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Friday, December 13, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports

A Grip on Sports: With a typical college football Saturday in the rearview mirror, it’s time to turn our attention to the Seahawks and Cleveland

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (13) runs against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. (Tony Avelar / Associated Press)
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (13) runs against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. (Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Another NFL Sunday morning is here. The Seahawks are in the Eastern Time Zone, so their game will begin at 10 a.m. Not the best, if watching the RedZone is your Sunday thing. But if you want to spend the afternoon enjoying a crisp fall weekend day, it’s perfect.

•••••••

• That didn’t happen yesterday if you were a local college football fan. There were too many games to watch inside. Before we get there, however, let’s look ahead.

To today’s Hawks’ game in Ohio. It seems like a game Seattle needs to figure out a way to win to prove it is really an NFC title contender.

After all, the Browns have already played two other NFC West contenders, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and lost. One was on the road (last week against the 49ers) and one was at home. Either way, they are 0-2 against teams the Seahawks are competing with.

And it’s not just the “Ls” that are important. In the Bay Area last week, Cleveland was dominated in every phase by the undefeated 49ers and left with a 31-3 defeat. There could be some carryover from that humiliation.

In what way? Expect the Browns to come out with a little fire today, flying around, pulling out the stops, doing all the little effort things that sometimes make a difference in an NFL game between evenly matched teams.

Those last three words are important, however. If these are “evenly matched teams,” then the Hawks are in trouble. Maybe not today, but down the road. They need to show they are superior if they want to reach their goals.

• Jim Walden had it right. College football isn’t just about the Xs and Os. It’s also about the Jimmies and Joes. That was made painfully clear yesterday in the Cougars’ 38-34 loss at Arizona State.

This year, the Cougars just don’t have enough Jimmies and Joes on the defensive side. Well, to be clear, not enough Peytons or Jalens or Hunters. They have lost too much on that side of the ball to overcome, especially in the back end.

Changes were made during the bye week, most notably in the defensive staff with coordinator Tracy Claeys leaving. On the way out he said there was some disagreement in how to fix the problems.

If forcing turnovers and getting late-game stops were identified as the main areas of concern, then the new approach didn’t work either.

Mike Leach loves a defense that takes the ball away. He figures if he gets one or two more possessions, he’s going to outscore you no matter what else happens. The WSU defense forced exactly zero turnovers yesterday at Arizona State. Mainly because there weren’t enough solid hits, especially in the secondary. Heck, I’m sure new defensive co-coordinators Roc Bellantoni and Darcel McBath would have loved their guys just to be in the right spots to make a tackle a few times, let alone close enough to make a jarring hit.

Once again it didn’t happen enough for the Cougars to pick up a win.

• Washington State is 3-3. There are six games remaining. To make a bowl game again, the Cougars have to at least win three times.

There are three games in which WSU will be underdogs, possibly big underdogs. At Oregon, at California and at Washington. That seems simple.

And it also leaves three home games that seem to be must wins, starting next Saturday against Colorado. The other two? They come in November against Stanford and Oregon State.

Win one of the three road games and life gets easier. Lose one of the home games and it gets tougher. Which would you rather have?

• Speaking of the loss in Tempe, what is a Pac-12 game without a couple of officiating snafus? (For more on this front, see USC’s three-point loss at Notre Dame.)

There was a missed fumble (recovered by WSU but, after a replay review, ruled out of bounds, something replay didn’t seem to show conclusively), an odd unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Travell Harris after his 35-yard touchdown catch to open the scoring and a fair catch called on Brandon Aiyuk when replays showed he never raised his hand (I did my own because the Pac-12 Network broadcasts seem to rarely shows things that might embarrass the conference).

There was also a missed targeting call on a Khaylan Thomas hit against Easop Winston late in the third quarter. The play, which included Thomas leaving his feet, lowering his head and hitting Winston with the crown of helmet, wasn’t even reviewed.

Neither was a possible touchdown by Calvin Jackson Jr., who seemed to score in the first half but was marked down just short. DVR replays showed the ball was over the goal line before Jackson’s knee hit.

Finally, on a game-tying fourth-quarter Aiyuk touchdown, a flag was thrown for unsportsmanlike conduct (Aiyuk high-stepped over the goal line). But after a conversation, referee Chris Coyte announced there was no flag because there was “a player in the area.”

What? A player in the area. Honestly, how could there ever be taunting if there wasn’t a player in the area? Who would you be taunting? The football gods?

Aiyuk wasn’t high-stepping to avoid anyone. He was doing it show up the Cougar defenders who weren’t in the area enough to stop him. That is, by definition, taunting. And, after Harris was called for celebrating with his teammates, it needed to be called – if consistency is important.

•••

WSU: The offense seemed to get its feet underneath itself again with the bye week and the defense did some better things. But covering athletic receivers in space – a staple in the Pac-12 – wasn’t one of them. That’s my 30-second analysis. Theo Lawson has his more in-depth one and it came from Tempe. … He also has his difference makers, a story on leading receiver Brandon Arconado missing another game, the news Leach has put a social media ban in place (the TV broadcast yesterday reported it as something the players initiated) another piece on the specialists and videos of interviews with Leach and a couple with player comments after the game. … Theo also passes along the latest Luke Falk news. … We sat at home, watched it like many of you and wrote our TV Take. … Tyler Tjomsland stood in the sun and took photos for this gallery. … The guys in the office put together a recap with highlights. … There is also coverage from the Phoenix area, with an emphasis on the Sun Devilspassing attack. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, the Washington offense waited until everyone on the East Coast – and many on the West – were asleep before coming alive in what-turned-out-to-be an easy win at Arizona. The Huskies discombobulated Khalil Tate all night. … Utah traveled to Corvallis and steamrolled Oregon State, winning 52-7. The Utes dominated up front and everywhere else. Even Jake Luton had troubles, especially with the blitzes. … Oregon's Friday night win over Colorado was impressive. … So was the second-half performance of USC quarterback Kedon Slovis in the 30-27 loss at Notre Dame. But is it enough to save Clay Helton's job?

Gonzaga: The women’s basketball team held their FanFest yesterday afternoon, featuring a combination of veterans and newcomers. Jim Allen was in the Kennel for the event and has this story. So was Dan Pelle, who has a photo gallery. … Former GU pitcher Wyatt Mills will have a chance to help the U.S. make the Olympics. That’s part of our local briefs.

EWU: The Eastern offense hit on all cylinders yesterday and the Eagles routed Northern Colorado 54-21. Ryan Collingwood has the game story as well as a notebook from the Big Sky win. … James Snook put together a photo gallery for today’s paper. … Around the Big Sky, Weber State turned Southern Utah over and over in a 29-14 win. … Idaho State dominated North Dakota in a 55-20 win. … Either Sacramento State is better than most thought or Montana State isn't as good as believed. The Bobcats lost 34-21 at home to the Hornets. … UC Davis had little trouble with Cal Poly. … Montana has an interesting jersey tradition.

Idaho: It’s been a while, but the Vandals were shut out for the first time since 2013. Obviously, they didn’t pick up their first road win of the season, losing 24-0 at Portland State.

Whitworth: The Pirates were also in Portland and scored 68 more points than their Moscow cousins, winning by 38 against Lewis & Clark in a Northwest Conference game.

Preps: Justin Reed was at Audubon Park yesterday for the annual Tracy Walters Invitational cross country event and has this story. Lewis and Clark’s Wil Smith was the winner.

Chiefs: After a tough offensive performance Friday (we want to pass along Colin Mulvany’s photo gallery from the game, something we didn’t see Saturday morning), Spokane exploded Saturday night to top Victoria 6-1. Dan Thompson has the story.

Seahawks: I disagree with this premise. I'm not sure this is really a good thing. … There is a lot to watch today.

•••       

• If I could, I would want Yogi Roth as the analyst on every Pac-12 Networks football game coverage. He’s that good. Until later …

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