A GRIP ON SPORTS • There are two words we are associating with today. “One last.” Yep, they are perfect to highlight this Saturday. As in: One last … full weekend of college football. Or, one last … Apple Cup as a conference matchup. One last … Pac-12 game as remember the conference of our youth. Or even, one last … chance to get ticked off at those who had a hand in the demise.
• There are a lot of culprits, aren’t they? Including the folks wearing purple (or maybe black) today in Husky Stadium. We can’t do more than just rage against the dying of the conference’s light, but Washington’s opponent this afternoon has a chance to do more than that.
A chance to take intellectual anger and turn it into physical expression. Legally.
Which, paradoxically, considering how the team that hits harder usually wins college football games, should be a worry for Cougar fans.
Emotion can only take an underdog so far. It can lead to a great start – or to mistakes of aggression that turn into an early deficit. To win today against the fourth-ranked Huskies, Washington State needs to not only play with more passion but with more control as well. Fly around sure, but stay in your lanes. Trying to do too much is a recipe for failure.
Washington is a more than two touchdown favorite. The Cougars need a win to ensure they end their season in a bowl game. The Apple Cup always carries with it baggage, especially when WSU treks across the mountains, but this one is a steamer trunk packed to its seams, with the top about to pop off at any moment.
Washington’s challenge is simple. One last time weather the Cougars’ early storm of emotion, wait for them to punch themselves out. And then strike. Hard. Often. Methodically.
The visitors’ challenges are more numerous. They are deficient in many areas – hence the 5-6 record and the spread – and one last time need to punch above their weight in most matchups. The offensive line has to play better than its best. The secondary needs to execute. Cameron Ward needs to be precise, sure, but more importantly decisive. The middle of the defense has to be aggressive without over-pursuing.
Expect the Huskies to give WSU a big dose of Dillon Johnson, if his foot is healthy, and then, after a whole flurry of body blows, attack over the top with Michael Penix searching for Rome Odunze and his buddies. Expect the Cougars to do whatever they can, which might be more than usual against the nation’s fourth-ranked team.
There have been upsets in the series, being played on last time as a conference game. But if that were to happen today, it might just top them all. Not by sheer point spread. That’s a construct based on financial considerations. No, based on the mismatch, the weight of the stakes and the influence of the future.
We don’t believe it will happen. In fact, we would give a blowout about an 85% chance. But we’ll watch. And continue to watch even if there is a car-crash nature to what’s happening.
After all, we have to. One last time.
WSU: We have our reasons for thinking UW will win today. History. Talent. Home-field advantage. Greg Woods has his reasons too. … He also has a preview of the 1 p.m. game (on Fox) and his keys to victory. … The weekend began in Seattle with one last volleyball match between UW and WSU. The Cougars swept and await Sunday’s NCAA tourney announcement. … Greg is in Seattle, so he was unable to cover the Cougars’ 93-53 nonconference basketball win in Pullman over Utah Tech. … The 23rd-ranked women are in Cancun and are 2-0 in the multi-team event after Friday’s 90-48 win over Massachusetts. They play always-tough Green Bay today. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, Jon Wilner has a mailbag in the Mercury News this morning. … In basketball news, Arizona State bounced back with a win over Vanderbilt in Las Vegas. … A late Oklahoma tip sent USC to defeat. … One Colorado player is picking its spots carefully. … The Arizona State women were routed by Texas. … No. 2 UCLA earned its first win ever over sixth-ranked Connecticut. … No. 4 Stanford also rolled over another ranked opponent. … No. 3 Colorado won as well and has another top-10 matchup ahead. … Oregon State has displayed a balanced offense this season. … Mt. Spokane’s Jayden Noble returned to the Washington lineup and led a suffocating win over Idaho State. … Finally, Stanford’s soccer team is headed to the women’s College Cup.
OK, on to the results from Friday and to today’s final weekend of Pac-12 football …
• No. 6 Oregon 31, No. 16 Oregon State 7: The Ducks got the ball to start the game and did to the Beavers what Oregon State wants to do every game – march down the field methodically and score. Though there were anxious moments for Oregon, that opening drive set the tone for a dominating victory. And moved a richer Dan Lanning and the Ducks into Friday night’s Pac-12 title game against Washington. Now OSU turns its attention to Jonathan Smith and his future.
• Colorado at Utah (noon, Pac-12 Networks): No one is quite sure who the Utes will have at quarterback. Or who Colorado will play at the game’s most-important position. Welcome to the final Pac-12 game for the last two schools to join the conference. This contest is more about next year than the current one.
• No. 15 Arizona at Arizona State (12:30 p.m., ESPN): Now that Oregon has eliminated the surprising Wildcats from the Pac-12’s title game, the Territorial Cup is “only” about the rivalry. In this state, that’s enough. Though the Sun Devils have struggled in Kenny Dillingham’s first season, they are capable of giving Arizona fits.
• No. 18 Notre Dame at Stanford (4, Pac-12 Networks): A couple of notes from this nonconference game are interesting. The Cardinal are trying to win its first home game of the season, the only school in the nation with that distinction. And this will be the final football broadcast for the Pac-12 Networks. We’re sure the Notre Dame faithful throughout the Midwest spent the week figuring out where the heck they could watch the darn game.
• California at UCLA (7:30, ESPN): The final conference meeting between the two UC schools. In the Rose Bowl. With ESPN in the house. Pretty much sums up the last weekend. Now, if the Bruins can figure out a way dominate the Bears, only for the officials to make a late mistake that causes Chip Kelly to lose, that would be such a perfect ending for the conference. And his tenure in L.A.
Gonzaga: The women rolled over Liberty 102-59 in yesterday’s first game at the Betty Chancellor Classic in Katy, Texas. Greg Lee watched and has this story. The Zags face 6-0 Alabama today. … Elsewhere in the WCC, Saint Mary’s men hosted Davidson yesterday. The Gaels hoped Steph Curry would show. He didn’t. Maybe he didn’t want to see his old school lose.
Idaho: The Vandal men handed UC San Diego its first loss of the season, winning 73-70 in overtime of a game played in Seattle. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, there is only one football team in action today, with Sacramento State headed to North Dakota for an FCS first-round matchup. Not all that long ago, that would have pitted two Big Sky schools. … Montana’s men were no match on the road for sixth-ranked Houston in hoop. … UC Davis and Sacramento State are meeting in a nonconference basketball game. Davis and Cal Poly being football-only members is weird. … The Montana State women won in Cancun, topping New Mexico. … Northern Colorado’s punter is a Jerry Rice Award finalist.
Whitworth: The Pirates put their 10-0 record on the line today in the second round of the NCAA Division III football playoffs. Of course, their opponent, third-ranked Wartburg, is 11-0, at home and is one of the tournament’s favorites. Ethan Myers has this preview as Whitworth continues to try to make history.
Seahawks: Yes, Geno Smith needs help. Heck, Pete Carroll does not believe the Hawks are maximizing all their weapons. … Riq Woolen will return to the starting lineup Thursday. The defense could use a boost.
Mariners: Yes, it’s the offseason. The M’s have already made a trade that seemed it bit off but may have a plan behind it. Is part of that actually trying to entice Shohei Ohtani to town? Probably not.
• We are serious. We would watch the Apple Cup even if we were not being paid to do it. It’s that interesting. Being that we will be writing a TV Take about the game is just the Cosmic Crisp on the top of the football sundae. Until later …