Maybe the Cougars got too high after starting quickly, maybe they were trying too hard because they wanted it so much, or maybe it’s because UW lands higher-ranked recruits.
Maybe all those things were a factor in Washington State’s 31-13 loss to Washington on Friday at Husky Stadium, the seventh straight Apple Cup win for the Huskies.
Whatever the case, the UW defense grounded WSU’s Air Raid for the seventh consecutive season by mostly rushing three players and dropping eight into coverage, while occasionally sending a fourth player on a blitz. It has been a very successful formula for the Huskies in recent years.
But it looked like it might not work early this year when WSU’s five linemen gave senior quarterback Anthony Gordon plenty of time on the first possession of the game. The Cougars methodically and easily scored, driving 81 yards on 13 plays.
Then, came a Washington three-and-out and Cougar fans had reason to believe their Apple Cup blues would come to an end.
It all started to change on the next possession when UW’s three rushers not only started pressuring Gordon, but also sacked him a season-high five times for the game.
“They got pressure up front with three (players), which is a big part,” Gordon said. “They were able to get through with just three (rushers) a few times, and so when they are able to rush three (and get pressure), and drop eight, it’s a tough day.”
WSU receiver Renard Bell, who had nine receptions for 87 yards, said “when we scored, we got way too excited. We should have just started focusing on the next play and the next drive.”
WSU coach Mike Leach was clearly unhappy having to answer similar questions for a seventh straight season.
“I thought we played with nine (players) more than we played with 11, which I think was our biggest single problem,” Leach said, speaking figuratively. “I think we go out there and we try to make too much happen. The game is meaningful and as we do that, we get over our skis and we try to do too much and it’s a frantic effort.”
That might explain the three WSU turnovers, including a pair of interceptions by Gordon.
The quarterback agreed that despite the best efforts not to, the players made too much of the game.
“This game, collectively as a team, as a group, we need to treat it just like any other opponent,” said Gordon, who completed 48 of 62 passes for 308 yards. “We need to relax but stay urgent at the same time.”
Defensively, the Cougars were hurt by big plays in the passing game, with the secondary also being called for penalties that extended Washington drives.
But it wasn’t the 31 points the Cougars gave up that killed them. Going into the game, they might have liked their chances if you said UW would score 31.
The Cougars had little chance when they failed to score more than 17 points for the seventh straight game against UW.
Maybe there is a reason for that.
“You rank their recruiting class in the top 10, and then you are always surprised that they win, so I think that would have a little something to do with it,” Leach said.
Possibly, but it doesn’t make the end result any more palatable for anyone who roots for the Cougars.
“It is very annoying and irritating,” Bell said.
The Cougars (6-6) can still finish with a winning season with a win in a bowl game. They rebounded from an Apple Cup loss last year to beat Iowa State in the Alamo Bowl.
“We want to send our seniors out with a victory, so whoever we play next, they’re going to get a war out of us,” Bell said.