If you are going to sit in front of the big screen for more than three hours watching a college football game, having a close one is certainly preferable. Professional announcing also helps. And then a win by the team you’re watching? That’s the helmet sticker everyone wants.
All came into play Saturday afternoon as Washington State, with new coach Jake Dickert returning home, upset host Wisconsin 17-14 in Madison.
“Come to their coach’s home state,” Fox play-by-play man Jason Benetti said as the camera showed Dickert crossing the field, his voice gone but his emotion showing. “He said, at some point it will be a dream come true to be on this field. How about right now, with zeroes, with an upset win this September Saturday?”
“That’s a program changer,” analyst Brock Huard added after praising the play of quarterback Cam Ward, who completed 17 of 28 passes for 200 yards and what proved to be the game-winning touchdown . “A program definer for a head coach whose team played their tails off for him today.”
What they saw
• Huard isn’t flashy. He’s just good at what he does.
Yes, Huard, the former University of Washington and Seahawk quarterback, can talk too much. That’s not unusual. What is, however, how often he says only a little but covers a lot.
Take the 31-yard third-quarter touchdown reception Nakia Watson had to give the 17.5-point underdog Cougars the lead for good.
The play was jump-started by Ward’s feet and made possible because Watson, the former Badger, made safety Kamo’I Latu miss in the flat.
Huard marveled at how “the ultimate team game so often comes down to those man-on-man battles.”
• The narrative going in focused upon Washington State’s race-car speed defensively against Wisconsin’s dump trucks up front. And, yes, Huard acknowledged it early, saying “in time, those body blows wear down” the smaller opponent. But he didn’t dwell on it.
He came back to the supposed mismatch on a Wisconsin’s final fourth-quarter drive – that turned into two drives. The first was 14 plays, ending in an interception that was, for the second time, fumbled back to the offense. The second was two plays, ending in what turned out to be a game-clinching Wisconsin fumble.
• Huard also delved deeper into the ancillary aspects of the Cougars’ emphasis on rush defense. The secondary was going to be on its own at times as WSU tried to clog lanes and pressure quarterback Graham Mertz.
Both first-half touchdowns came against man coverage, as the Cougars were forced to single cover Clay Cundiff. The coverage was tight, but the tight end was better.
• It wasn’t the turning point, but the last minute of the first half could have been. And Huard was all over it. The Cougars were tied at 7 with the ball and about 90 seconds left. But they were deep in their territory.
“Get the first first down,” Huard encouraged Ward and the Cougar offense. “Heck, just one first down, get to halftime, (you) get the ball to start the second half, you can’t give the ball back.”
They didn’t listen. Maybe it was because the Cougars thought Ward had picked up a first down with a quick pass to Lincoln Victor. Many – including Benetti – thought so.
The person who spotted the ball didn’t. Was Victor to the line? Maybe. It wasn’t reviewed. The second play was blown up, as was the third. Wisconsin got the ball back with about a minute and scored in four plays to take a 14-7 lead at intermission.
• The final Huard statement came late and could have been referring to the WSU defense being on the field for 75 plays – and shut out the Badgers after halftime. Or it could have been about Victor’s forcing of a fumble after a Wisconsin interception. Or a bunch of others. Whatever he was referring to, it was simple.
“Effort. Effort. Effort,” he said as the clock wound down. “It’s what these Cougs have given (Jake Dickert).”
What we saw
• Not the first few plays of the game. Instead we were treated to a My Pillow ad, a Fox promo, another ad, another promo and then, well after Alabama had held off Texas – and the obligatory Nick Saban interview – were we allowed to see the Washington State game.
At least we were taken to Madison before the Cougars’ first offensive possession. You know, their best one.
One other thing about the wait. It was foreshadowing. The game wasn’t controlled by Wisconsin’s offensive line or the Cougars’ edge rushers. Nope. It was dominated by commercials. Hundreds of them. Fox must be already working to pay off the billion it owes the Big Ten in the next media contract.
• Why is there review in college football? It isn’t utilized well enough to continue.
One late first-quarter play illustrated that perfectly. On a third-and-3 from its 17, Wisconsin threw an out route to Chimere Dike, who wrestled the ball away from Armani Marsh and made the catch. Fine. But the play should have been reviewed. Even though Washington State called a timeout to give replay a chance to look at it, it wasn’t. Not for the catch but, more importantly, not for the mark.
The ball was put on the Wisconsin 21, good for a first down. But the replay Fox showed made it clear Dike didn’t wrestle the ball away until the Wisconsin side of the 20, as both came back to the quarterback. No review of the mark, which should have made it fourth down.
When Fox brought Dean Blandino, the network’s officiating analyst, examined the catch, all he discussed was the mechanics of calling the catch.
Should Dickert have thrown a challenge flag? Sure. He didn’t, but he shouldn’t have been forced to. The system is designed, in theory, to avoid challenges. It failed.
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