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15 in '15: The Washington Huskies dismantling of WSU in the 108th Apple Cup saves the season

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It wasn't just a win, nor was it simply bowl eligibility. It was another small piece of payback for what happened in the snow almost 25 years ago.

Robert Lewis, meet Sidney Jones.
Robert Lewis, meet Sidney Jones.
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

It's 12:15 pm on Saturday, November 21st.  The year is 1992. I'm at my girlfriend's house heading downstairs into the TV room to watch the Washington/Washington State football game. I enter the room to her roommates lounging about watching a Married with Children rerun.

"Do you guys wanna watch the Apple Cup? It starts in 15 minutes."

Their eyes diverted from Al and Peg Bundy for just a second to say, "The Apple what?!?"

Oh great, I say under my breath. Non-sports fans. I'd heard of those. But there was no time to explain or argue. Since I had moved into a studio apartment for my last quarter of college, I couldn't afford cable all by myself. I was too poor to go to a sports bar. Frantically, I hunt down my girlfriend.

"Do you guys have another TV?"

"There's a black and white one in my closet," she said, looking at me like I'm out of my mind.

That'll do. I check for a cable outlet and find one at the top of the stairs. No time to get fancy, I set the 13" Sylvania on the hardwood floor, steal a co-ax cable from the VCR, and have ABC up and running in time for kickoff.

It was all downhill from there. The defending national champion Huskies slip and slide in the snow and somehow muster an ugly 7-6 halftime lead.  What followed was one of the saddest hours for any Husky football fan. Drew Bledsoe whitewashes the Husky defense for a 29-point third quarter. As Phillip Bobo catches a TD and slides into a snowbank between the goalposts, he may as well have slid cleats-first into my groin.

The Cougars would go on to blow out UW 42-23 and eliminate the 9-1 Huskies from the Rose Bowl (Edit- Knocked UW out of National Championship contention). It was one of the saddest things I have ever watched.

I made a promise that day. I would relish every win over Wazzu in all future Apple Cups with a bitter vengeance.

I know we hate Oregon. That's what I'm told regularly; they are our main rival, not WSU.  I hate Oregon. I do. I really do. But sometimes I think we use the rivalry with Oregon as yet another way we chastise our Coug friends.

"Yeah, we have a 100-year history with you guys, but yer kinda cute over there in Omak, or is it Othello? Oh, Pullman, right, Pullman. You're like our little brother, and guess what? We have a new rival. We root for you guys when you play Oregon."

Well, I have to confess, and I know this won't be popular, but I don't care. I hate Wazzu. I don't root for them against anyone. I never will. The sting of 1992 is still fresh in my mind.

The 2015 Apple Cup was the first one I'd been to in six years. Due to family circumstances, I was in Texas for Thanksgiving in 2011 and 2013, so I hadn't been part of that environment. I was reminded immediately what a special rivalry this is. One huge difference between the UW/Oregon rivalry and the UW/WSU rivalry is that as Huskies, we all have a lot of Coug friends. Before an Apple Cup game on the walk to the stadium you see endless tailgates with a half crimson and half purple contingent prefunking with ear-to-ear smiles. As I walked through the stadium, I saw several mixed marriages, a Husky and Coug holding hands as they strolled through the madness. In fact, it seems just about every group of people is a mix of Dawgs and Cougs. With Oregon, there is a lot of anger; fans divided, people divided. But on an Apple Cup day, besides who we want to win the game, Husky and Cougar fans exist in beautiful harmony. It doesn't change one bit how I feel about Drew Bledsoe or Phillip Bobo, and everyone's smiles would soon go by the wayside as the importance of a football game took center stage.

This beautiful November day had something else in the air. These weren't just 'Kewgs.' These were confident, cocky WSU fans. I saw strangers in Crimson and Gray passing each other, slapping aggressive high fives accompanied by a "Go Cougs." Washington State was having a great season, and I think most Cougar fans were feeling poised to beat a 5-6 Husky team the same way they had conquered most of their Pac-12 opponents.

I passed a group of Cougar fans who had just gotten the news that Luke Falk wouldn't play and Payton Bender would start at quarterback. No Falk, no problem.

"Shouldn't matter, Bender will shred them."

"I love Bender."

"Yeah, he almost beat out Falk in camp."

"He's looked good every time he's played."

I remember thinking to myself: Good, so there won't be any excuses.

I'm always hesitant to predict a win for UW in any game. I'm kind of superstitious that way and I don't want to jinx anything. That said, I had this feeling inside me the whole day, from the time I woke up, driving to the stadium, wafting through the pregame crowd. The Huskies were going to win this game.

My wife will usually ask before I leave: "So what's your prediction?" I will say something lame like "I don't know, I'm hoping for the best, but it's a tough game."

Not this day, I didn't.

"We're going to kick their asses," I said, nodding, as though it had just occurred to me.

"Really?" She knew WSU was having a good season.

"Yeah, I just feel it."

But it was more than a feeling. It was more than the fact that Falk would likely not play. It was more than historical evidence that the 'better' team with the most at stake often loses the Apple Cup. It was more than a motivating statement by WSU offensive lineman Gunnar Eklund implying that that Cougs would hit harder and that no one was tougher than them. All of that played into the Huskies' favor, but what had my confidence sky high were simple Xs and Os.

I watched a replay of WSU's win over Arizona that was shown a few nights before the Apple Cup.

On offense, they protect well, for just long enough to throw short passes, and rely on the defense to miss a few tackles in the secondary. Over and over. There is really no attempt to confuse the defense. No deep shots. We throw short, we throw short, we throw intermediate, we throw short. Then we run a counter draw once every six plays.

Teams that had success against UW's defense last season had a common strength, and it was keeping the Huskies off balance. Boise State in the first half ran the ball effectively, then the play action was open. Cal had Jared Goff, but without the punishing running of Vic Enwere, Washington would have held Goff in check and won that game. Stanford with their multiple formations and the mobile Kevin Hogan had UW on their heels, especially in the first half. Oregon relied on Royce Freeman and the slippery Husky killer Vernon Adams. Utah used a combination of Devontae Booker and the awkwardly effective Travis Wilson to sustain drives. And the brutal second-half meltdown in Tempe saw Mike Bercovici hitting open receivers after establishing Kalen Ballage in the run game.

Mike Leach was going to run his offense, and there wouldn't be a lot of guessing for UW defensively. Complete short passes? Sure. Break tackles in the secondary? Not likely. Pound the running game to bring extra defenders to the line of scrimmage? Not in the Cougs' DNA. Pass-protect beyond a read or two for the quarterback? Not with Travis Feeney, Cory Littleton, and Joe Mathis closing in from the edge. Step up in the pocket? Say hello to Greg Gaines and Elijah Qualls. Barring a breakdown by the Husky defense, I just saw WSU's game plan playing right into UW's defensive strengths.

After a mildly successful first quarter where WSU advanced into Husky territory twice, I watched my theories unfold before my eyes. Washington was content to simply push the pocket without even trying to sack Bender, putting their arms up and taking away passing lanes for the 6'0" redshirt freshman. 1st read, covered. 2nd read, covered. Bender, like Falk, isn't a threat to scramble or run. And without a running game to keep the Husky rush at bay, the WSU offensive line would wear down.

Bender eventually pressed himself into mistakes, the biggest one coming early in the third quarter when he tried to look off his receiver along the right sideline, only to have All-Pac-12 cornerback Sidney Jones say to himself "I know this play." The WSU offense is about anticipating who will be open based on what coverage the defense is playing. Freshman WR Taveres Martin should have been open, but Jones jumped the route from Bender's first head movement back to the right, easily intercepted the ball, and ran it back 69 yards for a TD and a 24-3 Husky lead.

The Husky offense, which had gotten better as the season wore on, would pound Myles Gaskin at WSU. It didn't happen right away as WSU did a good job defensively--as they had all year--of flying to the ball and team tackling. But Chris Petersen would take advantage of that on the Huskies' first TD drive. A run to the left, getting the entire WSU defense flowing that way, only to toss a reverse to Chico McClatcher who outran everyone to the right corner of the endzone.

Then in the second half, it would be Gaskin, gaining 109 of his 138 yards after the intermission on his way to a 32 carry, 2 TD game. Jake Browning would be efficient, completing 70% of his passes for a modest 203 yards.

But like the season itself, the Husky defense would be the difference in this game. Even though four of the seven takeaways came in what amounted to garbage time, they were disruptively violent in this Apple Cup. The tougher team; the unquestionably harder hitters.

The same way Drew Bledsoe dominated that game in 1992, the UW defense unearthed a blizzard of their own, helping ease the pain of the Snow Bowl just a little.  But come next year, as the 109th Apple Cup approaches, it will be a clean slate, and I will be out for Cougar blood once again.

I don't know if 1992 will ever be truly avenged, but Sidney Jones making that signature play; it was this year's Phillip Bobo moment. And it puts me a little closer to being at peace with what I endured on a 13" Sylvania black-and-white TV almost 25 years ago.