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The good, bad and ugly of WSU’s loss to USC

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So close. So close.

Washington State v USC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Good morning. Well that sucked, and I fully realize these opinions are like day-old bakery bread - stale and unwanted. Welp, you’re gonna get them anyway because I want to vent and this is my main venue since my wife and kids (thankfully, ok very thankfully) don’t really care.

Before we get to the details, let’s talk about the macro view of what happened late Friday. For the second time in two years, WSU is better than USC. Unfortunately, anyone who has watched football for more than a week or two knows that the best team doesn’t always win. Such was the case here. And no, that doesn’t make this loss any easier to swallow.

Not only is WSU better than USC, they pretty much outplayed USC, on the road, on a short week. USC’s best play was the Joe Flacco special - throw it up and hope for pass interference. Unfortunately for the good guys, it turned out that strategy was good enough to emerge victorious.

This game reminded me a lot, eerily so, of WSU’s game at Notre Dame in 2003. Both times, the Cougs got out to a big lead, there were woes in the kicking game, WSU got a personal foul because they hit a QB who was on the ground, WSU couldn’t keep up with the opponent in the fourth quarter, etc. etc. Winning games at places like Notre Dame and USC is a special thing, regardless of how good or bad the opponent is. When you piss that chance away, it sucks.

With that, away we go.

The Good

  • In a span of four games, my attitude on Gardner Minshew has gone from “this guy is the best quarterback WSU has?” to “I might consider asking Gardner Minshew if he wants to move over here and live rent-free while my kids sleep outside once the season is over.” He is fearless, and very very good.
  • Speaking of my future adopted son, that second touchdown pass was incredible. He knew he was gonna get blasted, but he stood in there and delivered a dart to Easop Winston for the score.
  • Running the ball inside the 10 delivered good results again, at least in the first half.
  • Speaking of running the ball near the goal line, how about true freshman Max Borghi mashing the Truck Stick against two USC defenders enroute to the end zone?
  • Solid performance by the offensive line. Not perfect, but pretty darn good considering the exotic pressures Clancy Pendergast likes to bring.
  • Fourth down continues to produce good results, such as on the TD drive when WSU converted two of them. They even did better (nearly 50%) on third down. In retrospect, I wish they’d gone for one final fourth down.
  • Despite being a giant human, Abe Lucas is quite nimble, as evidenced by his ability to get out and block the corner on a bubble screen.
  • Easop Winston had a great game. I have a feeling that isn’t the last time I’ll write that.
  • Same for Dezmon Patmon.
  • I thought the defense did a good job of clamping down on the run after the first USC drive. However, those USC rushing stats are skewed quite a bit by the awful snaps that resulted in big losses.
  • My affinity for Oscar Draguicevich increases by the hour.

The Bad

  • Still can’t get pressure with the front four, and why Tracy Claeys didn’t bring more pressure against a skittish true freshman is mystifying.
  • As good as Minshew was, he missed pretty badly on a few checkdowns, as well as a sideline route to a wide open Jamire Calvin and a sure touchdown to Renard Bell. When you play USC, you can’t afford to miss those.
  • Logan Tago, you can’t hit a guy who is laying on the ground. You just can’t. You cost your team dearly.
  • No matter how many games Mike Leach coaches, he remains clueless when it comes to timeout use.
  • It’s almost as if WSU thinks it’s a crime punishable by death to have a clean game on special teams. Stupid kickoff philosophy, botched snap, muffed punt, blocker face plants on game-tying field goal try, I could go on. Inept special teams continue to be the difference between winning and losing, yet they seem unable or unwilling to adequately address the problems.
  • I’m shaking my head, again, as I write this one. There’s no way USC was snapping the ball on the fourth-and-long near the end of the first half. So of course sixth-year senior Peyton Pelluer jumps offsides, giving USC a free play, which results in yet another WSU pass interference penalty, and leads to three more USC points. Turns out those three points were kind of important.
  • I don’t know if USC paid special attention to him, but Tay Martin was largely absent.
  • Teams who toe a razor-thin line can’t afford too many penalties. WSU had 11.
  • You’re not fooling anybody with that super tight shot of the students at the beginning, ESPN. We all know hardly anyone bothered to show up.
  • Not sure where to put this, so I’ll put it in this category - Clay Helton: mouth breather.

The Ugly

  • Pac-12 refs. Rinse, repeat. I don’t think there’s some sort of grand cabal to keep USC alive. The simplest explanation is the most likely. They’ve always been incompetent, and they always will be.
  • But seriously from the missed Targeting call to the missed defensive holding on the blocked field goal to the god-awful spots, these idiots continue to hit rock bottom, only to find a jackhammer.
  • Why was USC’s best play “throw it up and hope for interference”? Well, because it worked nearly every time. I’ve watched 1000s of hours of football, and I strain to recall a more embarrassing performance by a group of defensive backs. And to think they were supposed to be the strength of the defense. Just awful.

I do see a glimmer of hope from Friday’s result. This Cougar team is better than I thought it would be, by a lot. Gardner Minshew is the kind of quarterback I wish they’d had behind center last season, and the offense as a whole is much better. If they stumble down the stretch and finish 5-7, Friday’s result will really, really hurt.

I don’t think they’ll go 5-7, because they’re better than 5-7. That’s what makes the next game critical. Win it, and the bad taste from this loss gets much easier to take. Lose, and it gets worse. The one thing in our favor is that, to his credit, Mike Leach has done a solid job of getting his players to flush the previous week from their memories pretty quickly (2015 Stanford and 2017 Arizona come to mind).

Now Utah comes to town, and I know deep down that the Cougars are better. Will that reflect on the scoreboard next Saturday evening? We can only hope.

Football

Analysis: Washington State could’ve used mulligan three times during final drive of narrow loss to USC | The Spokesman-Review
Spending 15 minutes inside WSU’s interview tent following the game, you didn’t get the sense the Cougars (3-1, 0-1) were ready to view their first loss of the 2018 season through the glass-half-full lens.

Saturday Night Five: Another Stanford-Oregon classic
The Pac-12 had a wild Week Four, with USC escaping Washington State, Stanford rallying past Oregon and ASU pushing Washington the brink.

Pac-12 Week 4 Thoughts, Recaps, What Happened & What Mattered
But the offense controlled the clock and the game, Minshew was terrific, and the Cougars were this close to pulling out a great road win to go 4-0.

Beer

Best beer I had this week: I’ve had a large amount of Belgian beers over the past month. Most are good, but I’ve taken a liking to Delirium Red. I’m not much for fruity-type beers, but it quite good.

2018 Great American Beer Festival's Most Popular Beers | Fortune
When a beer maker captures the interest and passion of attendees, word spreads fast.

Non-Sports

How Struggling Dayton, Ohio Reveals the Chasm Among American Cities | Left Behind America | FRONTLINE | PBS | Official Site
As a ProPublica/Frontline documentary shows, the economic and social gaps among cities are growing as dramatic as the gaps between urban and rural areas.