The Cougars hope to soften what safety Deone Bucannon called a "grim season" by beating the bowl-bound Huskies.
The 2012 Apple Cup may not project as a classic matchup. There’s no Rose Bowl on the line — or, should we say in this new age of the Pac-12, no division title at stake.
But in some ways, Friday’s 12:30 p.m. game features the classic Apple Cup setup — a Washington team on a roll, having already punched its postseason ticket, against a losing Washington State team that can greatly change the perception of a season that long since veered far off course.
“It could turn around the season,” said WSU safety Deone Bucannon. “It could shed some light on this grim season.”
Indeed, it’s been a much darker year than expected in Pullman, where the Cougars (2-9) have lost eight in a row, all in conference play. It’s not what anyone expected in the first year under coach Mike Leach, who came to WSU after having had 10 straight winning seasons at Texas Tech. Many expected that streak would continue with the Cougars, lifting them into the postseason.
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Instead, WSU has spent much of the season embroiled in disappointment and controversy. But wins over the Huskies go a long way toward healing wounds in Pullman.
“Everyone remembers the Apple Cup,” Bucannon said. “You remember the Apple Cup the rest of your life.”
The Huskies (7-4), meanwhile, come in having won four in a row for only the second time since 2001. A second-half surge has clinched a bowl game after a 3-4 start briefly threatened disappointment.
The Huskies know, though, that it wouldn’t feel quite the same going to a bowl game after losing to the Cougars.
“It means a lot for all of us,” said UW tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. “We were 3-4 and to come back and to rally the way we have in the second half of the season, it (finishing with an Apple Cup win) would mean a lot. I think everyone knew we were capable of this.”
A win would give the Huskies their most victories in a season since 2001 with a chance to get nine, which would be their most since 2000.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” UW quarterback Keith Price said. “But I think this program is going to a whole ‘nother level.”
Sarkisian said this week the second-half rally has come about in part due to a change in attitude after a loss at Arizona.
“I thought our belief was wavering some (after that game),” he said. ” I thought we were going in with hope into the ballgames. I think our belief is at an ultimate high for where we’ve been at a program right now.”
The Cougars will try to bring the Huskies back to earth — and try to do that through the air.
The game’s marquee matchup is that of a Washington defense that ranks ninth in the nation in passing yards allowed (174.3 per game) and a WSU offense ranked 10th in passing offense (328.6).
Senior Jeff Tuel will start at quarterback for the Cougars, with Connor Halliday possibly out with a concussion. Sarkisian said this week it doesn’t matter much who’s directing the WSU offense.
“They are going to throw the ball,” Sarkisian said. “They are probably going to throw it 60 times. So it wouldn’t matter who the quarterback is. We have to know our schemes and how it fits versus their schemes, and got to execute.”
The Huskies will likely counter with the same offensive strategy that has prevailed for them lately — a steady diet of Bishop Sankey’s runs and timely passes from Price to the likes of Kasen Williams and Seferian-Jenkins.
WSU’s defense has often given up yards and points in bulk, but has played well at times, particularly at home.
Nothing was good for the Cougars last week in a 46-7 loss at Arizona State. WSU, for the second time in three weeks, avoided a shutout only with a last-minute touchdown.
Leach this week resisted the notion that an Apple Cup victory could put a different spin on the season, saying, “We need to try to win the game just for the sake of winning the game and good football.”
But Bucannon, a veteran of two Apple Cups, said he learned quickly that it isn’t just another game.
“It’s a game where you just want to make a play,” he said. “You just want to be remembered.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com