The Washington Huskies went into today's 108th Apple Cup match up with the Washington State Cougar holding the distinction of having the most dominant position of any team in a PAC 12 "rivalry" series. Since they started playing against one another in 1900 - a 5-5 tie - the Huskies have beaten the Cougs 69 times out of 107 games - a 64% winning percentage (including 4 ties).
Today, the Huskies made that 65% with a convincing win over the #20 ranked Cougars in the 108th Apple Cup. The final score was 45-10 in favor of the home team. The rout was the sixth Husky Apple Cup win in the last seven games and the greatest margin of victory since UW beat WSU 30-0 in 2009.
Many Husky fans expected UW to have their way with the Cougars once it was revealed that RS freshman Payton Bender was going to start in the place of star QB Luke Falk. However, Bender showed a great deal of pluck from the very first possession as he was both accurate and quick with his release in moving WSU down the field. The Huskies countered with a classic "bend don't break" defensive philosophy that often saw just three men rushing and with very few blitzes. The strategy paid off handsomely as WSU would eventually succumb to a variety of forced and unforced errors on their way to seven turnovers (should have been eight). The physical play of the UW defense and all of the extra possessions generated was the story of the game.
Offensively, UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith had perhaps his best day as a UW play caller. In a day where UW showed up really needing their coach to give them an advantage, Smith did a nice job of mixing up the run with the pass and constantly probed for ways to turn WSU's aggressiveness against them. His tactics resulted in several big plays for Jake Browning and the Huskies offense - particularly in the first half when long passes were completed to both Jaydon Mickens and Isaiah Renfro on the way to the Huskies establishing a 17-3 halftime lead.
There is much to like from what we saw in today's Apple Cup. The most impressive aspect is that Husky fans got a glimpse of what the future looks like
Apple Cup Dots
- This was just the second win for UW coach Chris Petersen over a ranked team in his Husky tenure, and his first at home. With the victory, Petersen has ensured that he will go into 2016 with at least a .500 record in his first two seasons at Montlake.
- The offense is going to get the attention because of how efficient Jake Browning was, but it was UW's defense that was the story of this game. They simply beat up their Cougar counterparts. You could see the impact of the physicality in how tentatively WSU receivers aligator-armed passes in the second half. The dropped passes and the turnovers really gave UW a defining advantage in this game.
- That UW defense generated seven takeaways in this game. Coming into the night, UW had gained 20 turnovers while giving away 10 each of interceptions and fumbles (talk about balance). By going +6 for the day, UW jumps, as of now, to #3 in the conference in turnover margin (ahead of Oregon, behind USC and Utah). Also recall that the refs overturned a clear turnover that would have been an eighth turnover for UW had it counted.
- The maturation of QB Jake Browning continues to impress. Despite the fact that he continues to struggle with the deep ball, it is not hard to see how well he makes decisions and how confident he works the middle of the field - the QB's "danger zone". In addition, he has almost completely mastered the art of the RPO. This last point is critical to UW becoming an effective offensive team.
- CB Kevin King has become a real weapon for UW as a nickel back. His size really makes it difficult for the QB to get to slot receivers and his speed allows him to be a mistake-eraser in zone coverage. He had a tremendous game.
- I want to give a special shout out to UW offensive lineman Coleman Shelton. Not only has he played four positions on the O-Line this year, but he's also now played defense. On the long interception return off of Jake Browning in the third quarter, it was Jaydon Mickens and Coleman Shelton who ran down the WSU defender to prevent a pick six.
- One part of the play calling that I really liked was the willingness to use the run on third down. There were at least four plays that I counted that would have been automatic pass plays earlier in the year that were rushes. A couple of those were run-pass options with Browning making the call to stick with the run. They didn't 100% turn into first downs, but it is great sign that both Smith and Browning are recognizing the run as an option on third down.
- A big play in the 1st half was the reverse play that UW scored on with Chico McClatcher. It was impressive all around for UW both in terms of the call and the execution. The perimeter blocking was particularly effective - especially the block provided by UW WR Brayden Lenius. This is notable given how much Lenius struggled in the same role for much of the season.
- We have to give Myles Gaskin some love here. The Husky RB became the first UW true freshman to rush for 1000 yards in a season with a game of 32 carries, 138 yards and 2 TDs. We've talked at length at how good Gaskin is in making yards after contact. But he took it to a whole other level in this one. The Cougs put some big hits on Myles today and yet he not once let go of the football. The composure and toughness of this true freshman is remarkable.
- We have to acknowledge the kicking game here. Dick Baird won't like to hear it, but UW won IN SPITE of some horrible kicking and punting. Tristan Vizcaino missed his first FG attempts of the year, Cameron Van Winkle was just one of two and Koree Durkee averaged below 40 yards per punt for the game.
- I mentioned the 2009 Apple Cup above. That was a dominating win for UW in Steve Sarkisian's first season as UW's head coach. The parallel between tonight's game and that one is the feeling that each came is a cornerstone accomplishment in the development of each of those teams.
- The bottom line in the 108th Apple Cup is that UW was simply the tougher team. It is clear that Chris Petersen is building a football team that will focus on being physical at all levels. This was evident in every aspect of this Apple Cup and it resulted in a big win for the Huskies.
The Huskies have become the tenth PAC 12 team to reach bowl eligibility and are certain to get one more game this season. Keep checking the Dawg Pound in the week ahead as we collect more information on the bowl landscape and project possible destinations for the Huskies.