COUGARS • UPDATED: NOON
As you might expect, there is more to cover this morning than anyone post could possibly handle. But here at SportsLink, we're used to dealing with supersized fries, supersized drinks and, yes, supersized posts. So read on for just about everything you need to know about the Apple Cup – except how to deal with that hangover.
• Washington State: I always use a couple of Excedrin and a lot of water, but that's me. ... Looking back at yesterday's 35-28 Washington win, there were a lot of crucial little plays that added up to a big difference. Let's start at the beginning and go from there. ... On WSU's first drive, the Cougars moved the ball to the UW 45 and faced a third-and-2. The Cougars gave the ball to James Montgomery, who would go on to have his best game of the season. But on this play he was stacked up after only inches, bringing a fourth-and-1. WSU decided to punt. The third down play proved to be huge because UW defended it a certain way. Later in the game, facing a fourth-and-1, the Cougars thought UW would do the same thing. ... The Huskies' first drive was the whole game in microcosm. Chris Polk ran people over, Jake Locker hits some big passes and, facing a fourth-and-1 at the WSU 17, Steve Sarkisian decided to go for it instead of putting three points on the board. The Cougars' Travis Long read the play perfectly, meeting Locker in the backfield. But Long, who will have shoulder surgery soon for an injury that he's been dealing with all season, couldn't hang on and Locker escaped for a first down. On the next play Tyree Toomer missed a tackle that could have stymied a 9-yard reception. And on the next play Polk walked into the end zone. ... Down 7-0, Jeff Tuel took a shot at Marquess Wilson late in the second quarter. Wilson was behind Quinton Richardson, the throw was perfect but Richardson got a finger on the ball, deflecting it just enough Wilson couldn't hold on. Afterward, Wilson said that was the one play he would like to have back because it was a touchdown for sure. ... The Huskies took a gamble right after that, having punter Kiel Rasp throw a pass on fourth down to Jermaine Kearse. Kearse outfought Nolan Washington for the ball – Washington was hurt in the battle – and put the Huskies at the 7-yard line. Locker faked right, cut back left and outran Casey Hamlett to the endzone for a 14-0 lead. ... After Locker and Kearse hooked up on a 41-yard pass to inside the WSU 10, the Huskies had a chance to put the game away. But Deone Bucannon's interception, and the Cougars' ensuing touchdown drive, ensured this one would come down to the wire. ... Midway through the Huskies' first drive, middle linebacker C.J. Mizell went out with what was reported by the radio crew as a high ankle sprain and that he wouldn't be back. He did come back, but his absence the rest of the half hurt. With about 7 minutes left in the half Washington suffered a sprained foot – he was in a boot after the game – and had to be replaced by Chima Nwachukwu, who was the one chasing Kearse on the 41-yard completion. Washington said the training staff wrapped his foot in about 2-inches of tape at halftime and that allowed him to play. But not in time for the first possession of the second half. With Anthony Carpenter at corner, Locker saw the Cougars blitzing and hit Kearse on a slant behind the WSU freshman, who hadn't played corner much since early in the season. The pass went for 66 yards. ... Aire Justin, who took over the other corner spot when Daniel Simmons was lost for the season, made a spectacular hustle play, running Polk down from the opposite side of the field, denying UW a touchdown after a 72-yard run. That turned out to be huge when the Huskies committed a couple penalties and, on fourth and goal from the 1, Locker and Jesse Callier misfired on a handoff, fumbled and the ensuing return put the Cougars at midfield – and with the momentum. ... But a replayed pass play on third down – it was the right mark – left WSU with a fourth-and-1 decision. Instead of running, the Cougars took a shot deep, expecting UW in a run-stop defense. The Huskies weren't, Tuel said, and Wilson was covered. Victor Aiyewa sacked Tuel, Polk went 57 yards and UW led 28-14. It seemed over with most of the fourth quarter to play. ... But Tuel and the offense responded, 10-play, 70-yard drive. Then the defense got a stop and Tuel took the Cougars 73-yards in six plays. With 4:26 left it was tied at 28. ... The Huskies, of course, made the last two crucial plays – converting a fourth down at the WSU 31 and the winning touchdown throw and catch.
• So where does that leave Paul Wulff and his future? A lot of people weighed in on that, including John Blanchette in this column and Bud Withers in this one. You'll also find a lot of comments below. Us? We'll follow the story this week and report it for you. My guess is he'll be back. ... OK, now on to the rest of the links, from the WSU perspective. ... We had out game story along with a notebook – Josh Wright did another notebook item for you, but it didn't make the paper; I'll see if I can run it down and reprint it here later. Josh also had this sidebar on Polk's incredible performance. ... And then there are these photos. ... We finish up our report with the keys, statistics and scoring, though I can't find that last one on-line. ... There was a ugly side to the Apple Cup as well. Brian Floyd has the description on CougCenter. He also has a game summary.
• Here's the part of the notebook that didn't make the paper ...
Washington free safety Nate Fellner and WSU quarterback Jeff Tuel are close. They went to the same high school, Clovis West High in Fresno, Calif., and graduated together in 2009.
So when Fellner intercepted Tuel to close out UW’s victory on Saturday, he knew it would carry some weight back in Fresno.
“I’m going to have a little bragging rights when I go home,” Fellner said, “but it’s all in fun. He had a good game, but when we needed a stop, sometimes we got the stop. So it’s all good for us.”
Fellner had nine tackles and three breakups against the Cougs. Yet he bemoaned missed opportunities – he almost sacked Tuel early in the game – and nearly collected two more interceptions.
“I should have two today, (maybe) three,” he said.
• Now on to the quotes ...
• Wulff on the fan support: "First, I would like to thank our fans. I thought that was a first-rate effort on their part. They've been great all year. When we have crowds like that, it makes it hard for other teams to play. They've hard to endure tough seasons the last couple years but it's going to all pay off for them. This is a bright young football team."
The layoff: "We came out a little rusty. ... We sputtered a little here and there on offense, but I thought we got better, which is what I thought was going to happen, with the byes, with the time."
The effort: "Our kids fought hard. We came out in the second half and gave up a couple big plays that hurt us. ... But our kids fought and fought. We got ourselves back in, tied it up but No. 10 on their team led them on a drive."
The Huskies: "Between Jake and Polk, they were the majority of their offense and their team. I thought their legs were the main factor in this ball game. We didn't tackle very well. We had some critical missed tackles. A lot of times that's a sign of some time off."
The game: "My third Apple Cup. Going back and looking at my first one and my second one and my third one, I'll say this on behalf of both programs, the quality of the football each year has gotten better. This was a good football game. We came up short and it was very close."
UW's opening drive: "It was big drive and they converted when they had to. You've got to give them credit, they did a nice job. I thought Jake played today as well as I've seen him play since probably right before he got hurt. He's getting healthier. He ran with authority and he ran with a lot of confidence, which he had not done the last four or five weeks. He had some key runs on that particular drive. And then he made a great throw at the end."
Chris Polk's running: "He's done that to everybody. He drags people. He made us miss a few times and had some big runs. He's a really good football player. ... I think every team in the country recruited him, USC, Notre Dame and he chose Washington. He's a really good football player."
The offense in the fourth quarter: "We just hit a couple runs with James and Jeff hit some balls. And we caught them."
More on the offense late and Daniel Blackledge's game: "We made a couple great plays. Daniel Blackledge had some great catches today. I couldn't be happier for the guy. He played so well. I'm very proud of him. He finished his senior year extremely well."
Deone Bucannon's interception: "We responded with a drive and scored. ... The momentum from that was really big, being 14-7. Then coming back out, we went for a blitz and get beat. They went for a slant for a touchdown. That was the third play of the second half. That wasn't good but we did respond after that."
Nolan Washington's injury: "They were checking him, they x-rayed him at halftime and by the time they got it all (fixed), he came out and warmed up, he got cleared and was ready to go basically as that series was going, in the middle of it. That was a big touchdown."
If the loss hurt more than usual: "Yes it does (hurt more) because our kids fought and fought. They did a great job milking the clock and making that score and there just wasn't enough time to get another opportunity. I think we would have scored again, to be quite honest if there had been enough time."
The seniors and the team: "There weren't a lot of seniors who were star players on this football team. But they were consistent. I was so proud how they handled the year. As I told them, I coached and played for a number of years, from game one to the end of the season, I don't know that I've been around a team that took the strides and improved as much as they have. These last two, three (games), we finally got ourselves back to playing Pac-10 football. It's not championship football yet, but we made that step. I'm proud of what (those seniors) did and left for the younger guys."
The 8-minute replay fiasco at the end: "It calmed a lot of things done, that's for sure."
Jermaine Kearse: "He's a really good football player. He's very strong and physical. He's their best receiver. I thought Nolan covered him pretty well at times. The fake punt, it was just a battle, he won the physical battle. He's a big strong kid. Same thing late in the game. I thought Jake threw a perfect ball, he went up and just beat Nolan to it. Those are the things as players and coaches you look at as you start moving into the offseason, teams make their biggest improvement from the last game to the first game. Those are the things that should provide great incentive for the weight room."
Trick play: "That punt fake was a big play in the game. A huge play."
His future: "I, along with Bill (Moos) sat out a way to build this program and rebuild it, and I've done it exactly the way I said we were going to do it, and we are getting a lot better. People that are inside this building understand that, because we all know really where it started and where it's at. If you know that, you would understand it. I feel very comfortable but it's not my decision."
More on the future: "I don't know that there is a moment of decision. Bill and I will meet as he's said from day one. ... We'll spend some time tomorrow and the next day, and just kind of go from there."
• Chris Ball on the opening drive: "We were a little tight coming out. I felt that in warmups. I tried to get them to relax a little bit. ... It's a big game and we're young. We hadn't played for two weeks, and I think that had something to do with it. But this is a big game, we had young guys out there. This is a big, big game for these kids. I thought we settled down after that first drive, but we were just a little tight to start."
The Kearse touchdown early in the second half: "We had a little issue there with the corner spot, we were thin going into the game. We put a kid in a bad position, probably. I will take the fault for that. Probably shouldn't have put him in that position."
The big plays: "They made some plays and we didn't. ... They would respond."
Did Mizell's injury hurt: "A lot, especially with the run."
• B.J. Guerra on the game: "I think this game hurt more than any other game I've played in so far all year."
Wulff's future: "I know we support him 100 percent. Coach Wulff has grown on us all over the past three years. I love what he's doing. Everybody's buying in, we're supporting him 100 percent."
Bucannon on tackling Polk: "It was real tough. He kind of threw me off. He runs hard and when you hit his thighs, you just bounce right off. He's was tougher than probably any other running back I've tackled before. ... He got me inside, made a little cut, got the wrong angle on him, hit him in his thigh and that didn't phase him at all. Bounced right off and he went for a long run."
Defensive problems: "A lot of time we were focused on Jake Locker and I don't think we paid enough to the players around him like Polk and Callier."
Missed tackles: "You just have to hit them hard and wrap up. Other than that, there were a lot of missed tackles out there, especially by me. I could have made some more tackles."
• Jeff Tuel on Bucannon's pick: "Him doing that really got some fire in the crowd, some fire in us. Guys were kind of like, 'let's do it, let's flush it and let's get going.' "
The miss on the long ball to Wilson: "I thought we had a good chance right there. It was a good ball. The corner made a good play, got a fingertip on it and Marquess couldn't hold on to it. It definitely would have cut the field in half a little bit."
The future: "If you look where we started this year and where we ended up, that ball game there could have gone anybody's way. We know we're a ballclub to reckon with and we're going to be winning a lot of Pac-10 games. We have that confidence and some swagger going into the offseason. Guys need to go to work and we know it. We know we're dangerous and we know we're going to be good."
UW celebrating in Martin: "It hurts. It's not something you enjoy or want to happen in the future. It's not something we want to see happen again. It stings."
His first Apple Cup: "It was a blast. It was probably one of the biggest games I've ever played in. The crowd was into it as much as any game I've ever seen. You get a 3-yard run and this place went nuts. It was really special, it was really cool. I've got a lot of support from my fans. We love them to death and they love us and we're going to bring them bright things in the future."
• UW coach Steve Sarkisian on fourth down plays and more: "We kind of went back to who we are and you’ve got to stick with who you are. You’ve got to make calculated, smart decisions. But you’ve got to be who you are." ... "We talked about missed opportunities (at halftime). Opportunities offensively to put more points on the board and then defensively, the dropped interceptions and things. We could have really taken the game away. But we really talked about last night this was going to be a four-quarter game, that the Cougars are going to play hard, that they’re going to have their moments, that their quarterback is a big-play guy. I think we understood that at halftime. ... It doesn’t matter (going bowling). I don’t care. In all honesty, I think everybody else thought we were talking about. Our focus was on this game, and that’s a tribute to our coaches and our kids. And the realitty of it is, we’re going to enjoy this win tonight." ... The last pass, "It’s completely called. It’s an automatic fade. Nice job of Jake allowing Jermaine a chance to make the play. And that’s Jermaine’s strong point — high-pointing the football." ... "I think they were believing what we were doing and our ability to finish. We were preaching ‘finish’ since Day One, but especially the last three weeks." ... "My big key to last drive was, 'Let’s get a first down. One big first down and then we start getting the momentum.' I thought the first down was key to start the momentum of the last drive." ... Fourth down fumble. Second-guessing? … "Honestly, I wasn’t. It was a touchdown. It’s unfortunate…. It was the exact same play that Jake has the touchdown run on in the first quarter that gets called back. The same play, it was there again. I don’t know exactly what happened, how Jesse got that close to Jake that the ball jarred out. It wasn’t a read, it was designed quarterback run."
• Locker on the fumble and other items: "He went for it on the fourth down on the goal line there and we had a miscue, we had a fumble. It’s on me on that one. It goes a long ways, not just him having the confidence but having the confidence in us to say, ‘OK, I know that happened last time, but I believe you guys can do it again. Let’s dial it up and let’s get another shot at it.’ " ... "I think from a players’ standpoint, you love when your coach trusts you like that and has faith in you like that. I think the guys responded." ... The last touchdown was "a really good job of him going up to get the ball. With a guy like Jermaine, especially in those types of routes, if you just give him a chance you’ve got a good chance he’s going to come down with that one. And that’s what I figured when we had one-on-one coverage."
• Kearse on the last play: "I was actually surprised and happy at the same time. I thought we were going to run and kick the field goal. But he went for the touchdown, and I don’t have any problems with that."
• Around the Pac-10: ESPN.com's Ted Miller looks at the bowl possibilities and hands out helmet stickers. ... Jon Wilner looks at the bowls as well. ... Washington: The Huskies are going bowling after the victory (same thing here) because the program is showing resilience. ... Kearse came up huge as did Sark's gambles. ... A quick summary. ... Oregon State: The game story and a feature on a warrior. ... The Beavers wasted red-zone chances. ... Oregon: The 37-20 win sends the Ducks to the national title game their way. ... Cal: Take this day off you Bears. ... Stanford: You too Cardinal. ... USC: It was obvious the two teams have problems. ... UCLA: But the crap in the parking lot was worse. Wow. ... Arizona State: You take the day as well, Sun Devils. ... Arizona: Join them Wildcats.
• That's it for this morning. We'll be back if news events warrant, but after Paul Wulff's usual Sunday conference call for sure. Until then ...