A GRIP ON SPORTS • The Seahawks are playing in Baltimore. They will be tested by one of the NFL’s best defenses. By one of the NFL’s most elusive quarterbacks. It should be entertaining if not downright fun. And yet we can’t get yesterday’s football out of our head. Mainly because of what happened in Pullman.
• If athletics, and more specifically, football, serves as a university’s front porch, then Washington State’s is littered with moldy pumpkins and rotting corns husks right now. Is it time to sweep it clean?
In a year in which the Cougars saw their Power 5 welcome mat pulled out from under their feet, they were presented with a couple of golden opportunities. They have squandered one. The on-field one.
The Cougs started the season 4-0. They dominated the nonconference, including out-muscling one of the Big Ten’s muscle schools. They began the Pac-12 with a close but satisfying home win against the conference’s other left-out school, Oregon State. They reached as high as No. 13 in the rankings.
Boy did that turn out to be unlucky. And, as the calendar turned to October, they seemed to lose focus. Their relatively inexperienced head coach, Jake Dickert, allowed it to wander, getting caught up in a war of words with a couple of ESPN personalities, one a hallowed icon, the other a sleeve-less doofus. Neither was a winning conflict – and led to a bye week that seemed to change everything.
Since taking a week off, Washington State has not only failed to win, it has failed to find answers.
Last night’s 10-7 loss to a Stanford team that had given up at least 40 points in four consecutive games put a bow on the whole bloody mess. Yes, it rained much of the game. The conditions made it tough for either team to do much of anything offensively. And yes, the Cougars are beat up, with key players out on both sides of the ball.
But it’s November and such things are to be expected. What isn’t is how little certain areas have improved. Offensive line play is still a problem, with too many communication breakdowns to overcome. Tackling is still an issue. As is decision making – in multiple forms.
One thing is certain. The mounting losses have made one fear disappear, that of Dickert being poached by another school. Though it’s easy for a disgruntled WSU follower to wonder if that’s a good thing. It is.
Dickert is the right guy to lead Washington State into its uncertain future. He may be young. He may still be learning his craft, including whom to trust as assistant coaches, but he’s committed to success. Driven. Loyal. The perfect choice to grow and learn as the school tries to grab its place in the college athletics hierarchy.
Which brings us to the other golden opportunity. It will take place up the road in Colfax on Nov. 14. A court hearing in which Oregon State, Washington State and the departing 10 schools should learn at least segment of who controls the conference’s assets – this year and beyond. The wins and losses on the field? Important in the short term. The court’s decision? Crucial long term.
WSU still can salvage this football season to some degree. Upset Cal on the road Saturday, return home and get past Colorado the next Friday and make a bowl trip in this Pac-12’s final season would do it. Heck, finding a way to upset unstoppable Washington in the last Apple Cup – for now – would do it too, no matter what happens in the two weeks preceding it.
Last night was awful on so many levels. There is no way round it. The near-term future looks bleak. The long-term is cloudy at best. But one thought keeps running through our head.
Has Washington State ever had it any other way?
WSU: It wasn’t pretty. From the wind, rain, broadcast issues – the on-field microphone must have come off the clearance rack of a now-closed Radio Shack – and the multiple faux pas from the Pac-12 officials, it was hard to watch. Then the outcome made it hard to swallow any positive outcome to the season for the Cougars. That’s the point of Greg Woods’ game analysis. … He also has his recap with highlights and the difference makers. … Geoff Crimmins braved the conditions to deliver this photo gallery. … We watched, spit out our coffee a couple times and pounded out a TV Take. … There was coverage from the Bay Area, which focused on the success of the Stanford defense. The Cardinal were better but they were helped considerably by the weather and WSU miscues. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, Jon Wilner returns to putting together a Saturday Night Five in the Mercury News. Cougar fans might want to avert their eyes. … Stewart Mandel’s thoughts on the national title chase? It could get ugly. Too many top schools, not nearly enough spots. Well, that changes next year. Like everything else. … As always, there were winners and losers. … In basketball news, Wilner has his thoughts on the national scene, including how the Pac-12 and Gonzaga fit in. … We can pass along stories about California and Stanford. There is also a preview for the Stanford women. … With the season beginning this week, there are also more stories about Arizona.
• Here is what happened in Saturday’s football games …
• No. 16 Utah 55, Arizona State 3: Maybe the Utes should have been running their offense at warp speed all season. They did it Saturday against the Sun Devils and destroyed all semblance of hope. Washington better beware next week.
• No. 6 Oregon 63, California 19: The Ducks did what they were supposed to do, roll an overmatched opponent in Autzen. That should make Phil Knight happy, something John Canzano covers. And keep them in the midst of the national title hunt. For Cal, not only did the defeat hurt, it also came with a scary injury, leaving one Bear hospitalized after a third-quarter hit.
• No. 5 Washington 52, No. 20 USC 42: One could spend an hour or so picking apart the Huskies’ 9-0 record. But, as Christian Caple points out, they are 9-0. They just win. And they play offense however they have to. Yesterday it was running through the porous USC defense. The outcome left Caleb Williams bereft and some wondering if Lincoln Riley’s loyalty to Alex Grinch cost the Trojans their national title dreams. One thing is certain. Riley won’t be able to bring Grinch back. Which is a tough part of a tough business.
• No. 16 Oregon State 26, Colorado 19: For three quarters, the Beavers looked like a dominant team. The fourth quarter? They let the Buffs run roughshod until crunch time. If OSU wants to stay in the conference title hunt, they will have to finish better, according to Canzano. The changes Colorado instituted this week didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
• Arizona 27, No. 19 UCLA 10: The Wildcats are playing as well as anyone in the conference currently. And they are playing physically, knocking out two Bruin quarterbacks en route to the win in Tucson. UCLA couldn’t move the ball against UA’s stingy defense.
Gonzaga: Theo Lawson takes one last look at Friday’s exhibition win over Lewis-Clark State. Dusty Stromer, Braden Huff and comparing GU and Arizona all play a role in the story. … The Gonzaga women won their first WCC soccer title yesterday, clinching it with a 3-1 road victory over Pepperdine. The Zags move on to their second NCAA tourney appearance. … Elsewhere in the WCC, we can pass along season previews for Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara and USF. … Also, for the Santa Clara women.
EWU: The Eagles haven’t had a lot of fast starts this season. They certainly did Saturday and used it to roll Paul Wulff’s Cal Poly team 48-13 in Cheney. Dan Thompson has the game story and a notebook. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, there were no big upsets in the conference, unless you count fourth-ranked Montana routing No. 7 Sacramento State 34-7 in Missoula an upset. We don’t. … Sixth-ranked Montana State bounced back against visiting Northern Arizona 45-21. … Weber State choked off any Idaho State upset hopes early, winning 33-21 on the road. … UC Davis handled Portland State 37-23.
Whitworth: On Senior Day, the Pirates gave their graduating players a huge gift. But not before almost handing one to George Fox. The present? Whitworth will meet Linfield next Saturday with the Northwest Conference title on the line. Both schools will be undefeated. Ethan Myers has more in this game story.
Idaho: It’s understandable the third-ranked Vandals had a bit of a letdown after their big home win over Montana State. But to let winless Northern Colorado hang around and have hope in the fourth quarter? That’s a huge letdown. UI pulled away late, thanks in large part to a pick-six, and won 27-13. Colton Clark has the coverage.
Preps: It was a big Saturday, as it always is when State cross country titles are on the line. For the girls, East Valley’s won the 2A individual title and Lakeside the 1A team championship. Jeff Morrow has that story. … Jeff also has coverage of the boys’ races, with Valley Christian winning the 2B/1B championship and Mt. Spokane finishing second in the 3A ranks. … Football was also on tap, with Mt. Spokane and Ridgeline picking up home wins and advancing to the State 3A playoffs. Luke Pickett has the coverage of the Falcons’ first appearance while Dave Nichols handles the Wildcats’ shutout of Roosevelt. … Dave also has a roundup of Saturday’s other action.
Chiefs: Dave also spent his evening monitoring Spokane’s 4-3 loss in Tri-City.
Seahawks: Most readers of this column will probably be leaning toward the Hawks this morning. But the experts are on Baltimore’s side. Though the spread (Ravens -6) seems a bit wide. … The game is a good measuring stick for the Hawks. … Seattle will see an old friend today. Hopefully, Geno Smith won’t.
Kraken: Seattle just played poorly. That is the only way to explain a 6-3 home loss to the not-so-good Flames.
Sounders: Seattle had a chance to finish off its best-of-three series with Dallas but fell 3-1 in Frisco, Texas. The deciding match will be at Lumen Field on Friday night.
Mariners: Larry Stone is retiring from the Seattle Times next week. We won’t be able to read columns like this one anymore. That makes us sad.
• Our menu today? Crabby crab cakes (yum). Corn salad (OK). Baltimore’s version of black-and-white cookies (delicious, we hope). And a low-scoring, Pete Carroll-inspired game. We think the under (44) is the right play. But what do we know? The last time we bet on a Baltimore team, the Mets pulled a miracle. Until later …