When Washington opened as a double-digit favorite to win the Apple Cup against Washington State, the response of those unfamiliar with the 110-year history of the rivalry went something like this:
Both teams are 9-2 overall, 6-2 in the conference. Both teams are emotionally fit – the Huskies fresh off a thrilling comeback victory, the Cougars rested (and restless) after a bye week.
Both teams start accomplished veterans at quarterback, and are equipped with stout defenses to contain them.
Gathering motivation rarely is a problem in any intrastate rivalry, but Saturday will offer special inducements: A chance at a second consecutive 10-win season for Washington, a chance at advancing to the Pac-12 championship for Washington State.
The Huskies are the home team, but, again, this is the Apple Cup. There will be enough Cougar fans in the crowd to mitigate that edge.
And yet, as of Friday, Washington remained a 10.5-point favorite.
Huh? What’s that about?
It’s about this: Since overseeing the Cougars 31-28 overtime victory in his first Apple Cup, in 2012, WSU coach Mike Leach is 0-4 against the UW.
We’re not talking about an 0-4 easily converted into 4-0 with a few could’ve-been, should’ve-been turns in the scenario. We’re talking about a scoring disparity so abundant it qualifies as domination.
Huskies 27, Cougars 17 in 2013.
Huskies 31, Cougars 13 in 2014.
Huskies 45, Cougars 10 in 2015.
Huskies 45, Cougars 17 in 2016.
An asterisk might be applied to the 2015 humiliation at Husky Stadium, where Peyton Bender started in place of WSU quarterback Luke Falk. Absent Falk, sidelined with a concussion, the Cougars took an early 3-0 lead, then didn’t return to the red zone until late in the third quarter.
But there was no asterisk issue last season, when the Huskies, ranked No. 5, faced the No. 23 Cougars at Martin Stadium. An Apple Cup anticipated as a classic showdown found Washington ahead, 28-3, in the first quarter.
The offense was unstoppable, at one point averaging 11 yards per play. The defense took what Falk gave them: Three interceptions during a passing performance – 33-of-50 for 219 yards and a touchdown – that rates among the most dismal of Falk’s stellar career.
Against his counterpart Chris Petersen – who has been the UW coach since 2014 – Leach’s teams have been outscored 121-40. It’s fair to wonder about the contrasting ways the coaches approach to the Apple Cup.
For the first time in 2017, Petersen made the Huskies players inaccessible to the media this week. It was a subtle suggestion that the 12th game on the schedule is different from the 11 games that preceded it.
Leach insists otherwise.
“For whatever reason,” he told reporters the other day, “there’s some kind of bizarre misconception that if we’re playing one team after the next in this conference, and the conference is loaded, that we’re gauging how hard we have to think or how hard we have to practice.
“Oh, let’s see here, well you know, 6.8 out of 10. We’ll put in that much effort and then beat them by that much. That’s not how it goes.”
How does it go for the Cougs, coach?
“They’ve already gotten both barrels, both cylinders – all the metaphors you want to use – all year long and no, there’s no extra-speed stuff,” he said. “We’re going to have great practices and go out there and just worry about being the best we can be.”
The philosophy is shared by Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who borrowed it from the late UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. Any school of thought associated with Wooden – and Carroll, for that matter – qualifies as wisdom.
But the wisdom of looking at each opponent as no more important than any other has translated into a succession of emphatic Apple Cup defeats for WSU, and it will translate into another defeat on Saturday.
Prediction: Huskies 34, Cougars 26.
Leach has a reputation as a history buff. That the coach refuses to recognize recent Apple Cup history is a fascinating quirk of his, among many.