With the advent of the new Pac-12 Networks, I had an odd, unwarranted suspicion that somehow the product we see in live football games might be less than that to which we’re accustomed. You know, lacking in some form against what we might get on ESPN or Fox.
But I took in the Washington-San Diego State game Saturday night – at my son’s apartment (thanks to the ongoing, unsettled DirecTV-Pac-12 joust) – and found it to be a generally high-quality effort, with a couple of exceptions. But probably no more than any other telecast.
That’s to be expected when the play-by-play man is the always-professional Kevin Calabro, who combines preparedness with a quick descriptive facility. For this telecast, he teamed with ex-Arizona State linebacker Adam Archuleta and sideline reporter Yogi Roth.
What wasn’t said was more problematic than what was.
The biggest omission came in the waning moments. San Diego State was down 21-12 but had played a spirited second half and, driving deep into Washington territory, was by no means out of the game. The Aztecs, facing fourth-and-six at the UW eight-yard line with just under five minutes left, lined up as if to go for it, then took a timeout. Surely, I thought, San Diego State coach Rocky Long would make the proper, prudent call, kick the field goal that the Aztecs would need at some point anyway, and get to within 21-15.
Instead, they came back on the field, Ryan Katz threw incomplete, and for all practical purposes, that was the game.
But not a raised eyebrow, apparently, from the TV crew. There wasn’t a word said about Long’s decision not to kick the field goal, which was truly strange (or if there was, I missed it). Was the San Diego State kicker hurt, perhaps? Was he sub-standard? We never got a whiff of an answer, or even an address of the oddity of the decision. Archuleta called it “arguably the biggest play of the game, right there,” but that was it.
If there was a weak link among the three, it was Roth. Catching UW coach Steve Sarkisian at the start of the halftime break, Roth asked Sarkisian how he’d assess Keith Price, how he’d assess the Husky defense. What he didn’t ask, and should have, was what Sarkisian saw, and what he thought of San Diego State’s trick play that stationed a receiver close to the sideline on a resulting touchdown when the UW defense didn’t see him. Judging from Sarkisian’s post-game comment about an “intent to deceive,” a question there might have elicited something other than the standard halftime coaching bromides.
Later, Roth referred to a conversation on the sidelines between Sarkisian and what sounded like offensive line coach “Jim” (his first name is Dan) Cozzetto.
(A reader points out that injury information was lacking, and that’s a good point. But schools are increasingly sticky about providing much, so that’s not necessarily Roth’s fault. And some injuries, like Jesse Callier’s knee, are of undetermined severity anyway.)
Otherwise, I thought Calabro and Archuleta had a good night. Archuleta has sort of a slow, methodical way of speaking, but still managed to mesh his analysis between Calabro’s play-by-play.
Both were quick with identifications.
“We’re seeing it all now,” Calabro said during the best early moments of the UW’s offense. “(Fullback) Jonathan Amosa chip-blocks, and catches a pass for a first down.”
Later, as the UW offense began its second-half slumber, Archuleta said, “Communication has been a problem for this line. Communication – passing off players to each other – just isn’t there right now.”
Archuleta lauded some good blocking by Bishop Sankey on a couple of plays in the first half – that’s a facet that sometimes goes unnoticed by viewers – and later praised quarterback Price, saying, “There may not be a quarterback who throws better on the run in the country than Keith Price.”
And Calabro, a man with a metaphor, chimed in at one point as they discussed Sarkisian’s wish for Price to value the ball, especially in the red zone: “Don’t turn a fender-bender into a fatal accident.”
Cameras seemed on the spot. They were especially good on the San Diego State fumble that Will Shamburger turned into a touchdown, revealing it to be a turnover that involved a very close replay decision.
The pregame and halftime studio shows were solid, as Rick Neuheisel and Glenn Parker were candid and lively but avoided the dreaded pitfall of some studio analysts – trying too hard.
Talking about the UW defense and first-year coordinator Justin Wilcox, Neuheisel quipped, “Defenses are like religion. They’ve got to have all the answers. No matter what Wilcox does tonight, he’s got to have an answer.”
And Parker was opinionated – and I think spot-on – in his analysis of Price’s Heisman Trophy candidacy. Instead of just spouting fluff about a pursuit that is probably unrealistic, Parker said, “If Andrew Luck couldn’t win it, I have a hard time believing Keith Price can. He’ll have Heisman Trophy numbers, but not Heisman Trophy wins.”
Two other observations from a so-far-infrequent Pac-12 Networks watcher: The “crawl” listing Pac-12 scores is annoying in its repetitiveness; since it doesn’t include out-of-conference games – nothing on Alabama-Michigan, for instance, which was overlapping with the UW game – you get an unending barrage of Pac-12 scores, which at that hour are changing very little.
And the house ads on the Networks are similarly incessant. Summer Sanders (one of the Networks hosts), as likable as she is, gets more face time than Oprah.
I’m sure the league’s honchos would respond: This is the Networks, after all.
For those who are getting them.