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Sunday, February 23, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A Grip on Sports: Let’s not leap ahead of ourselves but it’s already been a good weekend of college football thanks to Washington State

Washington State Cougars quarterback Anthony Gordon (18) dives after running for a first down against the Houston Cougars during the second half of a college football game on Friday, September 13, 2019, at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State Cougars quarterback Anthony Gordon (18) dives after running for a first down against the Houston Cougars during the second half of a college football game on Friday, September 13, 2019, at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Welcome to Sunday morning and the NF … wait. It’s only Saturday? My bad. A Friday night Washington State football game has thrown me off a bit. Let’s look back at that – and ahead to a Saturday filled with college football.


• If you had the Cougars and the points, you won. Or lost. Jeez. Three major college football teams with that nickname (BYU is the other) and they meet last night. Made for some tough writing. So did the game, which was odd in a lot of respects.

Rarely will you watch a game in which the winning team tackled so poorly for an entire half. I wonder if defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys brought one of those motorized tackling dummies into the locker room at halftime for a refresher course. It couldn’t have hurt.

Actually, the Palouse Cougars tackled better in the second half. Until the last Texas Cougars’ possession, when WSU played prevent defense and missed another half-dozen or so possible open-field tackles.

It didn’t matter. Mainly because Anthony Gordon threw for more than 400 yards, Houston self-destructed early in the third quarter and the Pac-12 officials couldn’t homer Washington State.

Seriously, why bring your conference’s officials on the road when they throw flags like they did on non-invasive offensive pass interference and get fooled by a punt returner, who went three yards to his right away from the football to run into a guy trying his best to avoid him? If this had been a Notre Dame/USC game, the offensive PI call would be as prominent in the national media today as the non-call in the NFC title game last year and the kick-catch interference penalty would be the butt of jokes on GameDay and memes on Twitter. (It would have been easy to blame Friday the 13th or the full moon, but we've all seen the same things over and over no matter what the day was or circumstance. It's sad mainly because no matter how the conference works to fix it – and it has been – such things still crop up over and over.)

OK, I exaggerate. But there is no exaggerating the one thing Washington State’s defense needs to fix. It needs to tackle better. It’s simple – but not simple to fix.

• The bottom line, though, is simple too. The Cougars from Pullman are 3-0 for the third consecutive season. Unless something really odd happens, they will be headed to another bowl game. Yes, I know that’s no longer their only goal. The vision is loftier. Which just illustrates how far they have progressed in the Mike Leach Era, or, if you will, The Golden Age of WSU Football.

Houston tried the California/Washington theory of defending the Mike Leach version of the Air Raid, rushing three, occasionally bringing a late blitzer and covering with seven or eight. Try to keep everything in front. It worked. For a half. Then Gordon (protected well in most circumstances) and his receivers began to find open spots, Max Borghi – the speed he showed on the erroneously flagged 76-yard touchdown was impressive – chipped away underneath and Houston’s defense finally caved. The result was a hard-fought 31-24 victory that could have had a lot wider margin.

• Eastern Washington plays its most important non-conference game of the year today in Alabama. (Doesn’t it seem Jacksonville State should be in Florida? Who knew there was another city by that name in the heart of the South?)

The 17th-ranked Gamecocks just don’t lose at home, having won 29 consecutive games in the humid hometown. And the Eagles have lost their last three games against ranked non-conference foes.

Ryan Collingwood made the trip and will have the coverage today – if his fingers aren’t too greasy from all the barbecue.


WSU: Speaking of coverage, Theo Lawson did an incredible job from Houston, filling an NRG Stadium-sized hole with words this morning. He has his game analysis, of course, but he augmented that with stories from before the game on the players who were unavailable and two visitors, Hal Mumme and Devard Darling, as well as one in the middle, when D’Eriq King tied a Tim Tebow record. … Theo also had his difference makers. … Tyler Tjomsland was also in Houston and he reported on the contest with his camera. … We had our opinions and thoughts as well in the TV Take, though we did it from the comfort of our den. … The guys in the office worked their tails off with the highlights and recap. … In non-football news, the soccer team actually lost. At home. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, as is the case every weekend, there are storylines to follow around the conference. … Washington has to worry about Hawaii’s run-and-shoot offense. … Oregon State has to worry about Cal Poly’s triple-option offense. … Oregon has to worry about, well, not much against Montana. … Neither does Utah, which hosts overmatched Idaho State. … UCLA has so much to worry about with Oklahoma, we can’t cover it all. … Colorado and Air Force meet in a renewal of a series that needed to renewed years ago. … USC and BYU aren’t renewing anything but it could be a tough game for the Trojans. … Stanford has a lot to worry about as well. … California will try to go 3-0 again. … Arizona State faces its first tough test at Michigan State. … Arizona and Texas Tech might score 70 points each.

Gonzaga: Recruiting never stops. Jim Meehan has a story on Seattle’s Paolo Banchero including GU in his final nine teams. … Jim also spoke with Larry Weir on the latest Press Box pod.

EWU: As we said above, Ryan is in Alabama and has this preview. … Around the Big Sky, Northern Colorado and Sacramento State meet in a non-conference game. … Montana State is on the road again.

Idaho: The Vandals are on the road again as well, enriching the athletic department’s coffers in Wyoming. Peter Harriman has a preview of today’s game.

Preps: Yes, Washington State was playing last night. But that doesn’t mean the high school teams took Friday off. Steve Christilaw was at Albi Stadium and has stories on both games, West Valley’s win over Shadle Park and Mt. Spokane’s victory against Moses Lake. … We also have a roundup of other football action as well as one on soccer.

Seahawks: The Hawks will have some players missing when they travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers. … Yes, it is a week-to-week league.

Mariners: The up-and-down season for Yusei Kikuchi continued in a 9-7 loss to the White Sox. It's been mostly down. … Kyle Lewis' first week has been good.


• My wife is not happy with me. She thought last night’s announcers, Dave Flemming and Louis Riddick, were not balanced. I didn’t agree. And I wrote exactly what I felt. Little did I know when I swore to write my TV column without fear or favor, I would have to do it under pressure from a spouse. Until later …

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