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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

September 9, 2014 at 11:45 AM

Among the issues for the Cougars: The zebras

Washington State has variously faced several problems in its first two games, both losses — surprisingly leaky defense against Rutgers; spotty (at best) offense against Nevada; the key, killer turnover.

The Cougars are wading through a four-game losing streak, in which they’ve had chances to win all four games, starting with last year’s Apple Cup. They seem to have¬† a crisis of confidence, and perhaps of player leadership.

But this has to be said as well, even though it will ring hollow as a corollary to those multiple woes: They ran up against a dubious officiating performance Friday night at Nevada. I saw the game live, then watched it in its entirety on video, and the officiating by the Mountain West crew at times seemed shockingly inept. It cut both ways (WSU had 10 penalties, Nevada had nine but for more yardage at 90)¬† but it certainly didn’t help Washington State.

Examples:

* Against a strong WSU rush, Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo unleashed a throw far behind the line of scrimmage that looked a lot like grounding. He was definitely in the tackle box, with a receiver not realistically in the vicinity. But no call. I suppose it was debatable.

* On a WSU punt in the first half, WSU gunner Theron West got absolutely blasted in the back by Nevada blocker Randy Uzoma, in full view of 26,000 fans but not the officials. No call, and West got up with his arms outstretched, wondering where the flag was (he might have known better, since on the opening kickoff, as he pursued the laterally-running Elijah Mitchell, West was tattooed from behind — or very close to it — by Tere Calloway, without a call).

* With WSU trying to drive for a tying touchdown in the second quarter, Dom Williams got mugged off the line of scrimmage and into the end zone by a Nevada defender. Flag comes out, and the officials ruled the pass from Halliday was uncatchable. ESPN analyst Mike Bellotti said it was uncatchable. To which I might respond: If you’re getting mauled and unable to leave your feet, the pass is going to look a lot more uncatchable.

* On a deep fade on the WSU sideline, Williams had his jersey tugged on by Nevada freshman corner Kendall Johnson as he went by. The jersey is visibly stretched as Williams is pulled back, but no call. He caught the ball anyway.

* Fourth quarter, WSU trying to drive for a touchdown to cut into Nevada’s 21-10 lead, and Halliday threw a post pass for Isiah Myers inside the Nevada 5. Charles Garrett, the Nevada corner, had his right arm draped around Myers’ waist as he tried to defend with his left hand. It’s textbook pass-interference. No call.

I could go on.

So, on Monday’s WSU teleconference, I asked coach Mike Leach if it seemed as though there was an unusual amount of calls subject to interpretation in the game.

“I got fined $10,000 one time for expressing my opinion,” he said. “I have to leave this one up to you. (But) I saw the same game you did. I think it’d be surprising, how close my thoughts are to yours.”

Actually, no, it wouldn’t.

Of course, it rings hollow. WSU stinks right now. But that doesn’t mean the zebras have to follow suit.

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