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The Good, Bad and Ugly of WSU’s loss at Cal

Almost good. Almost.

NCAA Football: Washington State at California Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The word “irony” is one of the most overly and incorrectly used terms in the English language. And maybe I’m about to use it incorrectly here, but I’m pressing ahead anyway. When WSU finishes this season with a 4-8 record overall record, and a 1-8 Pac-12 conference record, ironically, its only conference win will have come against the one school that is stuck with it among the ash heap of what used to be called the Pac-8/10/12. I think that’s ironic, but maybe I’m just an idiot.

Speaking of idiots, well, we’ll cover the game announcer and the officials further down the column. For now, let’s try to point out a few good things among the garbage barge that parked itself in Strawberry Canyon.

Before we get there, I have a confession to make. I spoke of my disbelief of the whole “Cal BS” narrative that seems to have permeated throughout the last decade or so. I tend to be an Occam’s Razor type of person, and yesterday, my initial take after Cam Ward gave away the game’s first touchdown was, “It’s not Cal BS, it’s the fact that WSU is a bad team.” Welp, after enduring nearly four hours of nonsense, I am officially a convert. Cal BS is real, and now it is dead. Long live Cal BS.

The Good

  • Despite digging itself multiple holes (most self-induced), and despite falling almost hopelessly behind in the game’s final quarter, the Cougs damn near rallied to win the game.
  • No more nonsensical Cal games.
  • Look at it this way, we don’t have to worry about tuning in to, or, worse yet, paying to attend another bowl game where WSU doesn’t leave the locker room and gets its ass kicked on national television.
  • The rushing attack was...effective? This may be my most heartening aspect of Saturday’s misery. Freshmen Djouvensky (DJ) Schlenbaker and Leo Pulalasi carried the ball a combined 20 times for 108 yards, often earning tough yards between the tackles. And to think that neither guy was supposed to see meaningful snaps when the season began, as they were fourth and fifth on the depth chart. Between them and Dylan Paine, 2024’s running back situation may not be as bleak as it looked a few weeks ago.
  • Among things that seemed to vanish during this horrific stretch of losses were Ward’s designed runs and the Mateer changeups. Both reappeared Saturday and both were at least somewhat effective. Makes a guy wonder why they disappeared for a month.
  • Same goes for Josh Kelly. He’s really good, and I wish he’d been a bigger part of the offense in October.
  • Brennan Jackson is definitely busting his ass until the final whistle of his WSU career. 2.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble that set up WSU in scoring position.
  • Incredible effort by Cooper Mathers to get across the goal line. The dude can be maddening with the drops, but he also makes some plays.
  • The Cougs actually improved their fourth quarter scoring differential, going from -44 to -43! Way to go, guys! Print the shirts!

The Bad

  • Cam Ward, far too often, is bad. I don’t care if his forward progress was stopped on the first possession (it was), hang on to the damn ball ffs. Ward handed Cal 14-21 points with his complete disregard for protecting the ball.
  • Speaking of Cams, Cam Lampkin can’t cover a tree stump, but he makes up for it by missing tackles.
  • Esa Pole is really, really, really really REALLY bad, and the staff’s failure to at least field an average offensive line after what we endured in 2022 is a rather stinging indictment.
  • While Pulalasi was somewhat of a revelation, his failure to execute the rub route properly almost certainly cost WSU one of its best chances to win the game. Now, I don’t blame him as much as I blame the coaches for putting him in that situation. The kid is a freshman, has barely played, and you expect him to pull that off? In that situation? Do better, coaches.
  • I have no idea if Jake Dickert is a good coach. There’s a case to be made either way. He inherited an incredibly difficult situation in 2021, then got thrown into a complete disaster in 2023 with the disintegration of his conference. Maybe he works at WSU. Maybe he ends up departing when his contract is up. I have no idea. But what I do know is that he made an absolutely inexcusable tactical decision on Saturday when facing 4th-and-6 from the Cal 31. I didn’t even consider the possibility of a field goal try there. But Jake did, and, well...
  • Remember back in 2021 when Dean Janikowski made a bunch of 30-yard field goals and was named the conference’s best kicker because all the other kickers sucked? I felt at the time that the honor was more a referendum on how bad everyone else was, and he has done nothing since then to change that opinion. Killer miss after killer miss, which is why Dickert’s decision to trot him out there with the game on the line, needing six yards for a chance to win, is inexcusable.

The Ugly

  • I’ve followed WSU for far longer than an ostensibly sane person should, enduring inexplicable loss after inexplicable loss. And even I am gobsmacked by the fact that WSU is going to go from 4-0/Top 15 to bowlless. Even for WSU, it almost defies imagination. Almost.
  • You might recall last week when WSU couldn’t exceed a measly seven points against a terrible Stanford squad. Stanford then went home and gave up 62 to Oregon State. Sixty. Two. Seven days later.
  • I don’t know what kind of kompromat Beth Mowins has on her bosses at ESPN, but it must really be something. That’s the only explanation for her continued employment. ESPN fires people like David Pollack and Lee Fitting, but Mowins continues to steal money? What? As someone said in the Slack, the best matchup all day was Mowins versus her analyst (Kirk Morrison), because he was continuously correcting her nonsense. Morrison had clearly prepared, and Mowins obviously had not. When John Mateer came onto the field, Mowins reacted like she’d just witnessed the Hindenburg explosion. When Cal went for it on 4th-and-4, she said, “the analytics say to go for it on 4th-and-3.” Then Morrison gave her the correct distance to go. Oh also she has no clue what “the analytics say.” She’s just awful.
  • Speaking of awful, those refs were something, weren’t they? Cam Ward’s forward progress stopped? Nah, just let him sit there while a defender strips the ball. WSU gets a first down while trying to take the lead late in the game? Nah, just call for a do-over and punish WSU because Cal’s unethical coaches told their player to fake an injury. But my favorite one was when WSU started at its own 25 after fair catching a kick. In that situation, in order to get a first down, the offense simply needs to advance the ball to the 35. So when WSU went for it on 4th-and-1, and the refs couldn’t decide whether WSU got far enough, all they had to do was spot the ball and see whether the nose hit the 35. Instead, they...brought out the chains??? What? Why? Then they said it was Cal’s ball oh wait no it was actually a first down for WSU. Just breathtaking incompetence.

So now WSU is 4-6, facing a high likelihood that it will end the season having lost eight in a row, with the seventh coming on Senior Night in front of probably 5,000 fans. Man, what a bummer.

This Week in Parenting

The mighty Wave baseball team finished its fall tournament season last Sunday, and man it was a gut-wrencher. It began as a pitcher’s duel, with neither team scoring for 2.5 innings. In the bottom of the 3rd, the 12 year-old came up with one out and singled! It started a rally that saw the Wave take a 6-0 lead. This was going to be the Tigers’ last chance. Our pitcher, done in by a series of defensive gaffes, wobbled. Pretty soon, it was 6-2, then 6-4 and so on. The inning ended with a 7-6 Tigers lead, with the Wave having given them 7-8 outs to get there. Incredibly frustrating. The Wave went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the fourth and that was that.

The kids were bummed for a bit, but then we went for tacos and things were better. I knew the 12 year-old had flushed the disappointment when we were watching Red Zone that afternoon when the host broke in to say, “Let’s recap the best comeback of the day.” Without missing a beat, he goes, “The Rawlings Tigers!”

Oh, and spring tryouts take place on...DECEMBER TENTH??!! It never ends.

It as a rather active week on the teenager front. Wrestling practice began, and it didn’t take long for him to feel the effects, as he was begging for Advil after the first day. That first day was Monday, which started out in a rather inauspicious manner. He’d told us that he had a JROTC uniform inspection Monday morning, and was in need of a haircut. Unfortunately, we just didn’t squeeze it in, so I told him I’d do for him what I do when my hair is too long - take a razor and shave off the hair that’s touching the ears.

So on Monday morning, I called him into the bathroom to take care of it. Unfortunately, he’d already taken matters into his own hands, with disastrous results. He had what amounted to a skin line above his right ear, having decided to use scissors (which he was never told to do!). He was in a rather manic state, begging us to find a barber that was open before school. Mind you, it was 7 a.m. I was fully prepared to let him face the music during the inspection, but his incredulity led me to seek out barbers that opened before 9. The Googles led us to a place between here and school that opened at 8, so we were in the parking lot at 0750, waiting. Turns out they’d opened at 0730. Thanks, Google.

So in we went, and I told the guy we had a hair emergency on our hands. He sat the kid in the chair, took one look, and said, “Ouch. Did you try and trim that yourself?” I laughed audibly. 15 minutes later, all was well, and the inspection apparently went fine. But once again, mom and dad got notification of an impending disaster with precious little time to help out. Same as it ever was.

The kiddo had another early morning on Wednesday, as he’d previously passed his Draconian driver’s test, and it was time to head to the county tax office. 10 minutes later...

Oh boy.

So if you’re driving around the FL Panhandle, and it’s still light out, beware.

Misadventures of Buda the Dog

Buda the dog is all grown up now, at least from a physical standpoint, and continues to harass Comino the cat at every opportunity. She almost outfoxes him, however, and Saturday was no different. Our television sits in a wall inlay, and there’s some space behind it where Comino likes to hide.

Buda chased her in there, then waited for her to come back out. And waited. Aaaaaaand waited. He stared so intently at one side that he didn’t see her escape out the other and take refuge atop her perch at left, as you can see.

In sum, Buda the dog is about as observant as my two kids.


Facing the Rivals | The New Yorker
Lucy Sante writes about a Belgian couple who befriended her family during her teen years, and the relationship Sante and her family had with the couple.