No doubt, the Huskies enjoyed the Cougars' victory over Oregon on Saturday night. And, yes, this Apple Cup is shaping up to be as big as any before it.
The good, the bad and a lingering question from the Huskies’ 27-13 victory over Colorado on Saturday:
This will almost certainly be the last time a Washington State victory is celebrated so prominently — celebrated at all — in a safe space for Husky fans. But Wazzu’s rollicking victory over Oregon was no doubt enjoyed by Washington and WSU fans throughout the state Saturday night, though perhaps just a tad bit more so in Pullman than Seattle (what are the chances The Coug opens on time today?). The Huskies (6-2, 4-1) needed someone to knock off the Ducks (5-2, 2-2) to regain the upper hand on Oregon in the Pac-12 North, and they’re grateful that the rival they love to hate the least was able to do it. So let the countdown begin: 33 days until the 111th Apple Cup in Pullman. The Cougars (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) still have to go to Stanford next Saturday, and the Huskies play host to Stanford the week after that (Nov. 3). No guarantees each team can stay on track over the next month, but this Apple Cup is shaping up to be as big as any before it.
The fourth quarter
The drive: 12 plays, covering 84 yards, in 5 minutes, 49 seconds. For the second consecutive week, Jake Browning and the UW offense put together a dominating fourth-quarter drive. This time, instead of settling for a long field-goal attempt, the Huskies went for it on fourth-and-five and Browning deliver a perfect pass to Aaron Fuller for a 26-yard touchdown to close the door on Colorado. Browning said he had been confident all week with how the Huskies would respond to the overtime loss at Oregon. “We kind of take pride in, when we beat teams we want to beat them twice — we play so physical that they lose the next week,” Browning said. “We refused to let that happen to us. I know for me personally, I only have so many games here (left). I’ve played a lot and I’m not going to let one loss — obviously it hurt and it’s a disappointing one — but I’m not going to let anybody beat us twice. Everyone was hurting. But you’ve got to move on and continue to stay positive and keep battling. Who knows what can happen? This league is crazy.”
The Huskies’ inefficiencies in this area have been well documented here, so it only seems fair to highlight the improvement Saturday. Colorado was just 3 for 13 on third downs and 0 for 4 on fourth downs. Myles Bryant had one of the plays of the game with his diving breakup of a Steven Montez third-down pass in the fourth quarter; and Ben Burr-Kirven and Greg Gaines combined on a fourth-and-one stop in the third quarter that helped set up a Peyton Henry field goal. (It was on that play BBK said he believes he had a finger nail ripped off in a collision with Gaines. Blood was still dripping out of the right-handed glove after the game.) Colorado finished with a season-low 263 yards of total offense, and just 86 yards (on 33 plays) in the second half.
Part of what made Washington such a dominant team in 2016 was its ability to create turnovers on defense and limit them on offense. That hasn’t been the case in 2018. The Huskies have a minus-2 margin on turnovers, and through eight games they’ve won the turnover battle only once (at Utah). UW’s secondary has just two interceptions this season, and Burr-Kirven’s fourth-quarter pick was just the third for the defense this season.
The pass rush
Ryan Bowman had his best game of the season — while getting an increased number of snaps — and Benning Potoa’e had a productive day, too. Both finished with seven tackles, but neither registered a sack or even a quarterback hit. Levi Onwuzurike finally got to Montez for a sack late in the fourth quarter, the Huskies’ first of the game. UW is averaging 1.25 sacks per game — Oregon State is the only team in the Pac-12 with fewer. It is obvious the Huskies don’t have a singular dominant pass-rusher, and one isn’t going to magically appear over the next month. (Redshirt freshmen Ariel Ngata and Joe Tryon have the potential to perhaps be difference-makers off the edge down the road, but they’re not there yet.) All that said, the Huskies still lead the Pac-12 in scoring defense (15.6 points per game) and still have one of the best passing defenses in the country, allowing just 5.5 yards per pass attempt and just six touchdown passes in eight games.
Can the run game keep this up without Myles Gaskin?
Senior star Myles Gaskin (shoulder) missed the first game of his career Saturday, snapping a streak of 47 consecutive appearances for UW’s career rushing leader. And still, without him the Huskies managed a season-high 201 yards on 40 carries behind what Chris Petersen dubbed “the three-headed monster” of sophomores — Salvon Ahmed, Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant. Don’t expect any real updates from Petersen on Gaskin’s availability, but it’s a good bet Gaskin will sit again during the game this week in Berkeley — with the potential for his return against Stanford.