Deion Sanders took the turf on Gesa Field for the first (and probably last) time Friday night, not looking like he was feeling anything close to his prime.
“A touch of the flu,” is how FS1’s Tim Brando described it. Whatever, it didn’t get any better for Colorado’s head coach, as Washington State scored on offense, defense and special teams – in the first quarter alone – en route to a 56-14 victory.
Brando, the veteran, was joined by another, Spencer Tillman. And, as the game wore on, Josh Sims was kept busy reporting from the sidelines.
What they saw
• What could go right for the Cougars, who snapped their six-game losing streak, went right on senior night, from defense (Ron Stone Jr. and Brennan Jackson had their best game since September, combining for 13 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries) to offense (Cameron Ward completed 18 of 30 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns, adding two more running scores before leaving in the third quarter) and everywhere in between clicked.
The best example was Jackson, playing his final game in Pullman. He celebrated by leading the game in rushing yards. Well, sort of. He rumbled for 114 yards and two touchdowns on two fumble returns.
Conversely, nothing went right for Sanders’ Buffaloes.
The capper? Stone, Jackson and their defensive mates sacked Sanders’ son Shedeur, the starting quarterback, four times in the first quarter – he’s been sacked a nation-leading 52 times – and had to leave the field before the half ended, after having been hit after an inadvertent fumbled snap. He did not return for the second half.
Ryan Staub took over after having thrown just two passes all year. After a 2-for-5 performance, he also did not play most of the third quarter, with third-stringer Gavin Kuld, a walk-on, taking his first snaps of the year. Staub returned for the end of the game.
The Buffaloes finished with just 255 yards, more than half after they trailed by seven touchdowns.
• As bad as the offense was, the lack of resistance from Colorado’s defense had to bother Sanders, the Hall of Fame defensive back, more.
The last first-half score epitomized the surrender better than anything. On a first-and goal from the 2, the Cougars (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) did what Brando called “the Pullman push” and scored with ease. That made it 42-7 with 57 seconds left.
“It has been one big play after another for Washington State,” is how Brando described it – accurately.
What we saw
• What is a Pac-12 game without someone in the booth shaking their head in amazement over a call? Or, in Friday’s case, a couple of noncalls?
The first came with almost 14 minutes left in the second quarter. No one saw it except the FS1 cameras. Certainly no one officiating the game.
The Cougars’ Kyle Williams was running a pattern near the sideline when Colorado’s two-way star, Travis Hunter, turned into an MMA fighter. The defensive back grabbed Williams and wrestled him through the Colorado (4-7, 1-7) players all the way until the receiver finally hit a table and finally got hold of Hunter’s helmet and ripped it off.
As one might guess, words were exchanged.
More were later, but after Williams bear-hugged Hunter near the goal line and Nakia Watson knifed into the end zone behind it for the Cougars’ fourth first-half score. This time the words were between Hunter and line judge Henrietta Powell, who seemed to be explaining she didn’t see it.
Tillman certainly did and reflected everyone watching by saying, “I don’t know how you miss that call.”
Brando pointed out that Hunter could easily have been cited for unsportsmanlike conduct on the earlier play, but echoed Tillman’s thoughts.
• The head shaking? It continued before halftime.
Ward tried to connect with Josh Kelly deep over the middle. Corner Cormani McClain slipped and grabbed Kelly on his way down. Back judge John Morton threw his flag. And Tillman explained how the interference happened.
Except … it wasn’t interference. The flag was picked up.
“There was no foul on the play,” first-year lead referee Chris Wiggins announced. “The play was deemed to be a legal play.”
Brando interjected a comment on intent, something Wiggins didn’t mention on air, an explanation Tillman wasn’t buying.
“It may not have been intentional, but you can’t say he didn’t interfere with the receiver,” he said.
“Yeah, I’m with ya.” Brando responded. It didn’t matter – in more ways than one.
The Cougars kept driving and scored six plays later on a Ward 1-yard run, the fourth of eight touchdowns.
• With the game outcome determined early, Brando and Tillman covered everything from Sanders’ first year in Boulder to conference realignment to the weekend ahead to the amount of electronic equipment in Tillman’s home office. Those things happen in a 42-point game.