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TV Take: Broadcast quality, not Washington State’s play, leaves fans scratching their heads in Cougars’ rout of Northern Colorado

UPDATED: Sat., Sept. 7, 2019, 10:41 p.m.

The second time around, it didn’t seem as easy for Anthony Gordon and the Washington State Cougars.

But in the end, the game broadcast on Pac-12 Washington ended the same way, with a Cougars win, 59-17 Saturday over the University of Northern Colorado at Martin Stadium.

This week, however, at least the Pac-12 Networks’ analyst called them the Cougars the entire game.

What they saw

• In the opener last week, there were a handful of times Chad Brown, a Colorado graduate, called WSU the Huskies. He apologized on Twitter later, but it had started a bit of a tweetstorm. This week the analyst was another Buffalo, but Jeremy Bloom, who has a few years in the booth under his belt, didn’t repeat the faux pas. There was another tweetstorm, but it had nothing to do with the guys in the booth.

Bloom and veteran play-by-play announcer Jim Watson are studied, quiet and calm presences. In fact, Bloom sounded more excited when he passed along the score of Colorado’s upset of Nebraska than during anything that happened in Pullman.

That’s OK, as their professionalism was appreciated in a game that seemed to be run in fits and starts, with the Bears being called for at least nine false starts – after not moving presnap last week, the Cougars’ defense shifted often in this one – and WSU hit with a couple of third-quarter unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.

One was called on left tackle Liam Ryan after a 10-yard Gordon scramble. According to referee Mark Duddy, Ryan was penalized for “pointing at an opponent.” The broadcast duo discussed the penalty dispassionately, unlike most of those in the stadium, if the noise coming over the television was any indication.

Gordon didn’t receive any boos, though, as he had another statistically strong game. The fifth-year senior, and first-year starter, completed 31 of 39 passes for 464 yards and four touchdowns. He did, however, throw his first interception.

• Like everyone watching at home, the broadcasting crew struggled to understand a replay that occurred with almost 6 minutes left in the third quarter.

Northern Colorado (0-2) had earned a first down due to a pass interference call on Bryce Beekman. The throw from Jacob Knipp had been high, mainly because he was leveled by Ron Stone Jr., coming free from the quarterback’s left side.

The pass interference was marked up and both teams lined up. The ball was snapped, a play started and then stopped due to a false start.

Duddy announced that penalty, paused a minute and said the previous play was under review.

In fact, it was Stone’s hit, on a play already in the past, that was under review. After a long delay, Stone was ejected, despite his lowered helmet hitting Knipp’s chest.

Watson and Bloom discussed the penalty and whether it should have been called. They agreed it should have. But they didn’t discuss the delay, and whether it should have been assessed after another play had been run.

What we saw

• Starting in the second quarter, the Comcast high-definition Pac-12 Washington feed in Spokane began to continually slow down, pixelate and, finally, freeze, before starting again seconds later. It was akin to watching a game while someone is shaking a flashlight in the dark.

It made the game hard to watch and led to many complaints on social media.

The problem continued in the second half, forcing some viewers – including this reviewer – to say on Twitter they had switched to low-def, which, while less clear, at least didn’t seem to experience the technical difficulties.

The problem was widespread, even on Comcast feeds in the Puget Sound area. It didn’t seem to be a problem for non-Comcast viewers and seemed to disappear late in the fourth quarter.

Whatever the problem, and whoever was to blame, it sabotaged the viewing experience, one that already was something of a struggle even before the game began.

The game was broadcast on the regional channel and not on the network’s national feed. Why was that? Simple. There were only four available 3-hour time slots on the national feed, and the conference had to deal with five games.

Of those five, three included ranked Pac-12 teams: Utah, Oregon and Washington State. The others were UCLA (playing against San Diego State) and Arizona (also facing a Big Sky opponent, Northern Arizona).

The Arizona game, in early September, has to be played at night. Basically, the best option to get WSU on the national feed was to start the game in the late slot, as UCLA is a bigger ratings draw.

The choice was between a 2 p.m. start on Pac-12 Washington or a 7:30 p.m. start on the main network. With the uproar over the past few years about too many late games in Pullman, the decision must have been easy.

• If you’re partial to the Pac-12’s public service announcements or promotional ads, then Saturday’s game was in your sweet spot.

The first quarter was peppered with them. There were so many, in fact, maybe the conference should hire Bill Walton to introduce them in his hard-to-imitate style. Especially the recycling ones. Now that would be entertaining.

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