Gardner Minshew. That hasn’t seemed to stop the duo from developing some chemistry, a chemistry that showed last Friday night in the Coliseum.

Winston caught six of Minshew’s 37 completions and two of his three touchdown throws.

Neither would have been expected a year ago. Of course, Minshew was in the Carolinas while Winston was doing his thing on Thursday nights.

The top two wideouts for WSU last season, Tavares Martin, Jr. (70 catches) and Isaiah Johnson-Mack (60), left the team before the season ended.

Martin, who either quit or was cut, depending on who is speaking, declared for the NFL draft early, though he went undrafted.

Johnson-Mack, who said he wanted to be closer to his Florida home, transferred twice, finally ending up at Bowling Green, where he is redshirting.

Their decisions resulted in some lamentations and worry among the Cougar faithful. At least among those who hadn’t learned the lesson yet. It’s quite possible the Cougars have the best receiving corps in the conference even without the two defectors.

From Martin (Tay) to Renard Bell and everyone in between, the WSU wideouts have excelled. Add in the running backs and once again Washington State has 10 or so sure-handed targets available.

It’s just what the Cougars do.

• The non-targeting call on USC’s Porter Gustin was beginning to fade from my memory, which is too bad. I forgot to link this commentary from CougCenter’s Brian Floyd, and meant to do it yesterday. The reason I remembered today was I saw Anne Peterson’s Associated Press story which contained comments from Pac-12 Commissioner - or is that media mogul? – Larry Scott on the non-call.

“Scott also addressed a controversial non-call for targeting late in the Trojans’ 39-36 victory over Washington State on Friday night,” Peterson wrote. “USC’s Porter Gustin made helmet-to-helmet contact with Cougars quarterback Gardner Minshew at a critical juncture of the game. Scott said he had consulted the officiating team about that call. He said every play is reviewed. ‘So you can certainly assume that play got a lot of looks, not just from the replay booth at the stadium, but we’ve got our command center back in San Francisco with our head of officiating and a bunch of experienced replay guys, who absolutely would have looked at that play,’ he said. He said it also was looked at afterward and it was not determined to be targeting. ‘As you know, in any given game there are a lot of close calls, and this was a very, very close one. No doubt about it,’ Scott said.”

I’m sorry, but Scott’s comments are targeting as well. They are targeted at covering the conference’s collective behind. How hard is it to admit a mistake and move on? Oh, wait. The NCAA is facing lawsuits from former players concerning CTE. Admitting a mistake would undercut the defense that the powers that be in college football are doing all they can to ensure such damaging hits no longer have a place in the game, wouldn’t it? After all, it would call into question the safeguards and video redundancies put into the rulebook. If all this is in place and there are still uncalled targeting hits like this one, is enough being done?

Sure doesn’t seem like it.

•••

WSU: The emergence of Winston has helped Washington State’s offense immeasurably. We linked Theo’s story above and here as well. … Theo also his Pac-12 power rankings. … There is also post-practice video of interviews with Leach, Winston, Taylor Comfort and Josh Watson. … Theo talked with Larry Weir yesterday for the most recent episode of the Press Box pod. Utah will bring in quite possibly the best linebacker duo in the conference.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12, it’s never too early to look at the bowl projections. … Speed has helped Washington succeed on offense, defense and special teams. … The Oregon Ducks have speed on the outside. … The return of an injured tight end helped Oregon State. … It’s still too early to talk about the playoffs at Stanford. … California’s ranking isn’t important just yet. … Colorado’s secondary has also received a boost from the return of an injured player. … The conference needs Chip Kelly to succeed at UCLA. The Bruins are relying on his recruits already. … The running game is helping USC’s freshman quarterback. … Arizona State has a new way to celebrate success. … An Arizona defensive tackle is back. … In basketball, teams like Arizona State are beginning to start practice.

EWU: We begin our Wednesday with Ryan Collingwood’s Big Sky notebook, which looks at Eastern’s opponent this week, Montana State, and the Bobcats’ quarterback situation. … Around the Big Sky, Weber State continues to garner national recognition. … No matter who plays quarterback for Montana State, the receivers are adjusting. … Idaho State’s win over North Dakota was a big deal. … Montana faces off with Cal Poly this weekend. … In basketball news, Southern Utah and Montana State opened practice.

Chiefs: There is something to be said for having professional experience before heading into coaching. Dan Thompson has a story on assistant Adam Deadmarsh, who has more than a few NHL seasons on his resume. … Around the WHL,

Preps: It was a busy Tuesday in the high school ranks and we can pass along roundups from volleyball, soccer and slowpitch.

Seahawks: The Hawks’ best defensive player thus far? That would be an unheralded candidate. … Was Michael Dickson off some Sunday? … The Hawks made a roster change yesterday. … Does Earl Thomas face any real consequences? … Bobby Wagner is a community leader.

Mariners: The Oakland A’s have been invincible this season when leading late. Until last night. The M’s rallied in the eighth and ninth and handed the A’s a 10-8, 11-inning loss. … Marco Gonzales will start again. James Paxton may not.

Sounders: The winning streak is long gone. What happens next?

•••       

• If you could be anywhere to watch any sporting event this weekend, what would it be? My choice is simple. I would be in France watching the Ryder Cup, yelling “get in the hole” at the top of my lungs. Of course, I would be yelling “entrez dans le trou” so no one would know I am American. Wait, I would be yelling like an idiot on TV. Yep, they would know I am from America. Until later …

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