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Instant Analysis: Washington wallops the Cougs

The Huskies continue their march towards the College Football Playoffs.

NCAA Football: Washington at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The 109th Apple Cup (technically, it was the Governor’s Trophy until 1962) was billed as perhaps the most important match in the long history of the two major NCAA programs in the state of Washington. Questions of intrigue surrounded this game.

Would Washington State pull off its first one-loss Pac-12 record since 1997?

Would Washington continue its underdog run into the College Football playoffs?

Could WSU overcome last year’s drubbing and stem the tide of three straight Apple Cup losses?

Could UW overcome crippling injuries to Joe Mathis and Azeem Victor—their best pass rusher and linebacker, respectively?

Would Jake Browning jump back into the Heisman conversation?

Would Luke Falk jump back into the “best QB in the conference” conversation?

Would the weather be a factor?

Would trick plays change momentum?

The ultimate question: which of these two teams would emerge as the standard bearer for the Pac-12 North and represent the division in the conference championship game?

All those questions were asked and then answered as Washington destroyed the Cougars 45-17 Friday afternoon in Pullman.

Big plays were the name of the game for Washington. Most of those came in the first quarter after a double pass, a D.J. Beavers fumble recovery, and a 61-yard TD pass from Browning to Pettis combined to give UW a commanding 28-3 first-quarter lead. The Huskies outgained WSU 274 to 64 while Browning demonstrated what a maestro he can be when provided a clean pocket. The UW QB was a 13-17 for 252 yds and three TDs while making sure that all three of UW’s red zone trips in the frame were turned into touchdowns.

The rest of the game went pretty much as you would expect a blowout of this nature to go. The Cougs made a game of it by dominating the ball in the third quarter, but such an early deficit simply couldn’t be overcome with the kind of dink-and-dunk offense that the Cougs featured as they attempted to mount their comeback.

Even after limiting UW’s offense to one possession and a net 9 yards in the third quarter, WSU still was dominated on the stats board. The Huskies outgained WSU by 515-334 for the game. More importantly, UW was more effective in both generating turnovers (4-1) and explosive plays.

What It Means

Next week, for the first time in program history, the Huskies will represent the North Division in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The CCG will be held in Santa Clara, CA against either Colorado or USC, depending on the outcome of tomorrow’s Utah at Colorado matchup. Washington will have the chance to claim their first undisputed conference championship since 1991 (they split the title in 1992 and 2000), the third longest drought in the conference among traditional Pac-10 teams. Should UW win, it would be their 16th conference title, which would break the tie with Stanford for third most in conference history behind USC (38) and UCLA (17).

For Washington State, it means that they have now dropped two Pac-12 games, which still qualifies as a tie for their best season since 1997. Mike Leach, Luke Falk, Gabe Marks, and the rest of Cougar nation have nothing left to do but to wait and see how the Colorado and the USC games conclude and how championship week shakes out before learning what their postseason fate might be. A good bet is the Holiday Bowl, but there are still scenarios out there that could result in WSU to the Rose Bowl (at best) or the Sun Bowl (at worst).

Player of the Game

WR Dante Pettis (3 recs, 86 yds, 2 TDs)

There were several candidates to choose from for Player of the Game honors. The defensive effort was so great that you want to find a Husky defender to honor. However, this game was in many respects decided in the first quarter. And the first quarter was all about the offense.

Dante Pettis gets the nod here over his QB based on his strong efforts in that first quarter. Two TD catches, including a 61-yarder whose degree of difficulty was enhanced by the underthrown nature of the ball, swayed this decision in Pettis’s favor. His contributions were the effective dagger in the hearts of Coug fans everywhere.

The emergence of Pettis in the Apple Cup is a promising development given the struggles that he has had the last few weeks. Going into a possible matchup against a big Colorado secondary, Pettis will be a big difference maker.

Honorable Mention: QB Jake Browning, OL Jake Eldrenkamp, LB D.J. Beavers, DE Benning Potoa’e, WR John Ross, RB Lavon Coleman, LB Ben Burr-Kirven, S Taylor Rapp.

Apple Cup Dots

  • This game was billed as a matchup of equal QBs. Here were the final stats for each QB:

Browning: 21-29, 292 yds, 3 TDs
Falk: 33-50, 269 yds, 1 TD, 3 INTs

I think we settled this one.

  • Two false starts by Will Dissly on the opening drive couldn’t stop UW from scoring a TD on the game’s opening drive. The key play was a 50-yard double-pass completion, Jake Browning-to-Dante Pettis-to-Darrell Daniels, that ought to have gone for a score had the turf monster not tripped him up. That particular play has become a staple of the UW offense. #TrickPlay
  • How about a shoutout for the UW offensive line? There weren’t too many times where WSU was able to do get to Browning or to stand up the rushing offense without committing extra defenders to the box. It was a strong showing overall, in particular for senior LG Jake Eldrenkamp (a.k.a. “the Master Technician”). Check out the protection against WSU’s base on the Dante Pettis 61-yard TD completion:
  • Looking for something to panic about? Batted passes are becoming an irritation for Jake Browning. He had another couple knocked down in the Apple Cup, one of which was credited to LB Peyton Pelluer on what would have been an easy TD pass in the first quarter.
  • Another issue for Browning the past few weeks has been the old “happy feet” issue. Jake clearly hit the film room hard this past week as there was none of that. He was decisive, precise, and—importantly—on time all game long.
  • Let’s talk about coaching. A big punt return by Coug RB Jamal Morrow put WSU into the red zone in the second quarter. To counter WSU’s red zone attack, UW DC Pete Kwiatkowski put out his dime defense, forcing Luke Falk into three straight run plays that resulted in a turnover on downs. It was a great strategy for UW. Special credit to freshman DE Benning Potoa’e for making the fourth-down stop at the goal line with a fantastic show of strength.
  • UW receivers are clearly one of the greatest stories of the season. Beyond the OPOY type of stats that John Ross (first in the PAC in scoring) is posting, Chico McClatcher (first in the PAC in yards per catch) and Dante Pettis (second in the PAC in TDs) have had great years. Both made significant contributions in the Apple Cup with Chico catching a key pass and Pettis catching a couple of TDs. The unheralded pair finished the game with nine catches for 166 yards and two TDs between them.
  • Lavon Coleman is the best backup RB in the Pac-12. That’s all.
  • The Lindcat continues...but with a twist. UW ran it twice for an average of two yards per play. Freshman WR Aaron Fuller ran one of those formations on a third and short with a failed result.
  • Penalties were a frustrating factor early in this one as UW racked up five penalties before WSU got its first (a snap infraction), all in the first quarter. UW ended up with nine for the whole game to WSU’s five.
  • It was interesting to see how the Cougs focused on taking away UW’s rushing attack for most of the game. This continues a trend of defensive coordinators daring the Dawgs to beat them with Browning’s arm. Though Gaskin was very well contained for most of the game (though Lavon Coleman was not), Browning, John Ross, and Dante Pettis were all more than up for the task.
  • We often get so caught up in the individual players and the details of the position groups that we forget to look at the big picture. The UW defense is on an absolute tear, even before adjusting for the losses of Azeem Victor and Joe Mathis. In the first half alone, UW’s D had two fourth down stops on the goal line, another fourth-and-one stop, an INT in the end zone, and a fumble recovery right after UW’s first TD drive that became another TD. The stars were many: D.J. Beavers, Budda Baker, Taylor Rapp, Keishawn Bierria (before the injury), and Greg Gaines all shined.
  • Hey, Damion Turpin: I saw you on that Falk sack in the third! Nice work, big man.
  • Finally, for all my Coug fan friends who claim that incidents of Coug fans throwing things at Husky players on the field is a fantasy contrived of over-privileged, preppy Dawg fans, let this be a lesson. The Cougs were actually assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the fourth quarter for fans throwing objects at players on the field.