Ever since the famous "Snow Bowl" game in 1992 where the underdog Cougars bombed the Huskies 42-23, WSU fans have hung on to the idea that cold weather - and especially snow - works in their favor over Washington. Never mind that plenty of cold and snowy games over the years in this series have gone the way of the Dawgs - it's a ray of hope they cling to. The Huskies however were unfazed - prior to the game at the quick team walkthrough at their hotel, Danny Shelton, Hau'oli Kikaha and others made it clear the weather was not going to bother them:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Huskies during their parking-lot walk-through this morning in Moscow, ID. See Danny Shelton's feet (via <a href="https://twitter.com/deanrutz">@deanrutz</a>): <a href="http://t.co/a8029dmoFK">pic.twitter.com/a8029dmoFK</a></p>— Adam Jude (@A_Jude) <a href="https://twitter.com/A_Jude/status/538885829045661697">November 30, 2014</a></blockquote>
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The team followed that up with a boisterous entrance to Martin Stadium and enough smack talk surrounding the coin toss that both teams faced off midfield prior to the kickoff. No flags were thrown and coaches for both teams got their guys back to the sidelines without any major incidents, but the Huskies had shown from the start they meant business, and any thoughts the Cougars might want it more were dashed.
It was a terrific performance by the Husky defense (with a moderate assist from the elements it should be noted), a solid effort from the offense and a clear win from the special teams. Let's take a closer look at each of the position groups:
Another solid game from Cyler Miles, though not quite as good as his previous two games. Miles has clearly improved his pocket presence, standing in there nicely to go through his progressions rather than bailing at the first sign of pressure. His accuracy is generally pretty good, and you could see his history of playing his high school football in Colorado meant he wasn't phased by the cold weather. He had some mistakes - his long bomb early to John Ross was badly underthrown (and should have been picked), and his decision on 4th down to throw long down the sidelines instead of taking the open out route underneath that had the yardage needed to convert was a poor one. His one interception wasn't entirely his fault, though the throw was a bit behind Jaydon Mickens. He didn't run a lot, but his big scramble for 19 yards was a great decision as he had a ton of green in front of him. Jeff Lindquist got a chance to huck a couple long bombs - one in a hail mary attempt to close the 1st half that fell incomplete, and the other a perfectly thrown ball that Ross simply dropped on the first play of the 4th quarter. He also threw a beautiful strike to DT (and former TE) Evan Hudson on a fake punt that was nullified by a procedure penalty. Grade: B-
Dwayne Washington is on a nice roll, having posted 3 consecutive 100+ yard efforts. This game was quite similar to last week vs. Oregon State - for the most part he was limited to short gains, but when he got a hole and had open field in front of him he turned on the jets as he reeled off TD runs of 51 and 60 yards to finish with 135 yards on his 16 carries. He's the home run threat among the backs and provides a needed explosive component to this offense, though he's still working on his consistency. Lavon Coleman had tougher sledding, finishing with just 27 yards on his 9 carries, but I thought he ran with good physicality - he just didn't get the same holes that Washington did. Deontae Cooper got a few carries before getting his bell rung (and likely suffered a concussion) by Peyton Pelluer (son of former assistant coach Scott and nephew of former QB Steve). Kendyl Taylor got a look out of the backfield - it will be interesting to see if the staff continues to get him touches in that role. Grade: B
The cold weather had a couple of clearly visible effects on the players - early in the game you saw a few Huskies slipping and losing traction on what had to be a frigid, hard, slick Field Turf. More noticeable were drops by both groups of receivers, as the players likely struggled with cold, stiff hands and harder than normal footballs. Mickens got a lot of targets in this one as the Huskies tried to work the perimeter against WSU and had a decent day with 5 catches for 51 yards, including a pair of consecutive 11 yard gains for first downs on a drive midway through the 2nd quarter. Kasen Williams had a couple drops but also had a nice grab for his 2nd TD of the season to give the Dawgs the 14-0 lead entering the half. TE Josh Perkins continues to fill an important role in the passing game and had another 3 catches for 51 yards with two going for first downs and the third for a TD. Dante Pettis had a couple of catches, both for over 20 yards as he is setting himself up as a key part of this group entering next year. Ross had a couple of opportunities on offense as the coaching staff used him to stretch the field, but he dropped a perfect strike from Lindquist that should have gone for a 58 yard TD. The blocking by these guys was OK, but they didn't hold the edges on the bubble screens the way the staff was hoping. Grade: B-
It was a solid day for the big uglies. Once again with Mike Criste at C the snaps were consistent and on-target. While the Cougars got into the backfield at times, they only notched one sack and Miles usually had enough time to throw. The run blocking was more inconsistent - while they got a few big holes that were exploited by Washington for long TD runs, on the whole they had some trouble with the big WSU DL opening room for the backs. Take away those two big gains and the UW RBs gained 65 yards on 29 carries, and that was a factor in the Huskies having difficulty sustaining drives in the first half. But also give them credit for those two big gainers, as well as keeping Miles upright most of the game, and keep in mind that WSU was stacking the box much of the time to take away the run game. Grade: B-
Everything you ever wanted to know about Danny Shelton's Sr. season can be encapsulated in this .gif:
That's just a ridiculous amount of athleticism to go along with tremendous strength and done with the requisite amounts of both flair and effort that have marked his final campaign as a Husky. Thanks to the talent and effort of Shelton (0.5 sacks), Hau'oli Kikaha (0.5 sacks), Andrew Hudson (1.5 sacks), Evan Hudson (0.5 sacks) and backup Joe Mathis (1 sack) the Huskies were able to spend nearly the entire game rushing just 3 or 4 against WSU and dropping 7-8 guys in coverage. The Cougars tried to exploit some wide splits by the front with a few runs, but after a couple of nice gains to start the Huskies adjusted and the seldom-used Cougar run game was mostly abandoned. Kikaha spent a fair amount of snaps out in coverage on the edges which was part of the plan by the coaches to keep Luke Falk guessing pre-snap. Evan Hudson really flashed in this one in probably his best game of the season, and Mathis continues to impress. The Huskies once again were stout vs. the screen as these linemen are extremely well-coached in reading the play and peeling off to find the receiver. Grade: A
Unlike most defenses that WSU faces, the Huskies typically kept their LB crew on the field rather than sub to nickel or dime looks. They can afford to do this thanks to the athleticism of the outside guys in Shaq Thompson and Travis Feeney and the length of Cory Littleton. With the Cougars rarely running the ball, the main job of the LBs in this one was to play short zones and gang tackle the underneath throws to limit yardage. They did a solid job in this regard, and John Timu not only led the team with 7 tackles but also was credited with 2 pass break-ups to lead the way as well as a fumble recovery. Grade: A-
While you have to give a lot of credit to the front 4 for their ability to generate a rush without blitzing, and also a bit of an assist to frigid temperatures that made catching the ball a tougher than normal task, this group played well. They weren't perfect as they had a few coverage break-downs including a dropped TD when Dom Williams got behind Sidney Jones, but they were big when it counted as WSU was denied on 3 consecutive drives to open the game when the Cougars went for it on 4th down. In total the secondary was credited with 4 pass break ups (one each for Budda Baker, Ross, Brandon Beaver and Darren Gardenhire), and through the first 3 quarters the Huskies held WSU scoreless with just 199 yards passing before HC Chris Petersen started substituting liberally. Baker was impressive on the day and plays much bigger than his 5'10", 173 lb size. He laid the lumber on one hit against the much bigger Vince Mayle to force a fumble in the 2nd quarter and led to Washington's 2nd TD of the game. Ross also continues to show a lot of promise as a corner, and he and the staff will have a tough decision to make this off-season about where he'll play next year. You have to be encouraged at how good this group can be in the coming years as they are all 1st and 2nd year players. Grade: A-
While there wasn't anything spectacular about this group, they were good in all phases and won every battle, from kickoffs to punts to returns to coverage. Cameron Van Winkle has quietly stepped up as a dependable kicker as he finishes the regular season 20 of 23 on field goals after hitting his 18-yard attempt last night. Korey Durkee was his usually effective self as all four of his kicks pinned WSU within their 20 yard line with no returns, including 2 inside the 10. While the Cougars short-kicked to avoid giving Ross the chance to burn them, Tristan Vizcaino and the kick coverage team had a net average of 42.2 on kickoffs, giving the Cougars and average start at the 22.8 yard line. The fake punt was a great call and terrific execution that was apparently undone by some sloppiness in their uniform numbering and/or alignment along the line of scrimmage. Grade: A-
While Chris Petersen tried to downplay the rivalry game aspect of this game during the week, pointing out (accurately) that they try to get their team fired up for every game, but behind the scenes they clearly did a great job of stressing what this game means to fans and former players, bringing in guys like Lawyer Milloy and Brock Huard to speak with the team. And whatever they have done to address the cold starts that were a problem for much of the season seems to have worked, as this was the third straight game the Huskies were dialed-in from the opening kick. The players made it clear before the game that the weather was not going to affect them, and they were joined in that effort pre-game by a shirtless Gerald Alexander, grad assistant (and former player under Petersen at Boise State). And the team showed plenty of emotion and fire as Shaq waved the P.A.C.K. flag brazenly midfield (and thus setting off the face-off between the two teams just before the opening kick) while keeping their cool during the game and avoiding stupid personal fouls. I continue to also be impressed at the liberal amount of subbing he and his staff does in-game as they are making a priority of getting the back ups quality reps. They know they'll lose some key pieces this off-season to graduation and are making sure they returning guys have some valuable experience.
OC Jonathan Smith had a reasonably good game, though I was not thrilled at the number of bubble screens. Clearly they saw some weaknesses on film in the WSU defense, but Miles still doesn't have the quick release or enough accuracy to really exploit those plays. Give him credit for the attempts to loosen up the back end of the Cougar defense with a few bombs (and I liked the creativity of having Lindquist come in to throw one of them) and for adapting to the Cougars stacking the box by not forcing the run game.
DC Pete Kwiatkowski has done a great job exploiting the talent along the front four and his gameplan to drop 7-8 in coverage and mess with Falk's pre-snap reads worked exceptionally well most of the game. Until the backups took over en masse late in the game, there was the very real possibility of a Mike Leach team being shut out for the first time ever.
Whatever missteps or hiccups happened earlier in the season, we have seen improvement across the roster and gameplans that have adapted and dialed-in what these players do well. This was a convincing win that sets the program up for a potential 9th win for the 2nd straight year. Grade: A