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Friday, February 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A Grip on Sports: Can the Cougars fight back from their recent losses, win two more games and head to another bowl?

Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon  celebrates with fans after the Cougars’ 41-10 win over Colorado on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon celebrates with fans after the Cougars’ 41-10 win over Colorado on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • There are warning signs for almost everything, you know. You just have to be able to read them. Then again, at times it’s also easy to add up two and two and get five.

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• In college sports, it often takes a real ability at reading tea leaves to discern between what is just jetsam and what is actually important.

A handful of players leave a team. Is it a growing dissatisfaction or just a continuation of a modern trend? A coach resigns midseason. Is it a sign of a growing fracture or just one person’s way of dealing with tough circumstances? A late-season team meeting that stretches on and on and on. Is it just a normal occurrence or a clearing of the air?

From the outside looking in, it’s tough to tell if the individual occurrences are all related. There is so much dust in the wind, seeing a clear picture is impossible.

It’s probably nothing, but who knows?

We’re talking about Washington State football of course. (If you didn’t figure that out, you’re either a Husky, a Duck, a Beaver or oblivious.) And it’s a typical conversation in a disappointing year.

Everything was fine until halftime at the UCLA game in October ended. From then on the Cougars (4-5) have been nothing like their most recent squads, especially last season’s group. No late-game heroics. No fight-through-tough-times attitude. No can-you-believe-that type of play. And no crucial defensive stops.

OK, “no” is a little too broad. Rare might be a better word. As in, “since the UCLA game, winning has been rare for Washington State.”

Only the 41-10 beatdown of 4-6 Colorado has interrupted what would be a half-season of defeats. Most have been close – other than the Utah loss, WSU has had a chance to win each game in the fourth quarter – but that doesn’t change how defeat gnaws at a team. It’s not worse than, say, getting walloped every time, but it’s not a lot better either.

Now the Cougars face, as Theo Lawson described in today’s story from Pullman, an urgency. They have three games left. Two of those are at home. One is the Apple Cup. They have to win twice more to earn college football’s modern participation trophy, a bowl game. The opposition, at least in the two home games, isn’t overpowering.

Stanford is 4-5 and beat up. Really beat up. Oregon State is 4-5 and playing Arizona State before heading to the Palouse. Washington isn’t, you know, Washington. The Huskies are 6-4 but they expected so much more.

We all know the Apple Cup has been a bummer for Washington State the past decade. Wins have been tough to come by. So, if the Cougars want to go bowling once more, it behooves them to out-think Stanford and gnaw at the Beavers.

Win two games in two weeks. If that’s not urgent, what in college football is?

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WSU: We mentioned (and linked) Theo’s story above. But that isn’t all he had from Pullman yesterday. He also posted post-practice interviews with Renard Bell, Anthony Gordon and Dallas Hobbs. Oh, and Mike Leach. … He also has a story on the departure of linebacker Fa’avae Fa’avae from the program. … And, as per usual, he has his Pac-12 picks. … This week’s opponent is coming in without a couple of its top guns. Theo has another story on Stanford’s injuries. There is also this from the Bay Area as well. … The men’s basketball team played on the road last night for the first time. It also picked up its first loss, to Santa Clara. … Larry Weir talked with Paul Sorensen about a lot of subjects, including the Cougars, in the latest Press Box pod. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, the conference's bowl assignments are dependent on what happens elsewhere. … Maybe the biggest news out of the Pac-12 comes from Boulder. Ralphie V is retiring. Is Ralphie VI ready to run? … Maybe the old Ralphie wasn't buying into new coach Mel Tucker's message at Colorado. Others seem to be. … Though Washington isn't winning as much as it would like, recruits seem unfazed. … Oregon moved up to No. 6 in the latest CFP standings. This week's opponent, Arizona, shouldn't derail the Ducks' rise. … Utah also moved up, to No. 7. The Utes faces a UCLA team on the rise as well, riding Dorian Thompson-Robinson to new heights. … USC is starting to get its running backs back. … Arizona State just needs to use its star running back more. … This story about Dick Tomey's long-ago departure from Arizona is interesting, especially since Tomey is no longer around to corroborate it. … In basketball news, Washington had to work hard to get past Mount St. Mary's at home last night. … Oregon and Oregon State played a doubleheader in Portland. The Ducks picked up an impressive win over Memphis while the Beavers dropped a chance for a signature win over Oklahoma. … Colorado is depending on Tyler Bey. … USC hosted South Dakota State last night. The result was expected.

Gonzaga: Mark Few scheduled a three-game warmup series of nonconference games for the Zags this season, quite possibly so the large group of newcomers could work together before a gauntlet of tough tests ahead. And win. Those two goals have been accomplished. The Zags won easily again last night against North Dakota, the former Big Sky member termed Summit League also ran. Jim Meehan has his game analysis of the 97-66 victory as well as the three keys to the game. … We noted the absence of Richard Fox from the broadcast team, which mirrored Few’s group with a limited rotation. It’s all in our TV Take. … Tyler Tjomsland was in McCarthey and has this photo report. … Finally, the folks in the office put together a recap with highlights. I’m always impressed with how thorough it is. … Today is the first day of basketball's early signing period. Expect the Zags to have a couple of folks send in their letter of intent. … Around the WCC, BYU hosts Southern Utah tonight. … Missed this yesterday, but USF got past another Ivy League team.

EWU: The Eagles’ offense has been clicking better recently. There may be a couple reasons for that. Ryan Collingwood explores both of them and more in today’s notebook. … Luke Willson has a bad hamstring but a reinforcement is available. … When the Hawks return to the field, it will be to a different time than previously scheduled. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, Montana State is playing well heading into tough UC Davis game. … Montana has an even tougher task as the Griz face league-leading Weber State, ranked third nationally. … Idaho State heads to BYU this week. … In basketball, former Whitworth and Eastern Washington coach Jim Hayford won for the 400th time in his career last night, as his Seattle U. team defeated Pacific University.

Preps: It was busy day in Washington playoffs, with action in soccer and volleyball.

Seahawks: Before we move on to the bye week, let's take one last look at the San Francisco win. And whether Geno Smith said heads, tails or hails.

Sounders: Brian Schmetzer's life is going to be different. Heck, it is different. He had to attend another parade yesterday. Will his team win a third title next year?

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• Have you ever been taught something and, when the class was over, felt woefully inadequate in the skills just learned? That’s how I feel this morning. I attended and completed a first-aid class last night. Learned some new things, reinforced a whole bunch of others. But I still feel my best bet in any situation would be the filling the role of the person who calls 9-1-1. Really. There was one segment in which the instructor stressed the importance of staying calm. No chance of that happening here pal. Panic may not be my middle name, but I thought about using it as my confirmation one. Until later …

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