FBC-WSUHardKnocks

The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review file

SPOKANE, Wash. — And now it’s official: Washington State’s football program will be spotlighted in an HBO program this fall modeled after the network’s reality “Hard Knocks” documentary television series.

Saturday morning, the school teased HBO’s arrival — and recognized rumors that started floating four days ago for the first time — with a Tweet from the Washington State Football account.

A graphic shows Cougars cornerback Marcus Strong placing a helmet over his head, with a text overlay reading “Coming Soon: The Cougs on HBO.” The post’s caption read “This should be fun. #GoCougs #JoinTheHunt”

No other details have been released yet, like if the program will adopt the same “Hard Knocks” name the network’s NFL reality show uses, or when the show will actually visit WSU’s campus. HBO representatives visited Pullman Thursday and sent a camera crew to Friday’s late afternoon practice at Martin Stadium.

It’s expected that the show will return to the Palouse for one week during the regular season, presumably coinciding with a home WSU football game. The Cougars host five Pac-12 games in 2019: vs. UCLA (Sept. 21), vs. Colorado (Oct. 19), vs. Stanford (Nov. 16) and vs. Oregon State (Nov. 23).

A report from DevilsDigest.com earlier in the week indicated HBO was planning to put a lens on four schools: WSU, Arizona State, Penn State and Alabama. The series will apparently film an Oct. 12 game between the Cougars and Sun Devils in Tempe.

Eighth-year WSU coach Mike Leach will figure to be a major focal point in the show’s coverage of the Cougars. Cameras and boom microphones were at Leach’s hip the majority of Friday’s practice, but also picked up sound and footage from various drills, dropping a mic and camera into the popular “bull in the ring” drill the Cougars open every practice with.

Leach didn’t formally brief players about the show’s arrival, but once he noticed HBO cameras around the perimeter of the field, he told the Cougars in their pre-practice huddle “just to ignore them.”

“It’s all right,” Leach said. “Just ignore them. Practice ignoring the cameras, because they want a genuine look and we’re not going to get our work done unless we effectively ignore one another.”

The “Hard Knocks” NFL show currently in its 14th season offers unmatched glimpses into the professional and personal lives of players.

GORDON SEPARATES IN QB BATTLE: For the second time in eight days, Washington State went over 100 plays, this time simulating a game scenario in the midafternoon rather than early evening, and adding an officiating crew to the mix to give the Cougars a better idea of what’ll fly and what won’t when they suit up for the season opener in 14 days.

The quarterback race once again was the top storyline at Martin Stadium, and perhaps there’s more clarity on that front than there was a week ago.

Anthony Gordon left a trail hints all week and Saturday Mike Leach offered his first real clue as to which of his quarterbacks may be under center when Washington State hosts New Mexico State on Aug. 31.

The coach hasn’t budged this fall when he’s been asked to handicap the QB race between Gordon, Gage Gubrud and Trey Tinsley, usually resorting to “I thought they all played well” or “each of them did some good things.” But Leach, by his standards, had a pretty succinct answer Saturday when he was asked if either Gubrud or Gordon had an edge over the other.

“I thought Gordon played the best,” Leach said.

“What did he do best?” the coach was asked as a follow-up.

“Moved the offense and then scored,” Leach answered.

Comparing the two was difficult at times because the No. 1 offensive line almost exclusively played against the No. 2 defensive line, and vice versa. But Gubrud stumbled out of the gates, throwing an interception on just his second pass attempt that was returned for an interception.

Gubrud’s initial drive didn’t get much better. He threw a pretty touchdown to Rodrick Fisher, but was touch-sacked by Willie Taylor III and finished his day completing just 4-of-9 passes.

That was in stark contrast to what Gordon did on his first drive. The offense was humming with the redshirt senior under center and moved into the red zone at warp speed, thanks to Gordon’s long strike to Renard Bell. The QB hit Calvin Jackson Jr. on a cross into the back of the end zone, then found Bell on a short out route for his second TD.

Gubrud posted better numbers on the second and third drives, but the first series felt like a definitive exclamation point for Gordon, who vastly outplayed Gubrud two days ago and had the slight edge Friday as well.

“All fall camp I’ve been feeling pretty good,” Gordon said. “I’ve been playing with a lot of confidence and it just kind of rolled throughout today. Coach Leach got us into some good plays and then offensive line was playing really good and got me some time to get the ball downfield and our receivers did real good with the ball in their hands.”

Neither QB had been too interception prone since the team returned from Lewiston, but this number on Gordon is nothing short of stellar: since day five of camp, he’s thrown 25 touchdowns compared to zero interceptions.