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Looking ahead to the Apple Cup


COUGARS

Apple Cup weeks can be a … well, a word I hear about every 2 minutes when my son’s I-pod is blaring rap music. Darn kids. Anyhow, Apple Cup weeks can be a pain in the … well, you know. But there is always someone who will liven things up. This week it’s UW tight end Kavario Middleton. We have his comments on the link, along with notes from today’s practice and the first of our Apple Cup connections stories. Please read on or I’ll have had my … well, you know … kicked for no reason.



 ••••••••••

• We’ll start with this little excerpt from an Associated Press story from media day in Seattle. … “Nothing like a little trash talking to get Apple Cup week started. A normally mundane Monday, accentuated by Washington coach Steve Sarkisian insisting his team wouldn’t get caught throwing verbal jabs at rival Washington State, got a little spicier only minutes later thanks to tight end Kavario Middleton. Asked by a local television reporter about the large point spread of 24 1/2 heading into Saturday’s matchup with the Cougars at Husky Stadium, the tight end who wasn’t even recruited by WSU tossed a salvo across the state. ‘I’m not really into any of that stuff,’ Middleton told KCPQ-TV about the point spread. ‘But we plan on scoring 50. We’re ready to go.’ Even a combined four victories between Washington and Washington State can’t keep some of the disdain out of this rivalry. And the comments from Middleton came shortly after Sarkisian said his team wouldn’t make such statements, letting their effort on Saturday be all the talking the Huskies would need. Apparently Middleton didn’t get the message. ‘I don’t know what you get out of it. I don’t know where you gain,’ Sarkisian said. ‘I think the guys that like to do that are looking for attention, whether it’s here or anywhere else. I like to think that we put our helmets on, we put our uniforms on and we talk with the way we play. It’s not about what you say, it’s what you do.’ ” … Is that a good way to get the week started or what? … You can watch the clip here if you want. …

• The AP also moved a story from Seattle concerning Paul Wulff’s conference call with the Seattle media. He talked about athletic director Jim Sterk being in the football coaching staff’s corner and how he understands where the program is at now and where it’s going. It’s a lot of the same stuff Wulff has been saying for weeks. … The Cougar practice went just 1 hour and 15 minutes, but Wulff said it’s not that unusual, being today’s practice was taking the place of the usual Sunday workout. The schedule this week is all discombobulated due to Thursday. … There were a couple new players sitting out and two back. Brandon Jones, who was knocked out of the OSU game, was resting his back, hoping to get back on the field this weekend. Right guard B.J. Guerra, it turns out, suffered a mild concussion against Oregon State and will be tested tomorrow to see if he can return. And Johnny Forzani, whose concussion was a little more severe, was also out. With Jones sidelined, Easton Johnson was again working with the defense along with receiver Colin Huemmer, who actually switched jerseys with Jones on Monday. Guerra was replaced by Joe Eppele. The receiver rotation just tightens a little with Forzani out. Also, Jesse Feagin was not at practice due to family responsibilities, according to Wulff, and Dan Spitz (concussion) wasn’t in the building either. …

• Almost forgot. The workout was indoors thanks to the couple inches of snow that was still on the ground. … Chima Nwachukwu was back in uniform and running with the defensive backs. Whether he’ll be able to play is still to be determined. The same can be said for quarterback Jeff Tuel, who took part in some parts of practice. Even if Tuel is cleared to play, Wulff said, Kevin Lopina will start. … I talked with Lopina a little bit and he admitted to being a little sore. He’s looking forward to another Apple Cup – think he doesn’t have fond memories of last year? – and feels he should be better than he was against OSU. He said Washington’s defense is fast and poses some problems, but he believes the offensive line is up to the task. I asked him if he hurried some things last week and he answered yes. He admitted to not trusting the guys up front as well as he should have. So how does he develop that trust in just a week? “That’s a good question,” he said. “You just gotta believe. These coaches, they have our covenants of what we have to do to be successful. Trust is one of them. It’s one of the things I have to deal with. … I was a little jittery, it was almost like first-game jitters again. After last week, just being in there, I think I’ve settled down. This week in practice I’ll be able to sit in the pocket a lot longer.” … One basketball note: Klay Thompson was named Pac-10 player of the week. A 37-point game will do that for you.

•••

• That’s it for notes. Here’s our feature story for tomorrow, in its unedited version …

PULLMAN – Of all the Apple Cups the Gilbertson family has been involved in – and there have been many, seeing Keith Gilbertson was 8-1 in nine games during three stints on the University of Washington coaching staff – none may have played a bigger role in their future than 2007.

You might remember it. A 42-35 Washington State win at Husky Stadium. Alex Brink’s game-winning pass to Brandon Gibson. The last game of Bill Doba’s WSU coaching career.

And the day David Gilbertson decided to become a Cougar.

“I can narrow it down to one instance,” said David, then a high school quarterback at Redmond High and now redshirting as a freshman walk-on at WSU.

“I was sitting in the Cougars section. It was in Seattle and the Cougars won that game. Honestly, I could point to that and say, ‘that’s a special deal. I think I want to be a part of that.’ ”

Keith Gilbertson had an interest in the game as well. Not only were his Husky roots deep, including the two years he was their head football coach early this decade, but daughter Krissy, a WSU freshman, was in the rooting section with David.

“I remember that last throw,” Keith said, referring to Brink’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Gibson. “I had just walked in a hotel room – I was on the road with the Seahawks, in St. Louis I think – after a meeting, turned on the TV and it was on. Here’s this throw, I see him catch the ball and my daughter calls me immediately on the cell phone.

“I can see her in the endzone, she’s jumping up and down.”

David grew up a Husky fan. In that, he wasn’t much different from his friends in Redmond. But his connection was.

His dad’s first two stints at UW came before he was born. During his elementary school years, however, Keith was Rick Neuheisel’s offensive coordinator and his replacement as head coach following Neuheisel’s 2003 dismissal.

But Keith’s tenure at UW ended poorly. After going 6-6 his first year, the Huskies were 1-10 in 2004. When the season ended, so did Gilbertson’s relationship with Washington.

“It wasn’t like a thing that I brought it home,” Keith said about his termination. “I came home and told him ‘we’re going back to the Seahawks.’ He said OK and that was it.

“I think it was hard, but it wasn’t like he was saying ‘I hate those guys.’ It wasn’t a big emotional thing in the house.”

But the genesis of David becoming a Cougar started that day.

“I loved it there, the time we spent there,” David said of his dad’s UW stint. “But it’s definitely over. … It basically kind of ended when my dad left there and he went to the Seahawks.

“That’s part of coaching, you move on. And the family, we all move on too.”

Throughout his high school career, David attended WSU’s football camps. With someone in the family who was a pretty good judge of football talent, he knew he was probably not ticketed for a high-stakes recruiting battle. But he also knew he wanted to play at the highest level possible.

When the Cougars invited him to walk-on, he jumped.

“My son was going to go where he wanted to go,” Keith said. “He had some other opportunities, but I think he knew he wanted to go to Washington State pretty early on.”

Besides, not only was his sister already in Pullman, the family has a long history there. Keith spent part of his youth just down the street from the campus when his dad was a student at WSU.

“I like the small town,” David said. “It’s different from what I’m used to but that’s a good thing because it feels more like a family.

“I love Pullman. I’m so happy I came here.”

This week David and the Cougars will bus across the Cascades for the 102nd Apple Cup. His dad, out of coaching this season, will be rooting for them.

He’s hoping his son will soon develop Apple Cup memories. Keith already has his.

“When I was at Washington, it was always a great week,” said Keith, emphasizing the word great. “For a long time I think there was a perception that it didn’t mean as much to the Huskies as it did to the Cougars.

“Not so.”

And he should know. The Gilbertson family has experienced both sides.

•••

• And here’s our first look at UW …

WASHINGTON STATE AT WASHINGTON

Time: 3:30 p.m. (PST) Saturday. TV: FSN

The records: WSU (1-10, 0-8 in Pac-10); Washington (3-7, 2-5)

Last week: Washington had a bye, lost to Oregon State, 48-21, Nov. 15

WSU lost to Oregon State, 42-10

Last time: WSU defeated UW, 16-13 in two overtimes in Pullman last year.

The line: Washington by 24.5

What it means for WSU: It is the Apple Cup and there’s a deep meaning ingrained in that title. It’s about bragging rights in the state for another year – and WSU has won four of the past five in this rivalry and two straight. It’s about ending the season on a high note, possibly the only high note in the Cougars’ injury-riddled year. It certainly would be the highest note, just like it was last year. And it’s about finishing. WSU is looking down the road, and another Apple Cup win would make that future seem a little brighter throughout the offseason. By the way, WSU has never won three consecutive Apple Cups.

What it means for UW: Again, it is the Apple Cup and all that means. But it’s also the first for Husky coach Steve Sarkisian, who went through the BYU/Utah game as a player and the USC/UCLA rivalry as an assistant coach. This one is different, however, because of the way it wraps its hands around an entire state. From elementary schools to offices, people in Washington will be either wearing purple or crimson this week. Winning this game would help Sarkisian and the Huskies forget about their recent defeats – they’ve lost four consecutive games and six of seven – and send them into next week’s game with Cal on a high.

Key matchup: Washington quarterback Jake Locker vs. WSU’s defense.

It’s going to take the entire Cougar defense – how many of them that are healthy – to stop UW’s dual-threat quarterback. Though Locker doesn’t run as much as he did during his redshirt freshman year – the only time he’s played in this game – he’s still a threat with his feet. In his lone Apple Cup (he was injured last year), Locker struggled throwing the ball, hitting just 12 of 35 for 224 yards. He was intercepted twice but did throw a 63-yard touchdown pass. He also rushed for 103 yards on 14 carries, including a 23-yard scoring run. The Cougar defense has had its ups and down tackling this season, but will have to be perfect Saturday to contain Locker.

•••••

• That’s all we have tonight. We’ll be back in the morning. Until then …


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