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

A Grip on Sports: What has a worse future, the Cougars’ bowl hopes or the Pac-12? Unless the defense steps up, the former

A GRIP ON SPORTS • The Pac-12 is going out with a whole bunch of banging football games, isn’t it?


• What a season. Heck, Saturday alone had more plot twists, more explosions and more action than a Marvel movie. Even those that feature Dr. Strange.

Now, if we could just find an infinity stone and rewind back to spring of 2022 and somehow figure out a way to keep the cast together.

Not going to happen. This isn’t a movie. It’s real life. And in real life, money trumps peace, justice and the American way – if you will forgive the unforgivable comic book mashup.

Still, we have this season. And it is something special.

How often in the past decade have we had, on one Saturday, so much in the way of inconceivable results – and yes, unlike Vizzini, we know what that word means.

– Oregon goes into Salt Lake City and undresses Utah’s defense all game long. Heck, the Duck offensive lineman lived on the second level. And the UO defense didn’t even seemed stress for most of the game. It was a beatdown, with the tougher team winning. Only this time, that tougher team wore green.

– Oregon State goes into Tucson and kicks away a special season. Well, to be more accurate, didn’t kick it. Faked kicked it. The call may haunt Jonathan Smith for years.

– USC goes into Berkeley and plays a game of chicken with a rampaging Bear. And somehow wins. In the last game between these two schools, California loses in the most California way possible. A pregame on-field protest, a first-half play ran after halftime because the officials didn’t want to shoo the band off the field and a go-for-broke late-game two-point conversion decision that fails.

– Washington goes to the Bay Area, fights off the sniffles and then Stanford in an atmosphere that seems more akin to a State Department seminar on the threatened oceans than a football game. Thankfully, for the conference’s playoff chances at least, the Cardinal comes to their senses and drops their final chance at an upset.

– Colorado goes into the Rose Bowl, sees around 80,000 folks in the place and decides they want to see the guys in the baby blue uniforms hit the quarterback. They oblige. And the Bruins? Their script has every quarterback on the roster tossing an interception. Pretty bad writing, but they do as directed. And still win.

– And the Cougars? They may be going nowhere this December if they keep playing defense as if Alex Grinch is still the coordinator. If not for Grinch’s USC squad, we would label WSU as the most disappointing defensive team in the conference. But we get it. And we see what Jeff Schmedding is trying to do.

Washington State lacks team speed again. Aggressiveness can’t cover it up. In fact, it’s causing more problems as the Cougs constantly overrun plays and get burned with backside cuts. The bad angles aren’t helping the tackling either. In the past few weeks WSU has gone from a group that understood its defensive fits to one that couldn’t find the right gap with a Star Lord leading the way.

Marvelous it isn’t.

• Never. That’s what we would say if asked. The question? Would you live in the Eastern Time Zone?

There are some beautiful and alluring spots in the East. No doubt about it. But as a sports fan, it’s just too darn hard. College football games beginning at 10:30 or 11 at night. World Series’ games at 8 p.m. and finishing nearly the next morning. The NFL kicking off at 1 and 4 before hosting a late-night Sunday extravaganza.

There just aren’t enough European-based golf events we care about to offset such things.

The only way we would agree to moving to this part of the nation is if we can somehow re-program our body clock and turn into the anti-Ben Franklin. But, at our age, that seems impossible. For now, late to bed and late to rise makes a football fan unhealthy, poorly and a wise-guy.


WSU: We’ve said enough. Shared our thoughts. Had our TV Take. Now we turn the spotlight on Greg Woods. He has his game analysis. His recap with highlights. His story on a key absence. His difference makers. … We also can pass along a photo gallery from Tempe. … And, before we move on, the stories from Arizona State’s side of the street. Or should we say Mill Avenue? … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, Jon Wilner doesn’t seem to be producing his Saturday Night Five anymore, so we can’t pass it along. However, we have a bunch of national stories that cover the Pac-12’s day, along with John Canzano opining on the statement Oregon coach Dan Lanning made after the game. Others cover the ones his team made earlier in the day.

Now on to yesterday’s other Pac-12 games …

• No. 8 Oregon 35, No. 13 Utah 6: This just doesn’t happen in Rice-Eccles Stadium. Not often anyway. But the Ducks shined, the Utes seems unable to do anything about it and, yes, the tougher team won once again in this series. The toughest player? Mentally it is Bo Nix, the Oregon quarterback who is slowly re-inserting himself in the Heisman race.

• No. 24 USC 50, California 49: We’re not at all surprised Justin Wilcox decided to go for two in the waning seconds and the game on the line. What did surprise us, though, is how poorly the Trojans tackled. We always thought the Cougars under Alex Grinch wrapped up pretty well. Not his latest group. Talented guys with little regard to getting their opponent on the ground.

• No. 5 Washington 42, Stanford 33: Something is wrong with the Huskies. Is Michael Penix Jr. hurt in some way? We know he was sick yesterday, as were many of his teammates. But just imagine how bad they would have felt if Stanford had converted the fourth-down trick play and scored, with UW only up a couple points? And if the outcome had turned.

• No. 23 UCLA 28, Colorado 16: This headline is further from the truth than a Pravda story back in the day. The Big Ten won’t have Deion Sanders and Colorado. Or the Buffsleaky offensive line. It will have Indiana and Iowa and unappealing matchups with no history. UCLA, however, might have one last Pac-12 title. Watch out for the Bruins. They are getting better and their schedule is not awful.

• Arizona 27, No. 11 Oregon State 24: What is it about the state of Oregon’s football coaches and fourth-down decisions in road games? Lanning may have cost the Ducks a national title shot in Seattle and Smith may have cost the Beavers a conference title in Tucson. A fake field goal from the 16-yard line as the first half ended? In what turned out to be a three-point loss?

Gonzaga: The Zags’ cross country program is on a roll. The Bulldogs rolled in the WCC title races Saturday.

EWU: There is little in the way of defensive tradition at Eastern. Offense, yes. Winning? That too. But we can’t remember the last time the Eagles had a shutdown defense. Not this year, that’s for sure. Portland State did what Portland State does, run the ball, and the Eagles did what they’ve done too often this season, allow it to happen. Dan Thompson has this game story from the 47-35 road defeat as well as a notebook on how it happened. Spoiler alert: PSU ran for 403 yards. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, who wins the title with three teams tied at 4-1 with three weeks left? Montana, which smoked winless Northern Colorado 40-0 yesterday, and Montana State meet in Missoula to end the season. But the Griz also host Sacramento State, a 51-16 winner over Idaho State on Saturday, and travel to PSU before the showdown. MSU has two home games (Northern Arizona and EWU). It’s Idaho’s schedule that is conducive to a title (UNC, Weber and ISU), though Montana holds the tiebreaker. … Northern Arizona handled UC Davis 38-21 in Flagstaff.

Idaho: The really tough part of the ninth-ranked Vandals’ Big Sky schedule finished last night. And it ended with UI handing second-ranked Montana State its first conference loss, 24-21 as the Bobcats missed a 43-yard field goal in the final 20 seconds. Colton Clark has the game story.

Whitworth: Quietly. Under-the-radar. Whatever word or phrase you want to use to describe the Pirates’ undefeated 2023 season, it works. Yes, undefeated. They continued their run Saturday with a 63-21 rout at Lewis & Clark.

Preps: The 3A slowpitch title came down to two GSL squads, Mt. Spokane and University. It’s appropriate the final came down to two outs with the bases loaded in the seventh inning. It was the Wildcats who got the final out and the 18-17 championship game victory. … Mt. Spokane also won the 3A District boys’ cross country title Saturday. Greg Lee has that story. … Dave Nichols has his Friday Night (High)lights column. … And Dave finishes up this section with a roundup of the other Saturday action.

Chiefs: Dave was also in the Arena last night as Everett skated past Spokane 6-2.

Seahawks: We’ll be in a nearby Buffalo Wild Wings this evening to watch the Hawks host the Browns. We’re pretty sure we won’t be able to find a Polish Boy or a Paczki on the menu, but when we are away from home we can’t always eat like the opponent’s fans eat. Will the Hawks feed on the Cleveland offense? Can Geno Smith take care of the ball for Pete Carroll? All questions will be answered by this evening.

Kraken: Another multi-goal lead on this road trip melted away as Seattle fell in Florida 3-2 to the Panthers. … Joey Daccord was in goal for the third consecutive game.

Mariners: The Diamondbacks tied up the World Series with a 9-1 victory in Texas, riding the continued hot pitching of world traveler Merrill Kelly.


• We’re going to see if we can find some Paczki today. Low-carb diet be darned. It’s football, man. And you have to respect the traditions. Until later …