The first Saturday of the season was about as bad as it gets for Washington State’s football team, blowing a 12-point fourth-quarter lead in a late-night loss at home to Utah State.
The second one was much better, as the Cougars did what was expected and handled Big Sky Conference also-ran Portland State 44-24 at Gesa Field on a cool late-summer afternoon.
The one similarity? Both games were broadcast by the Pac-12 Networks, though Saturday’s featured a couple of well-known names, Greg Heister on the play-by-play and Lincoln Kennedy supplying the analysis.
What they saw
• Heister is well known to viewers in the Spokane area, mainly due to his longtime connection with Gonzaga basketball broadcasts. In the past few years he’s also worked for the Pac-12 Networks, mostly on WSU basketball games, so he knows his way around Pullman as well – and what Cougar fans felt about the Utah State loss.
As the broadcast began, every subject Cougar fans might have wanted covered was, quickly and honestly. Kennedy’s contribution was a succinct summary.
“They let one slip through their fingers, if you ask me, against Utah State,” he said.
• Heister did a nice job of keeping the broadcast on point early on, describing the action and turning over the on-field focus to Kennedy, twice a Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-12’s best offensive lineman.
It’s little wonder he understands line play well. When he was speaking about it, it was akin to a professor teaching an upper-division class.
For example, early on the former Washington star took a little time to explain why the WSU (1-1) rushing attack wasn’t working. It all had to do with the Portland State defense forcing the Cougars to pull their tackles as lead blockers, something they would rather not do. He wondered if it wasn’t time to change things.
The next play, WSU didn’t pull anyone, blocked straight ahead and Deon McIntosh rumbled for 21 yards, part of the Cougars’ 159 yards on the ground. It wasn’t the last time Kennedy explained what had just happened and what needed to happen.
• Kennedy was much more comfortable breaking down plays than he seemed playing off Heister’s conversational riffs. It was obvious the two were just getting to know each other and the interaction showed it at times.
But not every time. The two had a funny back-and-forth concerning Kennedy, Pullman and Drew Bledsoe. That led to everyone learning the All-American hasn’t returned to the Palouse since the 1992 Apple Cup, better known as the Bledsoe-to-Phillip Bobo snow game.
When they were done, it was obvious Kennedy wouldn’t put the 42-23 WSU win among his career highlights.
What we saw
• The Cougars’ offense struggled at points in the first half, despite starting four drives near midfield. On the fourth drive, with the game tied at 7, Nick Rolovich’s team picked up the tempo.
The offense went so fast, in fact, the broadcast missed a Jayden de Laura completion to De’Zhaun Stribling due to a replay. We did see the end of the 19-yard completion, however, and, after a penalty, caught the next play as de Laura covered the remaining 10 yards with his feet and a 14-7 WSU lead.
It was a three-play, 46-yard scoring drive that took 65 seconds.
But the Cougars weren’t done. The next drive also included tempo and big plays. Plus it covered 80 yards, took seven plays and just over 2 minutes. It included four plays of more than 10 yards, the longest a 29-yard toss to Travell Harris.
• Play-by-play folks will make mistakes. It’s going to happen as a game flows by quickly. But failing to acknowledge an error, or building on it, shouldn’t happen.
Heister usually understands that and, early on, did correct a couple of easy-to-make mistakes. But with time running down in the first half, he made a big one that wasn’t corrected.
“Eight seconds to go,” Heister said as the Cougars moved into PSU (0-2) territory, looking to build on a 27-10 lead. “In case you’re wondering, Nick Haberer is the field-goal kicker for Washington State. Made his first start as a kicker last week. So his career long is 35 yards. I’m sure his leg is better than that. Just hasn’t had to kick it farther. He’s a freshman.”
Yes, Haberer is a freshman. But that’s the only thing right about that statement.
Haberer is the Cougs’ punter. Dean Janikowski is WSU’s kicker. He’s a redshirt sophomore, though in his first year in the kicking role. He made 3 of 4 attempts last week.
Kennedy mentioned that Janikowski had just missed an extra point, which Heister acknowledged and said “It might be Janikowski who comes in and kicks” as the camera caught him warming up on the sidelines.
A play later, he did trot on and nailed a 23-yarder as time expired. As would be expected.
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