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TV take: Washington State’s loss to California was totally ‘Pac-12’, from the officiating to the broadcast

By Vince Grippi The Spokesman-Review

There was an upset in Berkeley, one that had nothing to do with the result on the field – though the way Washington State’s totally Pac-12 42-39 loss to host California played out was upsetting to any Cougar follower and those who hoped the conference’s last season wouldn’t be marred by officiating issues.

No, the biggest upset occurred a couple of weeks ago, when a game between the Pac-12 cellar dwellers, WSU and California, was picked by ESPN2 for broadcast.

It was a game between two teams with two conference wins combined. And it screamed Pac-12 Networks. Instead, ESPN’s West Coast crew, Beth Mowins on play-by-play and with a pair of San Diego State grads, Kirk Morrison (analyst) and Stormy Buonantony (sideline reporter), in support, were called upon.

Actually, though, a typical Pac-12 game broke out. A long scoop and score. An offensive lineman fumble recovery for a score. An egregiously missed pick play for a third. A litany of penalties.

And that was just for, or by, the Bears. In the first half.

The second half was even worse. At least for the Cougars, who lost for the sixth consecutive time, victimized by their mistakes, a fake injury that cost WSU a big play and one Jaydn Ott explosion. And, as is the Pac-12 way, to referee Mark Duddy and his crew, which made a crucial misstep with time winding down.

What they saw

• The misstep? The Cougars, trailing by three, hit a 14-yard pass to get deep into Cal territory – all the while catching the Bears with an extra man on the field.

But that Bears player, as WSU was snapping the ball, took a knee a couple of yards from the sideline – at the orders, it looked, of a Cal coach.

“The player was running off and was told to go down,” Morrison said, something Mowins agreed with. According to Morrison, after the play, the Bears player walked off.

WSU head coach Jake Dickert certainly didn’t agree with the result – no play – and had an animated conversation with Duddy. The result stood and WSU had lost 14 yards. That came up big as Dean Janikowski ended up missing the tying field goal from 48 yards a minute later.

• For most of the game, Washington State hung around, mainly because its defense slowed the key to the California (4-6, 2-5) attack: Ott.

The back was a sure-thing 100-yard-per-game runner last season, until WSU held him to 70 yards on 17 carries in Pullman. Same this season, with Ott limited to 75 yards until Cal’s first fourth-quarter drive. It began after Janikowski missed a 42-yard field goal that would have pulled WSU within a point.

In five plays, Ott had covered 75 yards in five carries, was in the end zone and had more than 1,000 yards for the season.

And then another in a long line of weird Pac-12 plays reared its head. Trailing by 11, WSU’s Cameron Ward dropped back to pass for the 39th time. David Reese swiped at Ward from behind, the ball flew forward 10 yards and Nohl Williams was the only one to react. The Bears defender picked it up and returned it 52 yards for a clinching score.

A fumble? That’s what Duddy called it but, in a game dominated by reviews, this play would be reviewed, right? ESPN2 showed a blurry replay, one from a long distance, and Morrison declared, “It looks to me, at first glance, that’s an empty hand.” Not sure if the former linebacker has X-ray vision or what, but it was impossible to determine anything from the angle viewers were shown.

Seconds later, the PAT was through and WSU was, well, not done, but in too deep a hole to escape.

What we saw

• ESPN2 had the game, but there were plenty of Pac-12 Networks-type issues. Not enough cameras. Bad angles with tough-to-navigate shadows. Replays that rarely seemed clear. And way too much talking, on at least in the first quarter on what turned out to be an incidental play.

Here’s the scene. For the second time in the first 10 minutes, WSU decided to try to convert a fourth down from its 34. Ward threw the ball to the right flat to Carlos Hernandez, who raced wide, trying to get to the 35, the line to gain. It was obvious to the viewer at home he did, pushing the ball ahead before he was tackled. But it wasn’t to head linesman Harold Mitchell, inches from the play. For some reason, he marked the ball short of the 35.

Duddy decided to measure something that obviously didn’t need to be measured. As he announced the ball was short, Mowins and Morrison began talking. They talked so loudly, they didn’t hear Duddy continue. Replay had already reviewed Mitchell’s inaccurate mark and reset the ball just past the 35. First down, Washington State. The offense stayed on the field.

Which surprised Mowins. As soon as she saw it, she assumed Duddy had “pointed the wrong way.”

As WSU continued what turned out to be a 14-play, 75-yard scoring drive, Morrison returned to Duddy pointing the wrong way, as he thought happened. He never realized he just was busy talking over the replay announcement.

Come to think of it, maybe even Pac-12 Networks announcers wouldn’t have been that obtuse.

• What is it about Berkeley? It wasn’t too long ago the Cougars lost 67 yards on a play the Bears committed the penalty. This one began with a call that was not reminiscent at all of that blown kickoff in 2019 but still cost Washington State dearly.

On the Cougars’ first drive, they decided to try a quarterback sneak on a fourth-and-1 at the California 46. Bears linebacker Cade Uluave, who would have another touchdown-keying fumble recovery later, flew over the line and didn’t try to tackle Ward, just rip the ball free as Ward was being pushed back. It worked. Uluave wrestled the ball out, scooped it up and ran 51 yards for a touchdown. There were just a couple of problems.

Line judge Matt Dornan was running in from the Cal sideline, seemingly to mark the ball at the line to gain. Which means he saw Ward and the ball at that point. The fumble, which happened at the 48, may have come after forward progress had been stopped – at least that’s what Dornan’s actions seemed to indicate.

Plus, as Mowins described the play, she uttered a loud, “Extra D-lineman …” a statement that was followed by a noise that may have been a whistle. Were either reviewed? Not likely, as it was less than 45 seconds between the time Uluave crossed the goal line and the extra point began.