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A Grip on Sports: Despite Utah being without key players, WSU doesn’t play well enough to earn the upset

Washington State Cougars quarterback Cameron Ward (1) reacts after falling to the Utah Utes during the second half of a college football game on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. Utah won the game 21-17.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State Cougars quarterback Cameron Ward (1) reacts after falling to the Utah Utes during the second half of a college football game on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. Utah won the game 21-17. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

A GRIP ON SPORTS • We have some good news for Washington State University football fans. A silver lining of sorts after Thursday night’s 21-17 loss to Utah in Pullman. Your Saturday is free.

•••••••

• That’s about it. Sorry.

In another game at home against a ranked opponent the Cougars had every opportunity to win WSU couldn’t get it done.

But unlike the Oregon chance, this time it was the offense that came up short. Though the defense, playing against a Utah team that was without its starting quarterback, its best receiver and a couple running backs, doesn’t get off without some blame.

Nor do the coaches. In other words, it was a team effort.

Of such things are losing streaks built.

Yes, the Wazzu – we guess it’s OK to use that term now, seeing as Washington State had it plastered on its helmets last night – offense is missing key players. The running back corps is playing without its week one starter and main backup. The receiving corps lacks its most experienced member. And the offensive line, revamped after the bye week, is still not playing at the level it needs to be.

All of that put an impossible burden on the shoulders, and feet, of Cameron Ward. The quarterback made more plays than probably should be expected, but the lack of time and threat of a running game made it nearly impossible for WSU to push the ball downfield. And made a late comeback improbable.

Especially after the Cougars had closed to the final margin with 5 minutes left. That’s when the unexplainable decision to pooch kick right at a Ute returner, one of only two directly behind the front eight, cost WSU about 20 yards in key field position.

Kick the ball deep, have the last few minutes play out in a similar manner and WSU has one last chance. But Utah, facing a fourth-and-8 deep in Cougar territory with a minute left, went for it – the Utes would have punter if they were at midfield – and got the first down on an obvious defensive holding call.

Game over.

The Cougars are 4-4 with a third of the season left. They have four chances to earn two more wins and collect another bowl berth. The next two – at Stanford and home against Arizona State – are the best. Then it’s a trip to Tucson with a matchup against former quarter Jayden De Laura and the resurgent Wildcats. Plus the Apple Cup in Pullman on Nov. 26.

Will they get the two wins? Only if they play better than last night. But if they don’t, then, hey your bowl season will be free.

• There is no free way to watch Gonzaga’s unofficial-but-somewhat-official opener tonight from Frisco, Texas. Instead of the second-ranked Zags playing a closed-door scrimmage with No. 11 Tennessee, Mark Few and Rick Barnes decided to play an exhibition, with the gate and pay-per-view proceeds going to charity.

That outcome is admirable. Whether the Zags’ outcome will be depends on a lot of variables. Though many familiar faces in familiar roles dot the GU roster – Drew Timme, Julian Strawther, Anton Watson – there are a bunch of new players as well as returnees being asked to accept new responsibilities. And the Volunteers will be good again, though they will be missing a key starter.

No matter the outcome, the exhibition won’t officially show up on Gonzaga’s record. But it will be burned into the minds of folks who pontificate about the game nationally. In other words, a game that won’t count, will.

• It’s Friday and we usually get you up to speed on the weekend’s television schedule. Well, the biggest thing happening this one is the opening of the World Series. It begins tonight at 4 on Fox. Houston, having won seven consecutive postseason games and the poster child of baseball’s lack of strong leadership and consequences, hosts Philadelphia, whose sixth-place National League finish earned a playoff spot for the first-time ever.

How fun. Wake me when it’s over.   

•••

WSU: Colton Clark was pretty much on his own last night. Even we had other responsibilities and didn’t watch most of the game live, so there was no TV Take. But he was up to the task with a game story, the difference makers, a story on quarterback Cam Rising not playing for the Utes and another on the Wazzu logo. … Tyler Tjomsland was also in Pullman and he has this photo gallery. … The folks in the office put together the usual recap with highlights. … There is also quite a few stories to share from the Salt Lake City area, as Utah is always well covered. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and college football, Jon Wilner has some thoughts in the Mercury News on the upcoming schedule. … Utah has a win. Now the other Big Four conference schools have to keep up. Oregon kicks it off in Berkeley at 12:30 (FS1), hoping to continue the momentum that has been building recently. … USC travels to Arizona for the Wildcats’ homecoming game. The 4 p.m. game (Pac-12) could be a trap. … UCLA is also holding its homecoming game, but the 7:30 start (ESPN) in the Rose Bowl isn’t as intimidating for visiting Stanford. … The other game? That pits interim coaches from Arizona State and host Colorado. That game is scheduled for 4:30 (ESPNU). … In basketball news, believe it or not, Mike Hopkins is in his sixth year as Washington’s coach. Matt Calkins thinks it’s time to win. … Arizona would love nothing more than years and years of having the chance to defeat UCLA.

Gonzaga: Jim Meehan takes care of the preview of tonight’s exhibition while Theo Lawson, who is also in Texas, has this story on another Zag on an award watch list. This one concerns Drew Timme.

EWU: The Eagles host Portland State on Saturday and there will be a familiar face on the Vikings’ sideline. John Johnson, who once was athletic director at Eastern, is in his first year with PSU. Dan Thompson talked with Johnson for this story. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, neither host Weber State nor Montana can afford to lose their noon matchup tomorrow. … UC Davis and Cal Poly are rivals in name only. … Montana State recruits Minnesota for some reason. Well, it is close.

Idaho: The other game pitting the best in the Big Sky conference? That’s in Sacramento, where the Hornets host the Vandals with a share of first-place, at least, on the line.

Preps: The weekend got underway with a key end-of-the-regular-season GSL volleyball match. Mt. Spokane earned the top 3A seed with a four-set victory over rival Mead. Madison McCord was there and has this story. … Dave Nichols was at Union Stadium to cover Rogers’ 41-21 win over North Central in football. … Dave also has a roundup of Thursday’s other action. … Keenan Gray has this story on Mt. Spokane’s cross country standout Charlotte Pedersen.

Seahawks: The Hawks host the New York football Giants (and you have to be of a certain age to understand that Howard Cosell reference). What should you look for? … Once again, Geno Smith has a chance to compete against a former team. … With DK Metcalf out, all eyes turn to Marquise Goodwin.  

Mariners: The big news in baseball, of course, is the World Series. But as soon as the Astros bang out another title, everyone’s eyes turn to free agency. Will the M’s sign a new shortstop? … Cal Raleigh and Julio Rodriguez are up for Silver Slugger awards.

Kraken: Vancouver had yet to win a game. Until they played Seattle last night. It was a battle.

Sounders: Three Seattle players are trying to make their countries’ World Cup squads.

•••       

• A Saturday in late October without a WSU game? Darn it. Now there is no excuse not to rake up the pine needles. Until later …

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