While UW players stayed mum, WSU’s players expressed their desire to win the Apple Cup for the first time since 2012 and why they’re eager to earn some respect from their in-state rivals.
To minimize distractions as the Huskies prepared for Friday’s Apple Cup game against Washington State, Washington coach Chris Petersen did not make his players available to the media this week.
That suited Washington State just fine. All week long, the Cougars luxuriated in the spotlight as their players unleashed all their frustration about how they’re not respected by the other Pac-12 program in the state.
Asked when he first realized how intense the rivalry was, WSU senior linebacker Jeremiah Allison told a story from his freshman year, after the Cougars beat UW in the 2012 Apple Cup, and Allison went to Seattle to hang out with his childhood friend, UW receiver Jaydon Mickens. He didn’t exactly feel welcomed by the Huskies.
“I was wearing my Washington State gear, and they didn’t acknowledge me. They look down upon us. They call us the little-brother school. That kind of offended me,” Allison said. “After that, I realized we have a lot of work to do to gain that respect. We have to make sure we go out and take what we want.”
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Allison isn’t the only Cougar who feels that way.
“It’s the Apple Cup. They have something of ours we want, and we’re going to get it back,” said senior offensive lineman Gunnar Eklund, a Lake Stevens native.
That attitude embodies the way the Cougars are playing this season: with confidence and determination. After a decade of losing, 20th-ranked Washington State (8-3 overall, 6-2 Pac-12) now has an on-field product that demands respect, and the Cougars want their opponents to know it.
In trying to explain the turnaround in WSU’s fortunes, you can look to WSU’s pass defense, formerly ranked last in the Pac-12 and now third in the conference — behind only UW (5-6, 3-5) and UCLA. Or the fact that WSU has more than doubled last season’s total number of takeaways, and currently has 20.
Or perhaps even the fact that the Cougars finally have an effective running game — they’ve tallied five 100-yard outings this season, and last week, Gerard Wicks became the first WSU running back in five years to eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark in a game.
But really, the biggest difference has come off the field.
“Our mentality this year is totally different than last year,” said senior receiver Dom Williams. “We’re going to play a full 60 minutes and go hard.”
“Every day we go out there and we believe we’re going to win,” Eklund said. “We know they’re not going to be tougher than us. No one is going to be tougher than us. They might have better recruits or whatever you want to call it, but they’re not going to hit us harder than we’re going to hit them. We really believe in winning every game, and I think that’s huge.”
The Huskies have heard the Cougs loud and clear. UW defensive-line coach Jeff Choate said this week that his players are aware of Eklund’s comments.
But these Cougs don’t seem to care. They believe they faced their day of reckoning after they opened their season with a debacle against Portland State, and have since been emboldened by how they’ve managed to dig out of that hole.
“After that, we came together and put our foot down and said: ‘No more. They’re not going to beat us by outplaying us. If they’re going to beat us, they have to bring it,’ ” Eklund said.
To these Cougars, it doesn’t matter that they might be without starting quarterback Luke Falk, or that UW leads the league in total defense and has only given up eight passing touchdowns all year.
“We’re winning. We’re going to win the game, we’re going to win practice. I don’t even want to think about the word ‘lose’ right now,” Eklund said.