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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A Grip on Sports: The Cougars’ winning streak ends, Idaho’s rolls on and there were a couple of weird finishes in college football

A GRIP ON SPORTS • It was a long day of college football yesterday. One that stretched well into the night. One in which Washington State’s undefeated season melted in the Pasadena heat. And USC’s defense iced a win a few miles away in the L.A. Coliseum. Wait, can we write that last sentence and still keep our credibility?

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• Technically, yes. The Trojans stuffed Arizona’s two-point conversion attempt in the third overtime, sealing the ninth-ranked team in the nation’s 43-41 win over the not-ninth-ranked-team. And, no, it wasn’t the only stop Alex Grinch’s crew made on Saturday. It only seemed that way.

No matter. As the sun rises on the best day of the year – at least we think so – the Trojans remain undefeated. The same can’t said of the Cougars. Mainly because UCLA’s defense, which ranks just above Utah as the Pac-12’s best, exposed Wazzu’s Achilles’ heel. Greg Woods delves deeper into that than we will but we did want to emphasize once more how crucial offensive line play is in college football. We beat that drum until our arms ache but only because, darn it, it’s true.

There was another factor in play Saturday that caught us a little by surprise though. We knew it was going to be warm. A lot warmer than it has been on the Palouse the past few weeks. But the intensity of the 90-degree heat shocked even us.

This time of year, the sun begins its slow descent into winter’s depth in the north country. Even when it is warm, it doesn’t beat down. But in the Rose Bowl, it was. And, from two hours before kickoff, we wondered if the Cougars would lose a bit of energy in the second half.

Look, millions of words in this publication have been written concerning late fall’s snow and cold can impact players from south of the Oregon border. It’s even mythologized with names like the Snow Bowl and Snowmageddon. Not as much emphasis, however, is put on the opposite end of the coin. It’s not the only reason WSU lost yesterday. It’s not even in the top two or three. But it sure seemed to have played a factor, as the home team had a 16-7 edge after halftime.

And the Cougars’ usually dominate edge rushers, who rely on speed as much as anything, began coming up just short of disrupting Bruin quarterback Dante Moore. Add in everyone seemed a step slower as the game went on – the run fits began fitting less and less – and you have another factor in the season’s first loss.

But rejoice, Cougar fans. It could be worse. For proof, just look at Miami, who just needed to take a knee with 36 seconds left and it would be 5-0.

Instead, in shades of Joe Pisarcik (and yes, we know you have to be nearing ancient status to get that reference), the Hurricanes ran the football, fumbled it away and then lost a receiver in the secondary in the final seconds to snatch defeat from the vice-grips of victory.

To put it a more-modern context that WSU fans can actually relate to, it was even worse than the New Mexico Bowl loss.

• The team with the highest ceiling on the Palouse? Well, there’s the Cougar volleyball squad, for sure, ranked fourth nationally. But it’s Sunday and we are contractually obligated – no, not really – to focus on football.

So we shine our spotlight on the third-ranked Idaho Vandals. It’s not that their 42-14 win at Cal Poly is anything to go overboard about. The Mustangs are not good and it may be a while until Paul Wulff can restock their larder. Nope, UI was expected to win. And therein lies the lesson.

They did the expected and more. Won with ease. On the road. A week after a huge showdown with Eastern and the week before another one with Montana. Without, figuratively, breaking a sweat.

Jason Eck’s team is talented. But more importantly it exhibits a focus championship teams display.

The will need it over the next three weeks. The Griz visit Saturday night. The, following a fortuitous bye (Montana State plays at fourth-ranked Sacramento State that week), the Vandals host the second-ranked Bobcats (fixed from earlier). Win those two games and Idaho should close out the Big Sky season 8-0. And yes, as one of the top seeds to the FCS playoffs, which means a bye and home dates.

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WSU: We mentioned above Greg has his thoughts on the offensive woes yesterday and we share them here. … He also pointed out how well the secondary has played and put together the difference makers. … The talented Tyler Tjomsland has his usual great photo gallery. … We wandered the stands, talked with a bunch of folks about the conference’s demise for this column. No one is happy. … The folks in the office put together a recap with highlights. … From the UCLA side of things, the Bruins rallying actually seemed to surprise some folks. One thing to remember, the oddsmakers had UCLA and its impressive defense as a three-point favorite. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, Washington’s bye week was filled with a news event. The school filled its vacant athletic director position by hiring away Troy Dannen from Tulane. The Huskies also found out GameDay is headed their way next week for the showdown with Oregon. Both teams are in this Athletic Top 10. … Jon Wilner once again in the Mercury News outlines the schools culpable for the Pac-12 demise. Turns out all 10 that are leaving have a piece of it. … On the field, as we mentioned in passing, USC held on for a triple overtime home win over Arizona. The new overtime rules seem akin to soccer matches ending in penalty kicks but it can’t be. Everyone makes fun of those. By the way, Caleb Williams faced the same type of defensive scheme Washington used to throw at WSU quarterbacks in the Mike Leach era. He didn’t do well. … Oregon State got its offense on track. The Beavers scored 52 points against California. But they also yielded 40 to the Bears, not one of the best offenses in the league. John Canzano can’t wait any longer for both sides of the ball to reach its potential. … Colorado’s Alejandro Mata connected on a last-second, 43-yard field goal to lift the visitors to a 27-24 win over Arizona State but Deion Sanders was not happy. Ticked off might be a better description. The woeful Sun Devils gave Colorado fits all night. … Utah rested yesterday before its game next week with Stanford.

Gonzaga: The most spectacular day of the year popped up on the schedule yesterday, as the Zags held their annual Kraziness in the Kennel. There was the obligatory acknowledgement of the returnees, the star-turn for a newcomer or two and the usual revelation of a highly needed player not playing due to injury. Jim Meehan covers the last one, as his story on the day includes an update on transfer center Graham Ike. … Theo Lawson focuses on the family aspect of newcomer Luka Krajnovic’s first appearance in front of the fans. …  Jesse Tinsley has a photo report. … Theo also has the news the WCC home opener against pesky Pepperdine won’t be played in the Kennel but in the Arena.

Idaho: As we said, the Vandals rolled Saturday at Cal Poly, running around, through and over the Mustangs in a 42-14 victory. Colton Clark has this story. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, the upset of the week came in Ogden, where Northern Arizona handed 14th-ranked Weber State a 27-10 defeat. … In a battle of ranked teams, No. 13 Montana defeated 18th-ranked UC Davis 31-23 in California. The road win means a lot for UM.

Whitworth: The Pirates traveled to Salem, Oregon and capitalized on every Willamette mistake in a 59-7 Northwest Conference rout.

Preps: We can pass along a roundup of Saturday’s action, dominated by cross country events.

Chiefs: Dave Nichols has this coverage of Spokane’s second loss in two days, a 6-3 defeat in Kelowna.

Seahawks: Geno Smith was fined for taunting the Giants’ bench. Probably feels it was worth it. Wonder if the guy who almost ended his season was fined as well. Probably not.

Mariners: We’ve mentioned this before but Julio Rodriguez and Luis Castillo, the highest-paid position player and pitcher, have to shoulder at least some responsibility for how the season ended.

Kraken: The roster moves have been made. The season opens Tuesday night. What happens for Seattle? It should be fun.

Sounders: Three points would have been better but at least Seattle didn’t lose to Vancouver. The scoreless draw gave goalkeeper Stefan Frei part ownership of a record.

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• Ok, we’re done. Now we can spend the rest of this birthday Sunday sitting in front of the TV, watching Scott Hanson and the RedZone. What, our sister doesn’t pay for it? What is she, a commie or something? Guess we will have to go for a drive or something. Seems un-American to us but what do we know? By the way, my favorite birthday picture resides in our kitchen. It was from our 40th. Played golf at Qualchan with seven close friends and relatives. It was hot, like today will be in Spokane. We all were wearing shorts. We like the picture because it reminds us on a daily basis how shorts are not our best look. And we still wear them every day between April 1 and our birthday if we can. Comfort over beauty we always say. Until later …