PULLMAN – With just about everything ahead of the game going in Washington State’s direction – 10-1 record, good health, home field, the best quarterback Mike Leach has had at WSU, a top-25 defense to go with the nation’s top passing attack that helped put up 69 points a week earlier – he had no counter for the Huskies.
They are North Division champions after the 28-15 triumph on Friday night in the snow globe of Martin Stadium because they do their stuff better under coach Chris Petersen than the Cougars do their stuff under Leach.
As it seems it shall always be. Forever and ever. Amen.
Yes, it was a tad closer than the four previous Apple Cups (award juice boxes and orange slices here). But that was largely a function of UW special teams screw-ups as opposed to the meat of the game.
When what Leach termed “bizarre conditions” descended upon the game – others who have witnessed a few more of the previous 110 games between the teams might term it just another Friday in November – he had no alternate gear. No chains to put on the offense. No gravel to throw under the defense.
As a result, a sixth consecutive win in the series happened for Washington, as does a match against Utah on Friday in Santa Clara, California, for the Pac-12 championship and a shot at the Rose Bowl.
“Things become kinda random, as far as where the ball goes,” Leach said of the conditions.
That’s mostly true. But randomness happens in every game, and coaches are paid big coin to have answers prepared.
The Cougars appeared to be catching on to a countermeasure. With 40 seconds left in the first half and trailing 14-0 with the ball at the UW 11-yard line, WSU crossed up the Huskies’ defense with a straight-ahead give to running back James Williams, who blew into the end zone unharmed. No pass in the flat, no fade to the corner, no shovel pass.
That was the first first-half touchdown against Washington in what seemed like since Drew Bledsoe was in diapers.
That’s about where original thinking ended. WSU managed a season-low 237 yards of offense when it mostly declined to run the ball despite QB Gardner Minshew struggling with slippery footing. The Cougars’ only scoring drives came from 49 and 23 yards, directly the result of UW miscues.
The Huskies could not have been more delighted to see an absence of craftiness.
“I mean, we know what type of offense we’re playing,” UW defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake said. “They do the same thing year in and year out. This is five years in a row now, and so it makes it real easy to game-plan.
“With the conditions, they can only do one thing. It handcuffs (them) a little bit. So it was definitely to our advantage. And we took advantage of it.”
Were you surprised they couldn’t adjust?
“It does surprise me,” Lake said. “But knowing what I read about the head football coach here, he does things a little different way. So hopefully he remains here a long time. That would be awesome.”
Shots, as they say, fired.
Lake’s back of the hand may have breached Petersen’s protocols about trash talk, but it was hard to argue with the accuracy. The Cougars have won four in a row over Oregon, three in a row over Stanford, and should have had two in a row over USC but for some controversial officiating in September’s loss to the Trojans at the Coliseum.
Asked whether conditions dictated a change in play calling, Leach said, “It’s tough to, because all of it was somewhat random. It kinda restricted things. It was hard for anybody to go way downfield.
“But they did ambush us with a couple of explosives.”
That they did. The result was the Huskies needed only 12 completions to achieve 229 yards passing, while the Cougars needed 26 to get 152. As always with Gaskin, they had a solution for all conditions and terrain – 170 yards in 27 carries. That gave him 550 for his four Apple Cups.
Leach did own up, with a standard response to a defeat.
I do think they blocked better than we did and tackled better than we did,” he said. “They won.”
The Huskies indeed won. It was the one thing that wasn’t random.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com
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