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USC vs Washington St in Los Angeles, CA

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The Monday After: Frustrated, for the first time

WSU should have come down to the wire with USC, but ill-timed flags and mistakes made that impossible.

In the wake of Saturday night’s 30-16 loss to USC, even Washington State head coach Jake Dickert — who is about as “we’ve just got to take care of ourselves” as coaches come — couldn’t hide his contempt for the officiating.

If all you did was read the quote, you wouldn’t think much of what he said. It’s exactly the kind of benign coach speak you’d expect from just about any coach, but especially this coach.

But when you watch it ... the way he says it speaks volumes. He clearly knew the question was coming, presumably had time to figure out what he wanted to say, and he still couldn’t keep from shaking his head and sounding more resigned than resolute. His words said one thing, but his tone of voice and mannerisms said “yeah, I’m going to say what I’m supposed to say here, but you all saw the same game I did.”

Which is why I’m infinitely more frustrated and irritated after this one than I was after Oregon. When we finally collapsed against the Ducks, it was the culmination of a wave that had been building for three quarters that finally crashed down on the Cougars’ chances. It was a bummer, but it kinda felt for a while like something approximating that ending was more likely than not. I was disappointed, but I couldn’t be mad.

Saturday night, though ... I mean, if you hadn’t watched the game, you’d never be able to figure out which of these two teams lost by 16 points:

statbroadcast.com

If you like advanced stats, the story is basically the same:

statbroadcast.com

When teams are that close statistically — especially when they are virtually identical in yards per play and success rate — it’s typically turnovers or big special teams plays that tell the tale when a score ends up lopsided. Yet neither team turned the other over, and the Trojans had only a marginal field position advantage (WSU’s average starting field position was its own 22, USC’s its own 28).

Which brings us back to the officiating. Or WSU’s mistakes. You can decide which one gets more of the blame pie in separating the Cougs and the Trojans, but it definitely was a combination of those two things in conjunction with some remarkably consistent unfortunate timing that did the Cougars in.

Mostly, anyway. I came away from the game feeling like USC is probably better than WSU, and in a lot of ways, it was a pretty classic WSU/USC matchup. The Trojans certainly are better athletes than the Cougs, which presented a real problem for the offense for the first time this season — the receivers just couldn’t beat anyone. Robert Ferrel, who we have come to really enjoy, caught just three balls on a team-leading eight targets. (Losing Renard Bell early definitely did not help.) The second half was particularly egregious, where WSU picked up just 49 yards on 16 attempts.

And the offensive line ... well, yeah — same thing, but staying in front of guys.

But however much better USC is than us, I definitely don’t feel like it’s two-plus touchdowns. There were plenty of places where the Cougs did things I didn’t come into the game thinking they could do. I was extremely dubious of our ability to cover USC’s receivers, and the defense did a pretty great job of that on the whole, limiting Caleb Williams to just 188 yards and a hair over 50% completions. I also didn’t have any reason to think we’d be able to run the ball, given that we haven’t really done it to anyone else; yet, there we were, racking up 171 sack-adjusted rushing yards.

On a neutral field with competent officiating, I agree with PJ — the Cougs win at least three or four times out of 10, I think. But the game didn’t take place on a neutral field with competent officiating, so that’s kind of where my significant takeaways more or less end. We didn’t lose because of the refs, but the sequencing and the leverage of their lopsided calls against the Cougs — four extremely questionable flags on WSU’s defense either negated a turnover or led directly to first downs that led to points — introduced a level of randomness to the result that I can’t really parse.

In the above clip, Dickert quickly pivoted to WSU’s mistakes (as any good coach would), but even he couldn’t help himself, as he turned back to the officiating again to finish the thought.

“I’ll take aggressive penalties,” Dickert said. “I’ll take within the whistle, cutting it loose, playing fast and aggressive. I’ll get a chance to look at a bunch of those, and the operation of the game, and the refs, and we’ll kind of sort that out as we go.”

I’m not sure exactly what he means there, but it seems like that’s a guy who wants to say something about which calls were legit and which ones weren’t, but can’t, or doesn’t know how ... which is definitely not Dickert’s usual M.O., but when it comes to refs, coaches have to tread lightly — for the sake of their team’s focus and for the sake of their pocket books and for the sake of calls if they ever get that crew again.

To Dickert’s credit, his team never gave up, per se — that game could have spiraled out of control, and it definitely didn’t. But the Cougs certainly faded a bit in the fourth quarter, and I can’t say I blame them. Maybe that was from consistently being frustrated by USC’s athletes, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it was from being exhausted by feeling like they were fighting a losing battle. When you make plays and they’re consistently negated by phantom penalties, it’s only human nature to wonder why you’re trying so hard when that extra 10% you’re used to giving isn’t paying off.

In the end, my opinion of this team hasn’t changed at all — this team is still really damn good, and with Oregon and USC in the rearview mirror, there are potentially a lot of wins in the back half of this schedule. I don’t know if I expect them to win four of the last six, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see them do it.


What We Liked: No turnovers!

USC vs Washington St in Los Angeles, CA

Two factors that usually lead to interceptions:

  1. Difficulty moving the ball through the air.
  2. Unusually high amounts of pressure.

Cam Ward faced both on Saturday, and he dealt with it exactly as we have been wanting him to: Rather than force the hero throws into tight windows, Ward looked for opportunities to either tuck the ball and run or simply throw it away. It was yet another step forward for the young QB who holds so much of the team’s fortunes at the end of his right arm.

No, the overall line wasn’t good — 19 of 32 for 172 yards and 2 TDs — but he certainly wasn’t the reason for the loss. And it might have even been worse if it wasn’t for his ability to elude the pass rush.

All good signs.


Who Impressed: Jaylen Jenkins

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 08 Washington State at USC Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When Nakia Watson went down with an injury, all eyes turned to Jaylen Jenkins. The true freshman has been electric at times, but he also has been ... well, a true freshman.

On Saturday, he was just electric: 130 rushing yards on 13 attempts, as well as 54 receiving yards, 45 of them on this catch.

It was the first 100-yard rushing game by a freshman since Boobie Williams did it in 2016, but that was as a redshirt, making Jenkins’ achievement even more impressive. The best way to describe Jenkins’ performance is that he was one of the few guys on the field who looked as if he fit right in with the Trojans’ athletes.

Truly incredible that Jenkins had just one Power 5 offer — WSU’s. I know it’s because of his size (he’s listed at 5-foot-8 and 177 pounds), but damn ... if you can play, you can play.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jordan Lee (really good to have him back!)


What Needs Work: Pac-12 officiating

NCAA Football: Sun Bowl-Washington State at Central Michigan Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

I have nothing more to say about this, other than I sure wish Jon Wilner — who does so many things well — would stop lecturing us about how much better Pac-12 officiating has gotten over the last few years. Saturday was an abomination.


Up Next: Oregon State

NCAA Football: Oregon State Spring Game Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Oregon State Beavers were one of the preseason darlings in the Pac-12, being picked fifth in the conference behind only Utah, Oregon, USC and UCLA — and ahead of both Washington and Washington State.

The Beavers enter the game with an identical 4-2 overall record and 1-2 conference record, having suffered a narrow defeat at home to USC and a blowout loss on the road to Utah. They struggled all night with Stanford on Saturday before pulling a rabbit out of their hat with a 56-yard TD with 13 seconds remaining to sneak past the pitiful trees by a point.

There’s a nonzero chance that OSU was looking ahead to this week’s matchup with the Cougs, given that WSU has beaten the Beavers eight straight times. As Jonathan Smith continues to try and pull Oregon State up out of where it’s been, beating the Cougs is a pretty big milestone, as odd as that might sound.

Should be a good one. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Network.

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