The Apple Cup takes center stage only once a year.
With it, so does the annual spice-it-up banter – which hasn’t been all that scintillating lately since both Washington and Washington State have fallen on difficult times, and have had their own wounds to tend to.
The facts are facts – WSU enters the game Saturday on a two-game winning streak against the Huskies, including last year’s come-from-behind, 16-13 victory they achieved in double overtime in Pullman.
This is UW coach Steve Sarkisian’s first go-round against the Cougars. True to his nature, he declined to give in to reporters’ provocation Monday during his weekly press conference.
When asked if his team, which has been installed as a 241/2-point favorite, might naturally be overlooking the Cougars, Sarkisian’s retort was both stern and quick-witted.
“I just tell (my players) that they are probably looking at us and saying the same thing,” Sarkisian said.
Minutes later, in front of a television camera, UW tight end Kavario Middleton said the Huskies “plan on scoring 50” points on their home field, and later repeated the point to other reporters.
By practice Monday, an irked Sarkisian had already seen footage of the comments – and hastily declared his sophomore from Lakes High School off limits to media the rest of the week.
Never mind Middleton’s comments could be considered rooted in fact, since WSU has surrendered 40 or more points in each of its past five games and ranks 118th out of 120 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision programs in scoring defense.
“It’s not so much trash talking,” UW quarterback Jake Locker said, “but bragging rights.
“You get (that) for a year, and it’s nice to have that as a player.”
A flavorful encounter isn’t bad, either.
Goaded, too, were the Cougars, especially coach Paul Wulff, who was reminded Monday about the time he told WSU supporters how much he didn’t care for the Huskies during his introductory press conference in 2007.
“You really want to stir this up, don’t you?” Wulff said. “Let’s put it this way: If you’re a student-athlete, or you’re a student and you’ve got your rivalry … no question you have a certain level of dislike – and I’d say a high dislike as an athlete.
“Even now, I’m a born and bred Cougar, and whenever there is a rivalry game and it happens to be in Washington, I want to see the Cougars do really well.”
The Huskies won’t know if they will get linebacker E.J. Savannah (broken left wrist) or defensive tackle Cameron Elisara (neck stinger) back until later this week. Neither has been cleared by doctors. Elisara did practice Monday. … Free safeties Jason Wells (plantar fasciitis) and Nathan Fellner (biceps) are both fully healthy and are expected to split time at that position. … Running back Chris Polk (right shoulder) practiced wearing the no-contact red jersey. … Wulff said he remains “cautiously optimistic” that true freshman Jeff Tuel (knee) will start at quarterback for the Cougars. If not, Kevin Lopina will get the nod. … Both teams are holding Thanksgiving Day practices – Washington State at 10 a.m., and the Huskies going at 11:15 a.m. ... WSU safety Chima Nwachukwu (ankle) returned to practice and moved well. He’s still listed as questionable along with two other starters on WSU’s battered defense, cornerback Brandon Jones and tackle Bernard Wolfgramm. Both have back injuries. Also, the suspension of senior starting linebacker Jason Stripling was extended through Saturday. … On the WSU offense, starting guard B.J. Guerra and reserve receiver Johnny Forzani are questionable after picking up concussions Saturday against Oregon State.
News Tribune correspondent Howie Stalwick contributed to this report.
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442