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A Grip on Sports: The success of WSU’s football season may rest on the health of Jayden de Laura’s knee

Washington State Cougars quarterback Jayden de Laura (4) has his knee taped by a trainer during the second half of a college football game on Saturday, Sep 18, 2021, at Gesa Field in Pullman, Wash. USC won the game 45-14.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State Cougars quarterback Jayden de Laura (4) has his knee taped by a trainer during the second half of a college football game on Saturday, Sep 18, 2021, at Gesa Field in Pullman, Wash. USC won the game 45-14. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • What’s best for a Tuesday? Tacos, of course. But that’s for later. For now, let’s travel around the sports scene.

•••••••

• Sometimes the most innocuous play can turn a football game – and possibly a season.

Such was the case with the Cougars, at least as it relates to the loss to USC. The rest of the season? TBD.

If you watch video of the first half’s final play, you see Jayden de Laura drop back to pass. There is nothing open as he scans the field. So he takes off through a hole in the middle of the line. A few steps and he’s hit. Not a jarring hit, just a regular one that takes him to the turf, where his knee hits and the rest of the body follows.

Nothing special. And yet, according to coach Nick Rolovich, that’s where de Laura was injured against the Trojans. He walked to the locker room with his teammates, was examined, taped up and had to sit. He tried to play a couple series, was ineffective and was shut down.

Rolovich said Monday he is not sure whether de Laura would be able to play Saturday in the Cougars’ first road game (at Utah). It would be “close.”

Though the sample size is small, one thing seems clear. Washington State is at its best with de Laura at quarterback. If he were to miss an extended period, the Cougars’ offensive production would probably suffer. With the nine games they have remaining, WSU is going to need all the offense it can muster.

• Your new checklist for watching Gonzaga basketball in person this season has to include a few things:

– Your phone, for one, as tickets will be electronic unless, you know, you are a traditionalist and really, really, really want a paper one;

– Credit card for concessions, program et al;

– A face mask;

– And most importantly, proof you have been vaccinated. Or, at the least, proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test. The requirement announced Monday, first in an email to season ticket holders and then to the media.

As someone who attends however many women’s games I can – my wife has season tickets and is in her longtime spot just about every game – this news was expected and happily received. The 6,000 folks that cram into McCarthey for the women’s games are a diverse lot but many of them – like her and I – are not young. The precautions are not only prudent by welcomed by a majority of that group.

How it will be enforced is a worry, however, though it would be really nice if there were an app available that allowed the gatekeepers access to your ticket and you vaccination status at the same time.

• The Royals’ Salvador Perez theoretically set a record last night. Most home runs in a single season for a catcher. Except, in reality, he didn’t. He set a record for most home runs in a single season – 46 – for a guy who catches a lot. That’s it.

See, Perez, as an American League player, doesn’t have to catch every night to be in the lineup. Kansas City can use him as the designated hitter. And it does – 35 times this season alone. Why is that important? Simple. Catching tears at your body unlike any other position in baseball. This is something I know a little about, having caught parts of five decades in either baseball or fastpitch softball.

It’s not just the constant squatting, though that’s a big part of it. There are the foul balls that carom off just about every part of your body consistently. The occasional wild follow through, with a bat connecting with your back or shoulder. The contact at the plate on bang-bang plays. Running to back up first on most ground balls. Then there is the mental fatigue as the position is in charge of every pitch in just about every way.

It’s a position more akin to football than any other. Designated hitter? It’s almost like not playing at all.

Perez has hit 15 home runs this season as a DH. Good for him. Look, he’s exceptional at what he does. But the real catching home run record holder is Javy Lopez. What, you thought I was going to say Johnny Bench, just because he hit 45 home runs in 1970 and I still have his baseball card in my wallet?

Nope. I follow the science, which, in this case, means math.

Bench hit seven home runs that season playing other spots, from left field to first base. But in 2003 the Braves’ Lopez hit 42 of his 43 home runs while catching (he hit one as a pinch hitter). It took me a while after that season – again, baseball card in wallet – but I came to realize Lopez had had the best power season ever for a catcher.

That’s still the record in my mind. But don’t worry. If Perez gets really hot, and hits another 12 while catching, I’ll concede his is the best home run season ever for a catcher. Until then, it’s Lopez.

•••

WSU: Rolovich met with the media yesterday and shared the de Laura news. That led to this Colton Clark story. … Colton also takes his first look at Saturday’s opponent, Utah. It seems as if the Cougars play every year in Salt Lake City but that’s not really true. It’s only been six of the past seven years. Nice job Pac-12. … Colton also tells us the game with California on Oct. 2 will kick off at 2:30 p.m., marking the fourth consecutive afternoon game for the Cougars. Nice job Pac-12 (and that one is not sarcastic). … Kyle Smith is hiring a new recruiting coordinator after the old one, Wayne Hunter, left for Saint Mary’s. Colton has a story on that as well. … Though it’s not official, it looks as if Utah is changing starting quarterbacks for the game vs. WSU. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and college football, Jon Wilner has his power ratings. No, WSU isn’t 12th. … He also takes a look at the possible bowl matchups in today’s Mercury News. … A legacy had the game of his career for Washington. … Oregon State has some quiet leaders on defense heading into the USC game. … Oregon will get some players back for the game against Arizona but maybe not its best player. The Ducks’ quarterback is OK though. … The quarterback position at Arizona is more up in the air than ever. … USC is used to quarterback controversy. It has happened a lot for the Trojans. … Arizona State will try to bounce back against Colorado. The Buffs are sticking with their struggling quarterback. … After the loss to Fresno State, a beat-up UCLA has to do the same against Stanford. … In basketball news, the Pac-12 announced yesterday a home-and-home series with SWAC schools. Washington State will host and travel to Prairie View A&M.

Gonzaga: We mentioned above the change in protocols for basketball games, a subject Theo Lawson covers in detail here. … Theo also shares the news Gary Bell Jr. has a new position with the men’s basketball program. 

EWU: If both teams take care of business this Saturday, and they should, the showdown between Eastern and visiting Montana Oct. 2 should be a really big deal. Big enough, actually, that ESPN has decided to move it to ESPN2, which means it will be seen by quite a few more folks around the nation. Dan Thompson has more in this story. … Larry Weir spoke to some doofus yesterday named Vince Grippi for his latest Press Box podcast. Larry knows as much about Eastern football as anyone, so it always impresses me he’s willing to ask for my opinion – and then treat my weird theories with respect. And, yes, we talked about a lot of other subjects as well. … Around the Big Sky, former Weber State basketball coach Neil McCarthy, who left the school as its all-time wins leader, has died. … Montana State feels it can win the football title. The quest begins at Portland State. … Montana returns from its bye week with a matchup against Beau Baldwin’s Cal Poly team.

Indians: We spent a bit of time yesterday morning explaining the end of the High-A West regular season race. Now Dave Nichols previews the result of that, the league championship series that starts tonight at Avista Stadium. In case you are wondering, the weather forecast is pretty darn nice for the week, though it will be cold as the games wind down.

Mariners: There is little margin for error. Against the A’s this week, maybe none. So the M’s 4-2 win last night, which gained a game in the wild card standings for Seattle, was crucial. The series continues in Oakland tonight. …Tyler Anderson was great and the impending free agent has been since being picked up in a trade. … The answer to the question this headline poses is yes. Chris Flexen is the best bargain of the year. … Dylan Moore seems to have finally figured out his swing. In September.

Seahawks: It was tough loss that opens ups old thoughts of failure. Yep, the NFL is the ultimate week-by-week league. … Could there be changes at cornerback coming? The defense had some issues. … DK Metcalf seems healthy. … If you have questions, this might answer some. … Pete Carroll isn’t a fan of the new taunting rules.

Sounders: Jordan Morris has learned some things working through another major knee injury. … Nico Lodeiro had minor knee surgery recently.

•••       

• You know what happens this weekend? Yep, the Ryder Cup, the biennial golf competition that brings out the best and the worst in everyone, even me. Other than working the WSU/Utah game Saturday afternoon, I will be glued to my TV. With my phone on vibrate. Until later …

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