FROM PULLMAN — The final practice of the season was a brief, light one for the Washington State football team, as they practiced for under two hours and bypassed their usual Thursday Night Football portion. Quarterback Connor Halliday and defensive end/linebacker Travis Long did not participate, as was the case the past two days. Afterward, we spoke with a couple of WSU coaches about the Apple Cup rivalry. Read on.
At this point, it seems unlikely that Long, a senior who has started all 47 of WSU's games in his career, will play on his Senior Day. He wasn't at practice after sitting out Monday and Tuesday, when he was seen favoring his right knee. Coach Mike Leach did say on a radio appearance with 710 AM in Seattle this afternoon that “I've never suggested that Travis Long can't play,” though that's a pretty standard stance for him. … David Gilbertson continues to take reps as WSU's backup quarterback behind Jeff Tuel. … Mike Breske and Eric Russell both wore “war paint” on their faces to signify the importance of rivalry week. Breske said he encouraged his defensive players to do the same. … Otherwise, not much to discuss from a news perspective. So we'll pass along our conversation with Russell, one of two WSU coaches who grew up in the region and has some sort of perspective on what the Apple Cup means to WSU.
Russell: “As a kid, the big time football in my world was Idaho, Washington, Washington State. And the Apple Cup obviously was big. I can remember just always a good time around the family. That was a lot of years ago. It’ll be interesting to be a part of this thing and see if there really is a rivalry still or if we can kind of revitalize it a little bit and come out and win a game. I’m looking forward to it because really my last few stops I don’t know that there’s been a rivalry. The Idaho-Boise one, you didn’t need much to get geeked up for that week. And at North Texas we never really had a rivalry. Louisiana Tech we didn’t have a rivalry. Tennessee they said our rival was Alabama but we didn’t win that game. it’ll be interesting to see how our players react, what the atmosphere’s like.”
(Is the staff embracing it?) “I’m sure we’ll learn it after experiencing this first one, but also as a coach you’ve got to be careful especially in our situation. We’re staying home for Christmas, they’re going to an extra game. You’d love to get this game back to where it’s meaningful but for us as coaches this game’s more about are we going to come out and compete in the 12th game of the year, or are we going to shut it down? It’s an opportiunity for guys to continue to get better, to see if the things we're preaching are going to get done and I think as coaches you’re competitive regardless of the opponent. I think you’re right, there might not be the deep down understanding of the tradition and the history of this game, but as a coach and a competitor and someone who wants to continue to feed your family, every game’s big and this one happens to be bragging rights in the state and it can make your whole offseason be that much more enjoyable just as far as a player going to work and trying to start over and get your body back, and as coaches hitting the road and being able to recruit a little bit, especially if you’ve got a chance to beat these guys and I think we all understand that, nobody’s lived it yet as far as most of the guys but they’ll get a taste of it I’m sure Friday.”
(Is the bigger picture more important?) “It’s the next game and I think it would be that way even if you’re playing for something like bowl eligibility. … It adds a little bit more to it that it gets to be the Huskies and it is truly a state divided and I think the one thing these guys probably found out when they came here was how loyal either Cougar fans are or Husky fans, and that it is truly a state divided and those are the two, so that’s kind of unique. We’ve talked about this game. We’ve tried to bring back older great moments in Cougar history toward this game. Coach Leach has addressed plays offensively and defensively and special teams from an Apple Cup game. Not only for our staff to figure out about this game but the freshmen that haven't experienced it. It is a chance for our seniors to beat the Huskies one last time and maybe send them out with a better taste in their mouth than they’ve experienced this year.”