What's going on with spring football?

It's tough to tell these days.

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Where’s the football excitement?

Between men’s basketball making the NCAA tournament, their coach leaving immediately after elimination for another job, WSU’s AD leaving for the worst job possible, and the school dragging its feet on hiring the next men’s basketball coach … well, there just hasn’t been a lot of oxygen left in the room for football, which is now somehow already two thirds of the way through its 15 spring practices.

The Cougs’ second scrimmage is this Saturday (10:30 a.m. PT if you happen to be around Pullman) and the Crimson and Gray game is a week from Saturday. If that all snuck up on you, well … you’re just like me.

However, it also seems like WSU has been trying to keep spring football as low key as possible. I don’t know why, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Over the past few years, we’ve grown accustomed to a plethora of content coming out of spring ball: In addition to the usual post-practice interviews, the school’s video productions team has posted plenty of highlights along the way. As I went back to catch up on the developments over the past few weeks, I learned: Those don’t exist this year!

The school’s YouTube football playlist is just a series of post-practice interview videos, uploaded with no editing. There’s not even a highlight package from the first scrimmage. The team’s Twitter account is equally bare. There also have been no post-practice reports from WSU communications — just this one, brief scrimmage writeup that didn’t even include a stat sheet.

I had to ask around the members-only Slack to see if there was some video out there that I was somehow missing, because I was sure that I must be looking in the wrong spot. As it turned out, I had missed … this? (Thanks, Jen!)

As far as highlight packages go, that’s it — a solitary one-minute local news video from one of the 10 practices. (There actually are a couple of other KXLY videos, but they package the same footage with different interviews.) There’s also this Twitter account, which seems to be doing the creative video work for the Cougs these days, but it has only produced sporadically and hasn’t posted anything in a week. This is the last one:

I’m not sure why the school has scaled back its coverage in this way — I can only assume it’s by design, for some reason? — but it has made following spring practices pretty challenging unless you have a VIP membership to Cougfan or a Spokesman-Review subscription. And while Jamey Vinnick and Greg Woods are doing a swell job, you’re prevented from marrying their words with your own conclusions from your own eyes.

It’s a pretty big bummer, if I’m being honest — but not because I’m out here hanging on the daily developments of the various position battles during what are basically glorified offseason workouts in the eyes of coaches.

A quick digression: Back in 2019, I was gifted a chance to get a behind-the-scenes look during spring practices with Mike Leach, first attending a QB room meeting and then watching practice. There were a few things that were super clear. First, the emphasis largely was on teaching and development of technique. Second, while this obviously was an opportunity to impress coaches, no jobs were going to be won or lost in these 15 practices. And, third: They were just trying shit.

This was the spring of Gage Gubrud, EWU transfer and would-be presumed successor to Minshew Mania. And when I sat in the QB room, Leach discussed (among many other things) the install of a new play: A variation on QB power. You’ll note that running with the QB on purpose was never really a part of Leach’s Air Raid, and the logical conclusion was that it was specifically for the one QB built like a running back — 6-foot-2/210-pound Gubrud — and not the other guys in the room.

Five months later, WSU ran QB power approximately zero times as Anthony Gordon took a blowtorch to the Pac-12 with his arm.

Those of you with good memories will recall that it actually was Gordon who got the majority of the reps that spring while Gubrud battled an ankle injury, and that Gordon lit it up in the Crimson and Gray game. You also might remember that Cam Cooper got a ton of run in that same scrimmage, throwing about 22 interceptions in the process.

While both of those performances proved to be prescient, neither of them cemented their status heading into the fall. There was a legit competition in August between Gordon and Gubrud in which the reps were split, and Cooper was even given a chance to wedge his way in there. Gordon won out, and the rest was literal history.

There’s another QB battle this spring, this time between inexperienced John Mateer and experienced FCS transfer Zevi Eckhaus, and we might have to wait until April 27’s Pac-12 Network broadcast to get any kind of real bead on these guys. However, as much as I’d love to really watch each of them throw the ball a bunch, I’m also realistic about what can actually be learned about the future of WSU football from clips of spring football practices. It’s not a whole lot.

Even so, the school’s lack of sharing is whiffing mightily on an opportunity for fans to re-engage with WSU’s most prominent program during a period in the sports calendar that is wide open. This also is a time when the school needs fans to get as excited as possible for an uncertain future that is anything but exciting, but there has been precious little attempt to make that happen. It’s just baffling to me.

In reading Jamey and Greg, here are a few things I’ve gathered:

  • Mateer and Eckhaus are ostensibly in a battle, but the quotes I hear from coaches make me think that it’s Mateer’s job to lose. Freshman early enrolee Evans Chuba is an interesting project, but not quite ready for prime time.

  • We know Kyle Williams and Carlos Hernandez are legit, but the only other guy who seems to have popped to some degree is Tony Freeman, a juco transfer. He’s a speedster who can get vertical.

  • The secondary — which is replacing almost everyone — is going to remain unsettled, probably until deep into fall camp. Tyson Durant, a grad transfer from Akron, seems to be making the most immediate impact. He played corner for the Zips, but is moving to safety here. Leyton Smithson also has moved from wide receiver to safety.

  • Another transfer who seems poised for an immediate impact is Edge rusher Syrus Webster, from Utah Tech.

Men’s hoops adds Price, loses Cluff

There hasn’t been a lot in the way of men’s basketball news since David Riley’s introduction, but there have been a couple of roster developments.

One of EWU’s key players, Ethan Price, has committed to WSU. He’s a 6-10/230-pound center from England who really is the prototype for that position in Riley’s offense. He’s a threat both inside and outside, shooting almost as many 3s (39-of-99, 39%) as 2s (87-of-139, 63%). These GIFs, from Part 1 of Bryce’s (members-only) breakdown last week, show you what he can do. He’s number 10 — look at all the ways in which he touches the ball here before finishing it off with a 3:

And here, again, hanging around the 3-point line (the numbers are hard to see — he’s the one at the top of your screen who finishes with the 3-point attempt):

In three years, Price has been a pretty poor rebounder for a guy of his size, and he’s not much of a rim-protecting presence. But he has serious upside as an scorer, posting a 116 offensive rating in the Big Sky behind one of the best effective field goal percentages in the conference after he shot 47% on 55 3s.

The question, of course, is how it will translate against better competition; even the WCC is a big step up from the Big Sky, and Price did not perform well against the better teams on the schedule last year. In seven games versus “A” and “B” level competition on kenpom.com, his offensive rating was just 86, shooting only 27% from 3 with a bunch more turnovers. However, he was the bright spot in EWU’s loss to WSU in Pullman: 17 points on 10 attempts with 6 rebounds and 4 assists.

It’s worth noting that all seven of those games were away from home, and all came before Christmas. Price surely developed over the final two-thirds of the season, and even more development will take place between now and his fourth year. But like any of the guys who will be moving down the road from Cheney, whether their skills will translate against the likes of Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, San Francisco and Santa Clara is an open question.

Meanwhile, Oscar Cluff — one of the guys who went into the portal pretty much as soon as it was clear that Jim Shaw wasn’t getting the job — announced that he has committed to South Dakota State. It’s a good fit for him, as SDSU needed to replace outgoing transfer William Kyle, a center whose profile is very similar to Cluff’s.

When you watch the GIFs above, it’s awfully hard to imagine Cluff doing those things. I hope he’s great for the Jackrabbits.

Ethridge gets an extension

In a world where it seems like everything we love is leaving us, it was an unbelievably refreshing breath of fresh air when it was announced late last week that women’s basketball coach Kamie Ethridge was staying put, adding a year to her contract that now runs through 2030.

The news release from the school is filled with the standard fare, but this one quote did stick out to me:

"National caliber success in women's basketball is only possible through the acts and backing of a strong and committed network of donors," Ethridge continued. "My most sincere thanks go to each of our donors! To every one of you who has assisted us financially so that we might grow our program and address our needs, my appreciation is without measure.

“I emphatically believe there exists an army of passionate Cougar women's basketball supporters who are anxious to impact the experiences, resources, facilities, and opportunities afforded to the young women in this program. I hope you will reach out to me as I look forward to meeting you personally and talking specifically about my vision and the needs of Cougar women's basketball. It is a great day to be a Coug! Let's all work together and make some noise."

I thiiiiiink she’s talking about NIL there?

Baseball update

Speaking of things that have been pushed to the margins, I’ve only recently caught up with baseball in their first season under new coach Nathan Choate. I apparently picked a bad time to jump in!

I got pretty fired up after watching Grant Taylor’s epic 17-strikeout, 1-hit, complete-game win over last place Washington in Seattle on March 28, which helped the Cougs ascend to the middle of the Pac-12 standings. At one point, he had 10 strikeouts in a row:

It’s been all downhill. The Cougs have won just one of the nine games since, now sitting just 7-11 in Pac-12 play (tied for 8th) and 17-17 overall after getting swept at home by Cal last weekend.

Poor pitching is the main culprit, particularly out of the bullpen: None of the Cougs’ relievers has an ERA under 5.33. Yikes.

After a game tonight at Grand Canyon (which you can watch at 7 p.m. PT if you have ESPN+), they’ll travel down to Tucson for a weekend series with Arizona. The Wildcats currently are tied for second and sit just a half-game back of Oregon State.

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