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TV Take: Officiating controversy distracts from classic Washington State-Oregon encounter

UPDATED: Sun., Oct. 27, 2019

It’s too bad most of America was in bed long before Oregon snapped its four-game losing streak to Washington State with a last-second 37-35 victory at Autzen Stadium in Eugene.

If they were awake, they would have listened to an ESPN broadcast led by veteran Steve Levy on the play-by-play, Brian Griese and draft guru Todd McShay offering analysis and Molly McGrath chipping in with reports from the sideline.

And they would have seen Oregon’s Camden Lewis hit a 26-yard field goal as time expired to win.

What they saw

• One of the key plays – maybe the key play – in the 7:35 p.m. start came late in the first half. And it was preceded by a disagreement between Griese and Levy.

The Cougars faced a third-and-25 from their 5-yard-line. There was fewer than 2 minutes before intermission – a stretch that would take about 30 minutes in real time.

“I would be really careful with this (play) call,” Griese said. “You don’t want to give this momentum to Oregon before halftime.”

“I would take a shot,” Levy responded.

Mike Leach and Anthony Gordon did. The senior tried to hit Brandon Arconado over the middle, but the pass was undercut by Jevon Holland, who took the interception back for a score.

“That’s why you will never be a coach,” Griese told Levy.

• ESPN may be the Worldwide Leader – its term – but for some reason for a Saturday night Pac-12 game featuring the 11th-ranked team in the nation, it couldn’t seem to find the money to hire an officiating analyst.

One was needed. It was a Pac-12 game, after all. And after dark.

There were two incidents in the first half which could have used explanation. The first was a targeting call on linebacker Travion Brown on a play in which Oregon’s Travis Dye fumbled and WSU (4-4, 1-4 in the Pac-12) recovered.

As the play was adjudicated by replay official Jerry Meyerhoff, Griese and Levy discussed the call.

“Look how low he is to the ground,” Greise said of Dye, who was trying to stay off the turf and lunge forward. “Where you going to hit him?”

“He’s six-inches off the ground,” Levy added.

No matter. Brown was ejected, and the fumble slipped away.

The second play was one that included a pass interference, an unsportsmanlike conduct flag on Oregon coach Mario Cristobal and an alleged illegal touching on Dezmon Patmon. Oh, and a replay review that took five minutes.

After the Oregon interception return, Gordon led the Cougars down the field. He hit Patmon for 18 yards to the Oregon 12. Pass interference was called on UO, a call to which Cristobal took exception. Another flag flew.

The play was marked off. Before the snap, a whistle. The play was being reviewed. After the long look – Patmon may have touched the line, but it wasn’t all that clear – it was determined the pass interference call was offset by illegal touching on Patmon, being the first player to touch the ball after being out of bounds.

Maybe an officiating analyst would have pointed the illegal touching rule includes an exception “due to contact by an opponent.” Wouldn’t pass interference, which occurred before Patmon stepped on the line, have to include contact?

Meyerhoff must not have seen it that way.

The ESPN crew, which discussed seemingly everything over and over, discussed it but took more exception to the length of the review.

What we saw

• There were many play stoppages for review and to discuss penalties, leading to a game time of nearly four hours.

But a few more reviews may have been called for, including two other plays on Oregon’s lead-taking, third-quarter scoring drive. One was a pass that was called a drop by Johnny Johnson III. It would have been a first down for Oregon (7-1, 5-0). The next was the next play, another ball that hit the ground, this time by Bryan Addison, but was called a catch and not reviewed. That led to CJ Verdell’s 2-yard score.

Verdell had 257 yards rushing on 23 carries, the longest an 89-yard scoring run early. The sophomore finished with three touchdowns as Oregon rushed for 306 yards.

Touted quarterback Justin Herbert, whose pro prospects McShay spoke about often, threw only 30 passes, completing 21 for 222 yards.

Gordon threw for 406 yards, but also threw two interceptions, including one in the Ducks’ end zone that Arconado, who had nine catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns, actually dropped into Verone McKinley III’s hands.

• Poor McGrath. The sideline reporter was not called upon during the first half. Her big moment came as the teams left the field for halftime.

She asked Leach what he liked about his defense in the opening 30 minutes.

“Running to the football,” Leach said. And then he sprinted away.

ESPN liked the interview so much they ran it again in the third quarter.

But she tossed up an even better piece of information following a fourth-quarter WSU touchdown. She relayed the information Gordon was yelling so intently to fire up his team, he fired up even more, throwing up before getting back to his motivational speech.

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