Don’t blame the messenger on this one, but the day’s final blow to the Cougars came through an 11:36 p.m. Twitter post by their quite credible radio play-by-play announcer.
Without revealing his source, Matt Chazanow reported that a 15-yard penalty assessed to Washington State on a lengthy Cougar kickoff return in the third quarter Saturday night had actually been intended for California.
Unless the guilty Bear had stealthily donned a Cougar uniform before taking the field, it’s unclear how such a mistake could be made. Suffice to say the tweet was a blow to the beleaguered Pac-12 officiating team as well as to the beleaguered Cougs.
Oh, it probably soothed a Wazzu ego or two, this 11th-hour suggestion that the Cougars hadn’t been quite as dreadful and self-defeating as they’d seemed that evening in a 33-20 loss to a team on a four-game losing streak.
At the moment, though, this program doesn’t need more righteous indignation. Heaven knows it’s a critical element of the Wazzu psyche, to the point where “Cougs vs. Everybody” has its own Twitter account and is sometimes recited like a mantra by fans and players alike.
But maybe it’s time to give it a rest.
Granted, if Chazanow’s source is correct, it’s hard to imagine a bigger officials’ blunder — not only because of the Hitchcockian case of mistaken identity but because of the yardage swing.
Travell Harris had returned the Cal kickoff to midfield, and the personal-foul penalty, for hands to the face, would have advanced the ball to the Cal 33. Instead it was placed on the Wazzu 8. That’s a 59-yard difference during a pivotal stretch of the game.
But the zebras hardly outdid the Cougars when it came to blunders. For one thing, an earlier example of Harris’ return skills had been negated by an illegal wedge — one of 10 penalties for a team that now has 69 this season, second-highest in the conference.
The loss was the Cougars’ fifth in six games and forces them to finish at least 2-1 or stay home for the holidays for the first time in five years. This despite preseason hopes for a league title and an offense that, at times, looks as sharp as any during the Mike Leach coaching tenure. That wasn’t the case in this game.
As a result, Leach unleashed his second postgame rant of the season, a sure sign this team gets his goat. Yet in assailing his players’ toughness, he sprinkled in more provisos than usual about the need for coaching accountability. It was appropriate in light of this team’s lack of discipline, which is generally laid at coaches’ feet.
The Cougs’ frustrations became increasingly apparent throughout the second half, and the primary source of them wasn’t the officiating. It was California’s decisive, deceptive defense.
After the apparently wrongful penalty, WSU drove 78 yards for a field goal, cutting its deficit to 20-14. Yet the series illustrated the Cougs’ dilemma as well as any.
Three times, Anthony Gordon found no open receivers downfield and therefore dumped off to a running back. As is his wont, the quarterback led his target so deftly that the poor chap was all the more vulnerable to a torpedo called Josh Drayden, a second-string Cal cornerback who upended the back as soon as he touched the ball.
On two of the three occasions, the receiver was Gordon’s roommate, Max Borghi. The QB should take an extra turn doing the dishes this week.
A few plays after the WSU field goal came a bizarre sequence. Cal slotback Ben Skinner caught a pass, stepped out of bounds on the Wazzu sideline and was hurled, pro-wrestling style, to the turf by safety Tyrese Ross. It was the type of gratuitous gesture that football’s trying to phase out, and an official unsurprisingly called him for a late hit.
Upon seeing that, a WSU staff member (apparently not one of the primary coaches) huffed downfield to the scene, bursting with the “Cougs vs. Everybody” vibe. He protested the call so colorfully that the official heatedly tossed another flag.
It wasn’t a 59-yard swing. But it was plenty — it was 30. And unless the fellow was a Cal staff member in disguise, this was no case of mistaken identity.
Grummert may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2290.