The 112th edition of the Apple Cup, the annual football game between the University of Washington Huskies and the Washington State Cougars, takes place Friday.
There will be the usual flurry of Husky and Cougar jokes tossed between the two schools this week along with trash talking and bold predictions. It happens every year. It is, after all, an interstate rivalry game.
But let’s be honest: How intense is this rivalry anymore? Does anyone outside of Pullman and Montlake really care? When one team dominates a game as the Huskies have the past 10 years, it becomes just another game, and it doesn’t get the juices flowing like it used to.
As a proud Washington State graduate, writing that sentence hurts. Badly.
It has always been a date to circle on the calendar. The game you look most forward to all season because it’s against the school you hate the most. In the past, the team’s records coming into the game didn’t matter. This was for bragging rights, and oftentimes, even more was at stake.
But for the past ten years, it has been a lopsided affair—almost a foregone conclusion how this game will end.
Do I sound bitter? I am. The Cougs haven’t shown up for this game in years.
The numbers speak for themselves. The Huskies have won six Apple Cup games in a row and nine of the last 10. The margin of victory the past six years? Ten, 18, 35, 28, 27 and 13 points.
That is complete domination. So, to call this a rivalry anymore is a stretch.
So Many Questions, Few Answers
So, what has been the difference? Why do the Cougs continually shoot themselves in the foot in this game? Time and time again they have let good, even great seasons go to waste by no-showing at the Apple Cup.
It is a head-scratcher for sure.
Is it Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake and his game plan each year? He seems to have figured out exactly how to beat WSU head coach Mike Leach’s vaunted Air Raid offense.
Is it Leach’s unwillingness to change his game plan to combat Lake’s mastery? Leach continues to run the same five plays he writes out on the cocktail napkin he carries during the game and never makes adjustments.
“It makes it really easy to game plan when an offense does the same thing every year,” said Lake after last year’s game.
And, why does Washington State have zero answers for the Husky running game? Each year UW runs all over the Cougs. Thank god UW running back Miles Gaskin has graduated. He was a Cougar killer. Last year he ran for 170 yards and three touchdowns after running for 192 yards and four touchdowns the year before. Good riddance.
And, why does the weather always go sideways on game day but it only seems to affect Washington State? Two years ago, there was a torrential downpour in Husky Stadium that flummoxed the Cougar passing game in a 41-14 blowout. Last year in Pullman a freak snowstorm throttled the Pac-12’s No. 1 offense in the UW’s 28-15 victory.
Don’t both teams have to play in the nasty conditions?
Who Has the Edge?
This year, both teams enter the game in the midst of disappointing seasons. Each has a record of 6-5 with only a mediocre bowl game on the horizon. Last year the Pac-12 North title was up for grabs.
This year, not so much.
The Huskies are coming off a ‘What just happened?’ loss to Pac-12 bottom feeder Colorado. The offense was stagnant, and once again, the UW defense let an anemic offense put up enough points for a win. See also: Stanford and Cal losses.
The Cougars have a little more momentum after surviving a thriller against Oregon State on Saturday night. Scoring on the last play of the game, they pulled out a 54-53 win after all looked lost late in the 4th quarter.
No question WSU’s offense is clicking, but UW must be salivating looking at the Cougar defense that just gave up 601 total yards (408 through the air) to the Beavers.
The home team Huskies are an early eight-point favorite, but how do you really handicap this game?
On one hand, much-maligned UW quarterback Jacob Eason and his rifle of an arm are due for a big game. The WSU defense can’t stop a powder-puff flag football team, so he could pad his statistics and put up some ridiculous points.
However, if the Cougar offense plays anywhere near its performance against Oregon State, WSU should be able to move the ball and put some points on the board against the extremely inconsistent UW defense.
Can either team stop the other’s offense? Probably not.
Just looking at the past ten years, and being a semi-rational person, there is no way I can pick the Cougars to win this game. It’s like pounding your head against a cement wall hoping that last hit will break it down.
I just don’t see it happening.
My heart so desperately wants the UW win streak to end and for the Cougars to finally show up, but my head says, ‘don’t be stupid.’
My pick: A high-scoring affair with spectacular offense, very little defense and Cougar tears.
Again, that hurts to write. Go Cougs!