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Sports >  WSU football

Washington State rewind: Cougars flipped the Apple Cup script in blowout victory

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 29, 2021

By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

SEATTLE – Travell Harris led a “Go Cougs” chant while perched on someone’s shoulders in the middle of a crimson swarm of over 1,000 that had blanketed the field at Husky Stadium.

The longtime Washington State slotback, who was also celebrating his birthday Friday, flashed the “Dubs Down” hand gesture, eliciting more applause from the inspired fans.

A few yards away, quarterback Jayden de Laura requested Ol’ Crimson, then stuck the WSU flag into the turf at midfield.

Deon McIntosh was tagged with an amusing penalty for embracing mascot Butch T. Cougar after scooting across the plane for the game-sealing touchdown.

Max Borghi kissed the Apple Cup, smoked a cigar and later detailed how much he despises the Washington Huskies and the color purple.

Coach Jake Dickert lifted the traveling trophy high and received props from Gov. Jay Inslee as WSU athletic director Pat Chun and president Kirk Schulz beamed close by – perhaps knowing full well they’d be offering Dickert a five-year head-coaching contract a day later.

Those were some of the images from Friday’s striking scene. WSU blasted the Huskies 40-13 for the Pullman program’s largest margin of victory in the 121-year-old intrastate series.

The emotional celebration was a fitting capper to an arduous regular season that went from dismal to delightful for the Cougars (7-5, 6-3 Pac-12), who now await a Dec. 5 selection show that will reveal their bowl destination.

Though UW (4-8, 3-6) was led by an outgoing coaching staff and stumbling to the finish of its worst season in over a decade, the visitors’ party in Seattle felt warranted. It’d been eight years since they laid claim to bragging rights in the Evergreen State.

The postgame revelries won’t soon be forgotten, but let’s see if we can recall the one-sided particulars from the game itself.

Assignment understood

WSU’s previous regime drew criticism from Coug fans after several of the past seven Apple Cup defeats.

During their stretch of dominance in this series, the Huskies were often content to rush three and drop eight into pass coverage – because WSU’s Air Raid offense had never really given UW reason to play the run.

The Cougars’ supporters were apt to voice frustrations after their team averaged 12 rushes per game throughout the streak of futility against its hated foes from out west.

WSU’s contemporary staff, participating Friday in its first Apple Cup, took a fresh approach.

The Huskies continued to empty their defensive box, and the Cougars continued to run it right at them.

“If they’re gonna drop eight, we’re gonna run it down their throats,” Borghi said.

Tailbacks Borghi and McIntosh combined for 178 yards on 38 carries, bruising a UW front that entered the day 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense at over 190 yards allowed per game.

WSU put it in the hands of its RBs four times per possession.

Borghi set a career-high with 22 rushing attempts and posted a pair of touchdowns to move into a share of the lead for the program’s career-scoring record (41 TDs).

An image of Borghi enjoying a cigar with the trophy resting on his lap went semiviral late Friday.

“Holding that Apple Cup trophy is something we’ve all dreamt about,” Borghi said after registering the finest performance in his three games versus UW.

Run-pass options have seemingly become more prevalent in the Cougs’ playbook under Dickert. De Laura converted a couple of key first downs with option keepers.

He struck a pose from the turf after scurrying outside for 12 yards and sliding down midway through the fourth. That first down sparked a scoring series that stretched WSU’s lead to 20 points.

It’d been 16 years since WSU dialed up so many rushes in an Apple Cup.

A few hours after the game wrapped up, WSU offensive coordinator Brian Smith took to Twitter, and threw a little shade at his rivals.

He shared a well-circulated photo of former UW coach Jimmy Lake sporting a hat that featured the phrase “Run the Damn Ball” in block lettering.

“I understood the assignment!!!” Smith tweeted.

Unlike previous installments of the Apple Cup, WSU imposed its will in the run game while UW never got going on the ground (14 rushes, 10 yards).

The Cougars’ run-and-shoot broke off 19 carries of over 5 yards – and six over 10 – behind an offensive line that fashioned wide lanes against a thin UW front while not surrendering a sack and consistently providing de Laura ample time to work through his progressions.

“I’m taking them to dinner as soon as possible,” Borghi said of the big men, who played without senior center Brian Greene on Friday. “I love those guys. Those guys up front are the reason we won that game.”

De Laura diced up UW’s touted secondary, completing 21 of his first 22 attempts and finishing with an 84.3% completion rate – the highest percentage for a Coug QB in Apple Cup history and the No. 4 mark for WSU passers ever in a single game.

The rising star from Hawaii spread the touches out among five receivers in his first six throws. De Laura’s distribution and accuracy in the intermediate game kept UW on edge.

“He was razor sharp,” Dickert said of de Laura, who finished the regular season atop the Pac-12 rankings in passing TDs (23) and yards (2,751). “He was comfortable in the pocket. Let’s give credit to the offensive line.”

Four pass-catchers tallied at least five receptions apiece. Calvin Jackson Jr., who matched up against NFL draft prospect Kyler Gordon, recorded 68 yards.

True freshman outside receiver De’Zhaun Stribling made a career-best seven catches on another probable pro Husky in Trent McDuffie. Fellow wideout Donovan Ollie had only 161 yards across 11 starts this season, but set career-highs versus UW in receptions (five) and yardage (68).

In five games under the defensive-minded Dickert, WSU’s offense is running the ball at a 52% clip. The run-and-shoot system typically favors the pass by about a 60/40 ratio.

But Dickert is one to highlight the importance of establishing a physical edge early, and he emphasizes winning the second-half rushing battle.

Although it’s been a down year on Montlake, the Huskies’ defensive numbers were still among the Pac-12’s best. That is, until Friday.

WSU amassed more points than UW had granted in a game since 2014. The Cougars’ 454 yards – 245 passing, 209 rushing – were the fifth-most the Huskies have ceded in one outing over the last five years.

The Cougars hadn’t scored over 20 points in an Apple Cup since 2012, and they hadn’t tallied 40 or more in the series in 14 years – their most recent triumph in Seattle.

“We ran the ball – that’s the answer,” Borghi said.

UW’s defense had collected 16 takeaways entering the game. Over the past seven Apple Cups, Cougar turnovers had become a staple of the series.

WSU had committed 26 giveaways combined in its seven-game Cup skid.

In this drought-snapping victory?

None.

“It’s fun to see this offense clicking,” Dickert said.

Best was good enough

Under Dickert’s tutelage, the Cougar defense had a turnaround season, transforming from a unit prone to coverage lapses into a turnover-producing machine that bent but seldom broke.

UW’s offense, meanwhile, slumped this year.

As a result of injury trouble, an ineffective rushing attack and unstable quarterback play, the Huskies ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12 in major stat categories – producing just over 20 points and 300 yards per game.

All that probably taken into consideration, the Cougars figured their “best” would be “good enough,” Dickert said.

“We knew that coming into the game. We didn’t have to be some superhuman team – we had to be us.”

For good measure, WSU played near its peak – despite being down a couple of key pieces in its secondary.

The Cougs flustered true freshman Husky quarterback Sam Huard – who threw four interceptions after being thrust into his first-career start – and held UW under 10 yards of offense until late in the second quarter.

WSU’s defensive front sent out inventive formations on third downs, bringing pressure behind its “Cheetah” line of edges Ron Stone Jr., Brennan Jackson, Willie Taylor III and Quinn Roff. The Huskies moved the chains only twice on third downs before their final two drives.

“Just showing different looks, running some different things, letting (Huard) see different things out there and just being able to rally to the ball,” linebacker Justus Rogers said of WSU’s defensive success.

Just three Husky possessions traveled farther than 30 yards. Two ended in UW touchdowns and another, late in the third period, was stopped in the red zone when Rogers picked an ill-advised Huard pass and brought it back 60 yards.

WSU’s front logged one sack on the night, but forced UW to abandon the run early and pressured Huard into hasty, off-balance throws on three interceptions.

Nickel Armani Marsh, a Gonzaga Prep grad, tallied two picks, housing one from 28 yards out for the Cougs’ exclamation point midway through the fourth quarter.

“Talk about a guy who’s Mr. Consistent,” Dickert said of Marsh. “(Marsh is) from the state of Washington, not highly recruited. He walked on at our place and he’s a captain who’s going to be a three-year starter. What else do you have to say about the kid?”

Marsh’s pick-6 marked the first defensive TD of the year for WSU in 16 games under this staff.

Given the Cougars’ knack for takeaways, that fact may come as a surprise. Only two teams in the FBS have gained more turnovers than WSU (27).

“We’ve kinda joked around about it, and to finally make it happen, I’m just so proud of the guys and the way they play and attack every day,” Dickert said. “They’ve given us everything they have and I’m just so proud of that.”

UW’s 200 yards of total offense were the fewest WSU has permitted in a game this year.

The last time the Huskies failed to amass over 200 yards in an Apple Cup was 1994, when the Palouse Posse restricted UW to 197 yards during a 23-6 Coug win in Pullman.

Between 1970-2019, UW had scored 20 or less points in seven editions of this rivalry game. The Huskies averaged over 35 points per game across the last seven Apple Cups, all of them double-digit wins for the west-siders.

In 2021, WSU took advantage of a favorable matchup and turned the tables.

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