The Huskies Won The Apple Cup, Await Their Bowl Fate

I’ll be the first to admit that I had the wrong read on this game.  I thought the Cougs would do a better job stacking up against the run (especially after Dante Pettis was lost for the game so early on) and force Jake Browning to beat them with a bunch of scrubs through the air.  And, quite frankly, I thought they’d be able to move the ball better than they have the last four times they’ve played in this game.

What I underestimated was that Husky front, and their ability to get pressure with just three guys, time and time and time again.  What I OVER-estimated was the Cougars’ coaching staff’s ability to make adjustments, or shit, just learn from prior mistakes!

You see a three-man front coming after your quarterback, and it doesn’t occur to you to run the ball?  Not counting quarterback scrambles, the Cougs ran it 6 times in that game.  Are you JOKING me?  Why not more screen passes?  I get all the dump-offs, I get that the Huskies would give you everything underneath, so why are you holding onto the ball for so long, looking or the deep pass?  RUN THE BALL!  Run the ball to keep the Huskies off the field.  Run the ball to force the defense to come up towards the line of scrimmage.  Run the ball to get the play-action working.  Run the ball until they stop you, and THEN do what you came here to do in the passing game!

If I was a Cougars fan, I’d be furious.  Thankfully, I ended up at the right school.

As I said up top, and last week, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in this one.  I thought if the Huskies were ever primed for a let-down, it would’ve been right here.  The Cougs had everything to play for and the Huskies had their pride.  Then, almost immediately, Pettis and Lavon Coleman – both playing in their final games in Husky Stadium – were lost to injury, and my confidence in a Husky victory fell even further.  But, it turns out, that Husky talent will win the day more often than not.  Two of your top three offensive weapons go down (on top of all the other offensive weapons that went down earlier this season)?  Next man up gets the job done.

In this case, the Huskies rode Myles Gaskin.  Hard.  25 carries, 192 yards, and 4 TDs.  That puts him at 208 carries, 1,282 yards and 19 TDs on the season with a game left to play.  When you tack on his 18 receptions for 228 yards and 3 TDs in the passing game, you’re talking about one of the finest seasons from a skill position player in Husky football history!  Where would this team be without Myles Gaskin?  He’s a Junior, but will almost certainly go to the NFL next year, and boy has he earned it!

He made up for another pointless day for Jake Browning, who was 11/17 for 93 yards, while adding a goalline TD run.  It’s yet another one of those games where you can’t really judge the quarterback because he wasn’t asked to do anything other than hand the ball off.  I guess kudos to him for not audibling out of those called runs.

No receiver really stepped up, as what few passes he threw, he spread them around pretty good.  The belief is Pettis will be back for the bowl game, so fingers crossed.

Really, though, you have to give equal time to the defense.  They forced Falk into 3 interceptions and a fumble, as he managed 369 yards through the air, but it took him 55 attempts to do it.  I would never kill the Cougs for not making a quarterback change in this game; Falk has been one of the best QBs in school history, if not THE best.  I hang this loss on the coaching staff, all things considered.

Vita Vea and Co. were all over the place.  Vea is an absolute destroyer of worlds, he’s been amazing to watch this season, and throughout his Husky career.  It’s crazy that he ended up with only 2 tackles and half a sack on the stat sheet, but he was ALL over the place, in Falk’s face with consistent bull rushes on nearly every play, often allowing other Huskies around him to clean the play up.

Props to Senior cornerback Ezekiel Turner, JoJo McIntosh, and Ben Burr-Kirven for their interceptions.  I also wanted to shout out Byron Murphy for his lockdown presence in the defensive backfield, with 3 credited passes defended and 5 tackles, including a nifty tackle for loss.  The guys who end up coming back next year will be fun to watch.

And thus wraps up the regular season.  The Huskies finished 10-2, and thanks to the loss to Stanford, the Cardinal gets to play USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game.  I don’t know how much this season will be remembered, in the grand scheme of the Husky football program, but if it is, it’s going to be remembered for that fucking loss to ASU.  I will never come close to understanding how we let that one get away from us, preventing us from another crack at a conference title and probably a Final Four bid.

One forgotten tidbit is this:  maybe the non-conference schedule WASN’T such a cupcake festival!  If you look at the Top 25 College Football Playoff Rankings, Fresno State is down there at #25, having just knocked off Boise State in their regular season finale.  They turn right back around – this time on the road – to play Boise State in the Mountain West Championship Game, so they could very well fall right back out of the Top 25, but just knowing that they’re right there!  That’s not nothing!  One would have to think, had the Huskies beaten ASU, then beaten USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game, we’d be talking about a 1-loss Husky team that’s beaten three Top 25 teams.  Is that enough to get you into the Final Four?  I guess we’ll never know.

What’s left is this:  the Huskies are currently ranked 13th.  Stanford is 12th, and assuming they lose to USC, you have to think the Huskies jump ahead of them.  The other biggie is TCU – currently 11th – has to play Oklahoma.  If TCU loses, that’s a third loss for them, and I would hope the Huskies would also jump ahead of them.  And, I know it’s a longshot, but Ohio State is 8th and they play the undefeated Wisconsin Badgers.  Even though Wisconsin hasn’t played anyone, if they can somehow beat the Buckeyes, that would give them three losses.

The point is, the top four teams will play in the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl.  After that, there are another four major bowls who will mostly accept at-large teams, or teams otherwise in the Top 12.  Assuming, at the very least, that Stanford loses, that should give the Huskies a shot.  Assuming Stanford and TCU lose, that should give the Huskies a better shot.  And so on and so forth.

Now, it was pointed out that last year Colorado was ranked 10th and ended up in the Alamo Bowl, as opposed to one of the 6 major bowls, but it should also be pointed out that USC was ranked ahead of Colorado, and there’s just no way that three Pac-12 teams were going to make it.

The big trouble-spot for the Huskies is Central Florida.  UCF plays Memphis in the American Athletic Conference.  UCF is undefeated and currently ranked 14th, one spot below the Huskies.  Now, ideally, UCF will lose, and the point will be moot.  But, if they win (Memphis is currently 20th), I have to wonder if they’ll be given a spot in one of the 6 major bowls.  It’s definitely possible, and maybe even likely!

Ultimately, it sucks being in this position.  It sucks to have largely the same team as a year ago, and not even playing for a conference title.  It sucks that that ASU loss is looming so large over the entire season, when they ended up firing their head coach before their bowl game!

At the same time, this is not a championship Husky team.  Ironically, had things gone differently, it’s almost certain that we wouldn’t have had to play Alabama in the playoffs.  But, I mean, do you really want to play the team that BEAT Bama?

There are too many flaws, particularly on offense, for this Husky team to overcome.  Sure, the defense probably could’ve hung in there like they did against Bama last year, but that’s not enough.

Still, it would’ve been nice to go back-to-back.

I’m Not So Sure About This Year’s Apple Cup

I normally throw up a Seahawks preview on Fridays, but they’re playing the 49ers, we’re apparently NOT going to see the start of the Jimmy Garoppolo Era, and so I couldn’t care any less.  Therefore, I’m gonna take a look at tomorrow’s Apple Cup.

So, this game is a pretty big deal!  In the Pac-12 South, USC has predictably run away with it and has secured its spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game.  In the Pac-12 North, there are currently three teams with 2 conference losses:  Stanford, Washington, and Washington State.  Stanford, at 7-2, is finished with conference play, and by virtue of having beaten Washington, has effectively eliminated the Huskies from an opportunity at winning the conference.

The Cougs, however, by virtue of having beaten Stanford, only needs to win the Apple Cup this weekend to secure its spot in the conference title game.

In short:  Huskies win tomorrow, Stanford moves on; Cougars win tomorrow, Cougars move on.

So, yeah, in one sense, the Huskies have nothing to play for.  But, it’s still a football game, it’s the final game a lot of these players (particularly the seniors) will play at home, and while there isn’t much satisfaction to be gleaned from playing spoiler, it would still be pretty funny to dash the hopes of Cougars everywhere.

Ultimately, though, I just don’t know how much I can get up for this one.  First and foremost, we’re just two weeks removed from the Cardinal ruining our season.  In a hypothetical universe where the Huskies are still a 1-loss team, I have to imagine we’d be on the outside looking in on a College Football Playoffs Top 4, but we’d still be right there in the conversation.  Top 7, top 8 at the worst, with various rivalry games and conference championship games left to play.  In this scenario, if the Huskies win the Apple Cup, then beat a very good USC team … you never know.  Anything could happen!

So, like I said, we’re just two weeks removed from Stanford taking all of that excitement away from us … and now if we beat the Cougs we’d be HELPING them to a conference title game appearance.  I mean, FUCK those guys!  If I’m being perfectly honest, I would RATHER have the Cougs in the Pac-12 title game than Stanford.  Shit man, the more I think about how many road games I’ve attended in their crappy fucking stadium – all of them DEVASTATING losses – and the more I think about all the quality offensive linemen they’ve stolen from our backyard because they’re the “Harvard of the West Coast” or whatever bullshit moniker they’re rolling with to try to make their overrated school look better; the more I think about their obnoxious head coach (a deciple of the even MORE obnoxious Jim Harbaugh, I might add), the more I want the Huskies to tank this game tomorrow and let the Cougs stroll to a Pac-12 North championship.

It’s tough.  A real catch-22.  Because it’s not like I can just put my allegiances aside for three hours!  The upside of a Husky defeat is we get to screw Stanford, who screwed us first, so it’s the perfect revenge.  The upside of a Husky victory is, what?  Continued dominance over our in-state little brother school?  I get to lord our superiority over my Cougar friends?  Where’s the fun in that?  That’s more of a Stanford thing to do, anyway!  I’d be becoming everything I hate!

Plus, I mean, come on, we’re the Washington Huskies, IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING we’re better than the Cougs!  We don’t need to win one measly little Apple Cup in a meaningless season to prove that!  On the flipside, if they were to beat us, just imagine how much they’ll get to crow about it.  They’ll get all big for their britches, and it’ll be all the sweeter when we smack their asses down next year.

As for my prediction, I will say that while I would prefer to be in their position (having something to play for), I do like that the pressure is all on the Cougs.  They’re on the road, where they’ve been significantly worse this season, and they’ve got to beat a still-very-good Husky team to get to where they want to go.  But, honestly, beyond the psychological and home-field advantages, I think the edge is all in Wazzu’s favor.

Wazzu has the better quarterback; Jake Browning has not only not progressed this year, he’s actually RE-gressed.  While Luke Falk has been benched a couple times, I would argue that adversity has made him a better, sharper player.  Jake Browning, after winning the job as a true Freshman, has never had ANYONE nipping at his heels to steal his job, which makes me really wonder if he’s grown complacent.  I think Falk will be on his game from the get-go.  He’s a Senior, he’s played everywhere, and I don’t think this environment will be too big for him.

Wazzu, I would argue, also has the better defense, which is really saying something.  The Cougs have been pretty remarkable on defense since Mike Leach took over, which is not something I ever would’ve expected.  I remember his Texas Tech days where both teams would score 30+ points pretty regularly.  At Washington State, his defenses have been pretty stout … with the exception of when playing in the Apple Cup.  To wit:

  • 2012 – Huskies scored 28
  • 2013 – Huskies scored 27
  • 2014 – Huskies scored 31
  • 2015 – Huskies scored 45
  • 2016 – Huskies scored 45

But, something tells me this year’s Huskies won’t be putting up points in bunches like in years past.  Browning, as I noted, has regressed.  The offensive line isn’t the strength we all expected it to be.  None of the receivers outside of Dante Pettis have shown up to play this year.  And, if the Huskies can’t get their running game going, it will be a LONG day.  The Cougs also have one of the best D-Linemen in all of college football, probably the only other interior player to rival Vita Vea in sheer strength and explosiveness.  The Huskies, by contrast, are supremely banged up on defense – particularly in the secondary – and have given up 30 points in back-to-back weeks to the likes of Stanford and Utah (not exactly the most overwhelming offenses in the Pac-12).  Things are trending downward for this unit, and I just don’t trust them against a passing attack like Wazzu’s, who feast on quick throws.  I can see the Cougs converting a ton of third/fourth downs (just like Stanford and Utah) and tiring out this Husky unit.

Sure, the Huskies have the edge in Special Teams, and probably the run game, but I think it’s easy enough to neutralize both.  Kick away from Pettis; kick it out of bounds if you have to!  Done.  Line up Hercules Mata’afa on the interior of the D-Line and let him go to town on our over-matched guards; that should settle Myles Gaskin’s hash pretty good.

In short, do I think the Huskies can make it 5 Apple Cups in a row?  No.  I know Vegas loves the Huskies, and I know the analytics love the Huskies, but I just don’t see it.  If you sat me down in a sportsbook right now, pointed a gun to my head, and told me to bet my family’s farm, I’d put the deed on the Cougs and I wouldn’t even ask for points.

So, good news Dawg fans!  As I’m frequently wrong in my gut-assessments, this should be a no-brainer Husky victory!  All I know is, I’ve watched a lot of football in my day, and I know when one team is clearly better than the other.  I think, this time, the Cougs are just plain better, and they have plenty of talent (on top of motivation) to win this game pretty handily.

Come Saturday evening, I’ll either be happy because the Huskies won, or I’ll be happy because Stanford can go fuck itself.  This is shaping up to be a nice little day!