Despite best season in more than a decade, Cougars can’t get past rival Huskies in 45-10 shellacking.
You can look at their record and rejoice. It’s the best the Cougars have been in more than a decade.
You can look at the stats and celebrate. Washington State’s offense was among the most potent in the country.
You can look at the improvements made at Wazzu and conclude that it is on its way to becoming a big-time program.
But in the state of Washington, it’s still the little brother.
Friday afternoon, the Cougars perpetuated their role as beta males to the Alpha Dawgs. For the sixth time in seven years, the Huskies bested WSU in the Apple Cup, this time by a score of 45-10.
On paper, this was the best Washington State team in 12 years. Yet somehow, it suffered its most lopsided loss to UW since 2000.
The Cougars may be getting exponentially better, but around here, they’re still second-best.
“Everyone is really disappointed. The Apple Cup is a huge game, and we really wanted this one,” quarterback Peyton Bender said. “We haven’t done what we did today all year. Unfortunately, we picked today.”
It’s tempting to put an asterisk next to this result given how Bender was filling in for Luke Falk, who led the nation in passing yards when the week began. Falk was carted off the field in the third quarter of last week’s win over Colorado after suffering an apparent head injury.
Washington State is defined by its ability to throw the football, and when the guy who has thrown it 591 times this season is injured, the offense is going to suffer.
But Friday’s issue wasn’t about the guy taking snaps — it was about a funk the Cougars couldn’t snap out of.
On the Cougars’ opening drive, Bender tossed a pass on third-and-five that Dom Williams should have caught. It looked as though a touchdown would have ensued if he had, but the Cougs were forced to kick a 41-yard field goal instead.
If you believe in tone-setting — if you believe the results of one sequence can influence those that follow, then this one cut deep. Despite four consecutive drives to within the Huskies’ 30, WSU (8-4, 6-3 in the Pac-12) managed just three first-half points.
Fans couldn’t fathom what they were seeing. The team that came in averaging 34.4 points ran into an invisible wall in front of the goal line.
Was it because of a talent disparity? Cougs coach Mike Leach said no.
His team wasn’t overmatched — it was just overwhelmed.
“For whatever reason, our guys played wide-eyed,” Leach said. “We’ve beaten teams that are considerably better than Washington this year, but the thing about it is we go in here wide-eyed and act like it’s special.”
It’s hard to fault a group of college kids for getting amped up in a rivalry game — especially when they’re incessantly assumed to be the underdogs. The Huskies, who came into the game as 7½ -point favorites, now lead the series with WSU 70-32-6.
Maybe the 20th-ranked Cougars were overly eager to punctuate their surprisingly successful season. Perhaps they were irked that a Washington team that was just 5-6 on the year and 3-5 in the Pac-12 was expected to win by a touchdown.
Whatever the impetus, clearly something was wrong. Because on this afternoon, nothing seemed to go right.
Seven turnovers headlined Washington State’s nightmare of an Apple Cup. A series of third-and-longs converted by Washington amplified the pain.
Wazzu may not have caught many breaks, but it also didn’t make many blocks — getting outmuscled in every phase of the game.
Afterward, players appeared borderline numb. They couldn’t explain what had happened, because they hadn’t experienced it this season.
“To let the score get out of hand like it did. Yeah … bad,” Cougars running back Jamal Morrow said.
Friday marked the fourth consecutive time Washington had beaten a ranked Washington State team in the Apple Cup (’01, ’02, ’03). Seems whenever the Cougars have a number next to their name, the Huskies have their number.
There is no doubt that WSU is getting better. It has a system that works, and it is landing more talented recruits every year.
It appears that the Cougars are rising out of the darkness — but for at least one more year, they’ll be in the Huskies’ shadow.