Tuesday mailbag: Washington aftermath

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
9:00
AM ET
Welcome to the mailbag. I'm Kevin, your single-serving friend.

A conglomerate of questions about Steve Sarkisian’s postgame comments about the replay and Stanford faking injuries is a major theme in this week’s mailbag. So here is a conglomerate answer:

Kevin Gemmell: I’ll start with the replay: Sark was clearly frustrated with the way the game ended. I’d be too. It was an uncomfortable thud to a heck of a game. And there continues to be debate on whether Kevin Smith had possession -- as was the call on the field -- or whether the ball indisputably hit the ground -- which was the call on the reversal. My opinion? I think it hit the ground. But I’m not sure I can say that indisputably. That raises a letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law debate that we don’t need to engage in right now.

The bigger picture, however, is a troubling trend that seems to be popping up more and more. And that’s one play being the focal point for an entire 60 minute game. Whether it’s this game, Arizona State-Wisconsin, Texas-Iowa State, etc. we’re seeing 10 seconds dominate the other 59 minutes, 50 seconds.

Washington had run 87 offensive plays before that controversial fourth-and-10. The Huskies scored four touchdowns. That means there were 83 opportunities to impact the game; 83 chances to score; 83 chances to advance the ball; 83 chances to do something other than let the final offensive play of the game for your team come down to an instant replay. Take play No. 86 -- third-and-10 -- one play before the controversial call. If All-Universe tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins catches the ball, it’s a first down. But it was a flat-out drop. Keith Price’s throw was on the money. It’s those kinds of plays that make the “we got hosed” argument tough to swallow.

In the end, hat’s off to the Huskies for a very strong performance. The Price naysayers need to go back under their bridges and any questions of Washington’s legitimacy should be put to rest.

Now … those pesky injuries.

Do teams fake injuries? Yes. And it’s an ugly part of the game that is getting uglier and uglier as more teams take on uptempo offenses. As my colleague once wrote, there is something unseemly about booing when a player is down.

Sark called out Randy Hart by name -- a name, by the way, that should still garner a ton of respect in Seattle from his long time service with Don James. He says he saw something. Across the field, in the middle of a tight game? Maybe.

But given the way the game ended and the aggressive nature in which Sark called out Stanford and its players, it comes across as sour grapes even if he does have a legitimate gripe.

Ben Gardner and Shayne Skov, by the way, have vehemently denied they faked injuries.



This is an unsavory he said-he said. I know Sark. I also know Gardner and Skov. I like all those guys. And I also know of at least one person on the Washington staff who has practiced this technique in the past (to be fair, while at another program).

This seems like as good a time as any to open up some dialogue about what to do with injured players. How about if a player goes down with an injury and play has to be stopped, that player must sit out the remainder of the series or a minimum of seven plays. That gives the player ample time to recover and be treated by the medical staff. And it’s punitive enough that if the player is faking, he’s standing on the sidelines for a reasonable amount of time.

That’s just a suggestion, not necessarily the solution. But I think it has to be addressed at some point in the very near future so we don’t have to question the legitimacy of injuries.


Colin in Seattle writes: Sorry, but you totally miss on your "Stanford, Oregon still a cut above" piece. No mention of the fact that the Huskies out-gained Stanford by 200 yards and 16 first downs? No mention of the fact that Stanford was totally outplayed with the exception of two really bad kick return covers? You are not a "cut above" when your quarterback puts up 12/20, 100 yard game at home while the other quarterback puts up 350 yards. Stanford won the game, fair and square, but are by no means "a cut above". They were significantly outplayed at home, excepting a few poor mistakes by the Huskies.

Gemmell: There are only three undefeated teams left in the Pac-12. Stanford is one of them. Washington isn’t. Can't make it anymore black and white than that.

The column was about records and whether the rest of the league has closed the gap enough to challenge Oregon and Stanford and possibly derail a meeting of undefeated teams on Nov. 7. In that regard, the piece was 100 percent accurate -- because neither Stanford nor Oregon has lost. Both still have to play UCLA, the league’s other undefeated team.

It didn’t mention your examples because it was a conference-wide piece, not a game-specific column. But it also didn’t mention that Washington trailed the entire game. It didn’t mention the 18-play, 73-yard drive that ate up 5 minutes, 37 seconds and ended in an interception, and it didn’t mention that the most penalized team in the conference added 10 more penalties for 89 yards.

The “a few poor mistakes” rationale speaks to the point of the column. The upper-tier teams are able to overcome “a few poor mistakes” or they simply don’t make them. And last time I checked special teams were still a major part of the game. It wasn’t just Montgomery’s two long kick returns. How about the 12-play, 88-yard drive Washington strung together at the end of the first half. Fantastic drive. Huge momentum changer … followed by a pooch kickoff that gives Stanford the ball at the 39. Then 52 seconds later the Cardinal answered.

This game was exactly what we thought it would be -- a hard-fought game between two good teams. But if Washington wants to take the next step and contend for conference titles, these are the types of games it has to win.

It sounds like you're more peeved with the headline than the story. And if that's the case, I'll take the fall for that one. It was 1:30 a.m. and I needed something that fit on one line. If that's your biggest gripe, I can live with that.


Pete in Austin, Texas writes: What do you think the take home message is from the UW-Stanford game? I think UW is greatly improved over last year, but UW did beat Stanford last year maybe they are just a tough match-up for the Cardinal.

Gemmell: This UW team is a heck of a lot better than last year’s team. I don’t think they are a tough match-up for Stanford -- I think they are going to be a tough matchup for everyone this year. Last year’s Washington team struggled on the road and grappled with consistency (largely in part because of injuries). I think this year’s team is really, really legit. And if it didn’t play in the Pac-12 North, it could compete for a division title in just about any other division in college football.

But that’s what makes the Pac-12 North so darn tough. Washington might be the third best team in the division. The takeaway is that the rest of the country recognizes Washington’s legitimacy as well -- which is why they were only dinged one spot in the polls.

Heck, Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News has Washington at No. 10 this week. Jon and I were discussing his ballot after the game walking back to our cars and he felt like Washington gained a measure of respect with their performance. A lot of voters tended to agree.

Feel bad that you lost the game and missed an opportunity to make the jump to North Division elite status. But be happy that your team showed it can do it on the road. After all, there is always this week to make another statement.


Matt in San Francisco writes: Not surprisingly, many Cal fans are entering full meltdown mode after the loss to WSU. I am trying to stay more grounded, because this is a young team that has been absolutely decimated by injuries. What is the perspective from the outside? Is it really as bad as it seems? Am I overly optimistic? Is Cal on the precipice of a tailspin, or is this just a rebuilding year?

Gemmell: For now, I’d qualify it as a rebuilding year. When we did the preseason media poll, I had Cal last in the Pac-12 North simply because I thought Washington State was going to be improved in Year 2 under Mike Leach. As you note, Cal is heavy on the youth. And when you combine that with two completely new systems, one of the toughest schedules in the country and then all of those unexpected injuries, the end result is what you have now.

It’s never as bad as you think it is -- especially in-season, when it always feels worse. When you look at the rest of Cal’s schedule, you have to wonder how many -- if any -- FBS wins are out there.

Give Sonny Dykes a little bit of time to let his system take flight (no pun intended) and if you are still in this hole at the end of next year, then we can talk tailspins.


Fat_O_Line in Springfield, Ore., writes: Kevin help me out here.. How does Ted in power rankings place Stanford ahead of Oregon but in top 25 places them ahead of Stanford? I need to hear the rationale.

Gemmell: Same answer as last week, and the week before, and the week before. The power rankings are a direct reflection of where the teams are after this weekend and are independent of the top 25 rankings.

Ted’s rationale for the move this week was a direct reflection of a guy with an Oregon bumper sticker cutting him off Sunday morning on the Pima Freeway in Scottsdale.

Ted told me of this great insult, to which I replied “No, Ted. You're better than that. You can’t change the power rankings just because of something so arbitrary and capricious.”

“You and your fancy words, Gemmell," he snarled. "You think you're so perspicacious. Watch me."

Then he hung up. We haven't spoken since.

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