The moment Mike Leach took the field, he saw something that might become familiar to him in the coming weeks.
A member of an HBO television crew, aiming at Leach a hand-held camera framed by a mounting ring, began backpedaling nimbly to make sure he recorded every step of the coach’s stroll to midfield.
And this wasn’t even game day.
There was a slightly different vibe to Washington State’s second preseason football scrimmage Saturday at Martin Stadium, where a small HBO crew tacitly reminded the Cougars they’re being considered for inclusion in a new documentary series this season.
A WSU spokesman said no official agreement has been reached, but HBO’s presence at practice for a second consecutive day is another indication a deal could be forthcoming.
Apparently jumping the gun, someone at the school alluded to the possible arrangement via Twitter earlier in the day.
“Coming Soon: The Cougs on HBO,” the WSU football Twitter account announced in an advertisement-style post, adding, “This should be fun!”
A source said the tweeter wasn’t making an official announcement and wasn’t privy to the status of negotiations between the school and network.
Speculation about the TV series upstaged the latest developments in WSU’s quarterback battle, where Anthony Gordon improved his chances of claiming the starter’s role with another credible performance in an officiated situational scrimmage on a sunny, windy day.
The session also solidified the notion the competition has been narrowed to two candidates: Gordon and Gage Gubrud. Until this week, reps were being split equally three ways, but Trey Tinsley appears to fallen out of the race for now. The Cougars open at home Aug. 31 against New Mexico State.
Gordon and Gubrud posted similar statistics, and the latter threw four touchdown passes to Gordon’s three. But the offense generally ran more smoothly under Gordon, as Leach noted.
“I thought Gordon played the best,” said the coach, who had been reluctant to declare winners after previous practices.
Gubrud, a graduate transfer from Eastern Washington, started inauspiciously when linebacker Justus Rogers jumped a route on the scrimmage’s first play and took an interception 45 yards to the end zone.
Calvin Jackson Jr., who tag-teamed with Rodrick Fisher and Tay Martin for a productive day at the X receiver position, agreed Gordon created “a little bit of separation” in the scrimmage but added, “You guys don’t see the little things. Gage made some good checks and check-downs and all that stuff.
“Coach has got a great decision to make the next few days, the next few weeks actually,” Jackson said.
Tinsley saw no action until the final series, which was marked by two big defensive plays by Chad Davis Jr. He scooped up a fumble and later stuffed a goal-line run. (Turnovers didn’t necessarily result in changes in possession in this informal scrimmage.)
An Arizona State fan site reported early in the week that ASU, Washington State, Alabama and Penn State had been selected for the HBO series, and Penn State later acknowledged being in negotiations with the network. No school has made an official announcement.
That hasn’t prevented HBO from shooting preliminary footage at WSU and Arizona State. During the scrimmage, the TV crew monitored Leach’s remarks with a microphone on a hand-held boom pole.
The format of the show appears to be undecided at this point, but ESPN reported the schools are considering giving access to cameras for one week apiece. The series is expected to be modeled after “Hard Knocks,” the long-running show devoted to behind-the-scenes looks at the NFL teams.
A number of Cougars said they could easily fend off potential distractons from HBO’s presence. They included Jackson, who’s accustomed to TV cameras from his time at East Mississippi Junior College, featured in the Netflix series, “Last Chance U.”
Jackson said the exposure of a documentary series could benefit Wazzu, which is trying to build off last year’s 11-2 season.
“Nobody really knows about us over here, until we start winning,” he said. “So for us being so low-key and all that stuff, it could be a great addition.”
Nonparticipants in the scrimmage included nickelback Skyler Thomas and center Fred Mauigoa, who was replaced by Brian Greene. ... Back in action from a midweek issue was right guard Josh Watson. ... Inside receiver Jamire Calvin again didn’t suit up, but he was without the orthopedic boot he’d been wearing. ... Fa’avae Fa’avae tallied 2 1/2 sacks. ... Blake Mazza converted field goals of 40, 46 and 50 yards, his only miss coming at 52. His rival for the starting spot, Jack Crane, connected from 40 and 50 but missed at 46.
RUSHING — Jouvensly Bazil 3-15, Clay Markoff 4-13, Deon McIntosh 2-5, Cole Dubots 1-3, Gunner Cruz 4-11, Gage Gubrud 2-10, Trey Tinsley 2-3, Anthony Gordon 2-1, Max Borghi 2-4.
PASSING — Gage Gubrud 16-27-1-144, Anthony Gordon 15-22-0-173, Camm Cooper 6-8-0-72, Trey Tinsley 3-5-0-32.
RECEIVING — Rodrick Fisher 5-68, Easop Winston Jr. 4-56, Dezmon Patmon 4-54, Calvin Jackson Jr. 4-50, Tay Martin 4-24, Zion Sorani 3-60, Travell Harris 3-36, Renard Bell 3-26, Donovan Ollie 2-18, Max Borghi 3-6, Jouvensly Bazil 2-5, Cole Dubots 2-3, Brandon Arconado 1-13, Clay Markoff 1-7.
Dale Grummert may be contacted at (208) 848-2290 or firstname.lastname@example.org.