Watching a Washington State football game from home can be a frustrating experience, no matter what the result.
And when the Cougars lose a tough one, as they did Saturday afternoon in Salt Lake City, the frustration can be multiplied by the presentation from the Pac-12 Networks.
For a Power Five conference with millions of dollars in revenue, the corners cut become even more glaring, especially a week after a major network broadcast.
What they saw
It’s not just the Pac-12 Networks’ choices in the broadcast booth, which, in Utah’s 24-13 come-from-behind victory at Rice-Eccles Stadium before 51,483, included veteran Roxy Bernstein on play-by-play and former Washington All-American offensive lineman Lincoln Kennedy.
Though Kennedy’s lack of preparation showed in varied ways, the makeup of the booth is secondary to the dearth of replays, miserly camera angles and inexplicable decisions on what to show.
All three showed themselves in what turned out to be a key, early second-half missed fumble by referee Steve Strimling’s crew. Maybe no one was ready for how many times Kyle Whittingham’s team was going to put the ball on the ground.
After two first-half fumbles they didn’t lose, the Utes (2-2, 1-0 Pac-12) finally lost one to open the second half. Washington State cashed it in for a touchdown and a 13-7 lead. That was just a prelude to the next few minutes that highlighted the Pac-12 Networks’ production holes.
The Cougars looked to have forced another turnover on the next Utes possession, with Derrick Langford clutching Cole Fotheringham’s fumble at the WSU 39. For some reason, Fotheringham was ruled down and, after a lengthy replay review, Stripling announced the call stood.
“My guess is, Lincoln, they had no clear, definitive look at it,” said Bernstein, a correct observation that highlights a huge problem.
During most Pac-12 Networks games, viewers are only shown one side of the field, in this case from the Cougars’ side of the field. The angle that would have been definitive wasn’t available. The lack of coverage was crucial in a couple of Pac-12 games last season.
In this case, it ultimately cost the Cougars a crucial three points.
• Another way the networks save money is with no sideline reporter. That role can be an important contributor in certain situations. One of them came up when Washington State star running back Max Borghi went down with a first-half injury.
We saw multiple replays of the play that cost WSU (1-3, 0-2) his services, mainly because there was a face-mask penalty involved and Bernstein and Kennedy wondered if it was called the wrong way. The trio of looks allowed viewers to see Borghi injure his left arm.
But for his status after, Bernstein just couldn’t tell us. He didn’t know.
WSU radio listeners did. That’s because sideline reporter Jessamyn McIntyre was reporting Borghi had gone to the locker room and was still there as time wound down.
Almost 6 minutes into the second half, Bernstein finally informed the viewers Borghi would not return and he was in street clothes on the sideline.
McIntyre had reported that 20 minutes earlier, adding Borghi had his left elbow wrapped, something viewers never found out.
What we saw
• One of the Cougars’ best offensive plays occurred in the third quarter, a 24-yard run by Deon McIntosh.
“Probably one of the more well-blocked plays of this offensive line today,” said Kennedy and, considering his resume, he knows. But what he didn’t know was who delivered the key block – or how to pronounce center Konner Gomness’ name (Bernstein had to help him with GAHM-ness).
Kennedy credited Gomness with the kick-out block that freed up McIntosh for a 24-yard run. The only problem it was delivered by right tackle Abe Lucas. In Kennedy’s defense, we never saw a replay, even though there was a Utah injury and a timeout before the next play.
• The main question before the game was who would play quarterback for WSU. To their credit, Bernstein and Kennedy addressed it right up front. Though they didn’t have an answer.
“We don’t know who the quarterback is going to be for the Cougs,” Bernstein said, mentioning coach Nick Rolovich didn’t know before the game. “We’ll find out when you find out.”
We found out quickly.
It was Jarrett Guarantano, the Tennessee transfer who started the opener before he was injured.
• Rolovich challenged a first-half mark. He didn’t get it overturned after the replay review. Viewers, however, might have wondered why he was upset. That’s because following McIntosh’s inside run on third-and-3, we never saw where the ball was marked.
For 24 seconds, we saw a closeup of Rolovich. One of Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. One of Guarantano. Artistic? Maybe. But not informational. None showed us where the ball was before Rolovich called time. Then challenged.
Finally, we saw a replay of the run and the tackle. It was impossible to determine where the ball should be spotted. Maybe a shot down the line from the Utah side would have helped, but not with the cameras available. Not on a Pac-12 Networks broadcast.
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