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Apple Cup review: Likes and dislikes about Washington State's 31-28 overtime victory over Washington
Some final thoughts about the Apple Cup in our usual game review:
1. Penalties, penalties, penalties. There were 26 in this game, including a ridiculous, school record-tying 18 from the Huskies. We've been over this before: In general, Pac-12 officials have been way too flag-happy this season. Six of the 15 most penalized teams in the nation, including five of the top eight, are from the Pac-12. With a school record 106 this season, the Huskies are the second most penalized team in the nation, behind UCLA (116). Washington State is tied at No. 15 with 87. So, that has been a problem for the league. But if you're using that as an excuse for why the Huskies lost, you're being delusional. The Cougars deserved to win this game. They played better. And the overriding storyline involving the penalties should be that the Huskies didn't play disciplined enough in this game, which has been a problem the entire season. There were debatable calls, including the third and 1 false-start penalty on the final drive in regulation. But even if you considered one-third of the Huskies' penalties questionable, that still leaves 12 penalties. That's still way too many.
2. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. This was a choppy, tense game, and besides penalties, turnovers were the other contributing factor of the lack of flow. The teams combined for six turnovers, four by Washington State. Turnovers contributed to the Cougars falling behind 28-10; Washington scored 21 points after getting short fields of 7, 16 and 20 yards. When the Cougars held onto the football, they moved it adequately, gaining 369 yards, but they hurt themselves too many times. On the other hand, the Huskies committed the most damaging turnover of the game -- Keith Price's overtime interception on a pass he shouldn't have thrown. The game wound up having plenty of drama and a few great plays, but mistakes helped define it.
3. Washington looked flat at the start and seemed to panic while losing that 18-point lead. From the start of the game, it felt like the Huskies were in trouble. They managed just 269 yards of total offense, and from the first play, you could see it coming. Washington coach Steve Sarkisian opened the game by trying to trick the Cougars. He called a wide receiver pass, but Cody Bruns took the ball on a fake reverse and didn't feel like he could make a play. But instead of throwing the ball out of bounds, Bruns took an 11-yard loss after Washington State nose tackle Ioane Gauta, who had a terrific game, clobbered him. That play began a frustrating offensive afternoon for the Huskies. They rushed for just 75 yards and 2.3 yards per carry. Price wasn't efficient, and he committed two turnovers (one of those -- a fumble when he was trying to complete a handoff under intense defensive pressure -- was more the offensive line's fault). The Huskies had just two drives longer than 26 yards. Their inability to move the ball contributed to the Cougars' comeback, as did the defense's inability to make a play without getting called for a penalty. The Huskies were flat at the start, took advantage of Washington State's mistakes in the middle and then lost it all at the end. They didn't do enough to win and really had no business building a 28-10 lead. They had no answers for Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel when it mattered.
1. Tuel's resilient play was the story of the game. Tuel was sacked four times and took some hard hits on several other plays, but he kept coming. He threw for 350 yards. And he provided the toughest and most memorable play of this game: Flushed out of the pocket, he stumbled and nearly fell, made a circle, eluded several Husky defenders and completed a 29-yard pass to Isiah Myers while taking a blow to the helmet from Washington defensive end Andrew Hudson. The play began a drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown run from Carl Winston and a two-point conversion to trim the Huskies' lead to 28-25.
2. Dominique Williams was the best player on the field Friday. The redshirt freshman caught eight passes for 143 yards, including a 61-yard reception in the second quarter to set up the first of three Winston touchdown runs. He has No. 1 receiver potential. The Huskies' secondary, which has become a strength, couldn't handle him on this day.
3. Justin Glenn's interception was amazing. In the second quarter, Glenn came up with a pick after Brett Bartolone bobbled Tuel's pass. Glenn ran over to make a tackle, but the ball bounced into his hands. He dove, caught the deflected pass and somehow maintained possession in bounds. Incredible play.
4. The Cougars played their best defensive game. You can talk about the Huskies looking bad on offense, but the other side is that the Cougars looked great on D. They allowed only 269 yards and stopped a Husky run game that had been Washington's life line. Justin Sagote, the weakside linebacker, was all over the field. Gauta had two sacks. Safety Deon Bucannon looked good, too. Kalafitoni Pole intercepted Price's pass in overtime and would've scored and ended the game if Bruns hadn't run him down. The Cougars' 3-4 defensive scheme gave the Huskies a lot of problems. And to play that well without linebacker Travis Long, the heart of both their defense and the entire team, said much about this team.
The final word, in an excerpt from my Saturday column:
The Apple Cup is hardware with mystical powers. The Huskies (7-5) have had a decent season, all things considered, and they still have more to play for, but this loss sours the good and embellishes the bad. The Cougars were a disappointment in Leach's first season, but now there's hope as they enter the offseason.