SEATTLE – A regular season of highs and lows culminated Friday with a familiar low for Washington State – the Cougars losing 31-13 to Washington at Husky Stadium, extending their skid in the Apple Cup to seven years.
WSU now gets what essentially equates to a third bye week before learning its bowl destination, which will be announced Dec. 8 and perhaps unofficially revealed a day or two before then.
We’ll dive into preliminary bowl scenarios in our weekly rewind, rehash what happened in the Apple Cup and cover what was said after it.
Hyped up, psyched out
Max Borghi’s postgame press conferences have been an interesting place to be these past three weeks. The sophomore running back didn’t arrive to the makeshift press conference room in the bowels of Husky Stadium with any bold predictions as he had the two weeks prior, but Borghi’s 5-minute chat nonetheless provided a few interesting talking points.
Why do the Cougars tend to get skittish in the Apple Cup, more so than in other games?
“I feel like guys hype this game up more than they should,” Borghi said. “It’s just another game, it’s a regular game, but a lot of guys like to, ‘Oh, it’s Washington. Ohhhhh.’ I don’t know, I just feel like as a team we could do a better job of just playing, playing the next play and just playing football. A lot of guys get tight and antsy out there, and it shows.”
What’s the secret to treating the Apple Cup like any other game?
“I don’t know if there is a secret. It’s just don’t be soft, I guess,” Borghi said. “There’s really no secret. It’s really no different than any other game. It’s just another game.”
Is there a mental block for WSU in the Apple Cup?
“I’m not sure,” Borghi said. “I know for me personally, it’s just another game, and I’m not going to look at them as any significant team more than any other team. Maybe for some guys. It felt like it out there today a little bit. Obviously, the way we performed is not the way we can perform. We’re a lot better than what we played today.”
Was there a point in the game where it turned?
“Sometimes some guys put their heads down and it drives me nuts,” Borghi said. “A full game is four quarters. If the other team scores, it’s no big deal. There’s so much time left on the clock. I felt like after their first touchdown, some guys were like, ‘Ohhhh. Oh no.’ But I’ve just got to do my best job at elevating guys and bringing them up, and telling guys to keep their heads up. That’s completely on me.”
Will Borghi lead the Cougars to an eventual victory in the Apple Cup? The running back was still WSU’s top player on offense Friday, rushing 10 times for 51 yards and a touchdown while catching 12 passes for 58 yards. Borghi’s nonchalant attitude toward the annual rivalry game rubbed a few fans and former players the wrong way, but he’ll be the centerpiece of head coach Mike Leach’s offense for the next two years – pending an early departure to the NFL – and should emerge as a central leader for the entire team as a junior.
Tight end trouble
The Cougars consistently had trouble locating and sticking with Washington’s tight ends, allowing Hunter Bryant to get open for six catches and 96 yards, while Cade Otton hauled in three balls for 46 yards. The pair combined for more than half (142 yards) of Jacob Eason’s total passing yardage (244 yards).
Tight ends pose a unique challenge for WSU, a team that doesn’t use them and often leans on bigger wide receivers or defensive linemen to provide the midweek scout. But defensive end Karson Block maintained the Cougars shouldn’t resort to that as an excuse.
“I don’t think so, not necessarily,” Block said. “We play a lot of teams with tight ends, and our scout team does a great job of giving us the looks we’re going to get. So I don’t think that’s necessarily a big factor. It’s just something we’ve got to deal with.”
Still, tight ends have been a nuisance for the Cougars, especially in this second half of the season.
The Cougars gave up five catches and 80 yards to Stanford’s Colby Parkinson two weeks ago before letting Oregon State’s tandem of Noah Togiai and Teagan Quitoriano combine to haul in six catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Tack that onto the production from UW’s Bryant and Otton, and WSU has allowed opposing tight ends to reel in 20 balls for 271 yards.
“When you have good players in certain positions, you just have to figure out how to get them the ball,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “Sometimes we try that play-action game where we slam the ball in the air and slip the tight ends behind the linebackers.”
“It was the details of us tonight,” Bryant said. “We were open on a lot of different plays tonight and the ball just came to us. Cade and I had a lot of fun out there and enjoying everything that we do.”
Not every 6-6 team makes a bowl game, but the Cougars are safe, given that the Pac-12 has tie-ins with seven bowls and may not be able to fill all those if both Oregon and Utah make New Year’s Six games.
A loss in the Apple Cup effectively eliminated WSU from Sun Bowl contention. The Cougars will probably finish with the worst conference record among bowl-eligible teams in the Pac-12, which puts them either in the Vegas Bowl (Dec. 21) against a Mountain West team or the Phoenix-based Cheez-It Bowl (Dec. 27) against a Big 12 team.
The Pac-12 bowl scenario became more clear Saturday after games between Oregon and Oregon State, Arizona and Arizona State, Cal and UCLA and Colorado and Utah. OSU and Colorado finished the season at five wins – one short of bowl eligibility. Already-eligible ASU and Cal both won to finish with better overall and conference records than the Cougars.
More bowl primers will come out next week, but it’ll be almost impossible to pin down who’s playing where until Oregon and Utah meet in the conference championship game Friday in Santa Clara, California.
If the Pac-12 receives two New Year’s Six bowl bids, it would move every team in the conference up one spot. WSU would have a great shot at the Las Vegas Bowl, and the Cheez-It Bowl would have to go outside the conference to fill both slots. If not, the Pac-12 would be able to fill all seven slots, giving the Cougars a good chance of a bowl game in Phoenix.
More on all that next week.
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