Kings of the North? Division title at stake in Apple Cup
SEATTLE (AP) — When he finally takes off a Washington State uniform for the final time, Luke Falk will do so owning most every major passing record in Pac-12 history.
Yet to many observers Falk won’t hold a place in the hierarchy of great quarterbacks in the history of the conference unless he can fill the missing piece from his career resume.
That can change on Saturday. If Falk can lead the No. 14 Washington State past No. 15 Washington in the Apple Cup, the Cougars will claim the Pac-12 North Division title and a place in the conference championship game opposite No. 11 Southern California. It would represent the biggest victory in a career of accolades for Falk.
Washington has won four straight against its rivals and none have been close. A year ago in a similar situation where the winner claimed the Pac-12 North, the Huskies routed the Cougars 45-17 in Pullman. If Falk and the Cougars (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12, CFP No. 13) are to write this chapter of their history, it means winning at Husky Stadium, a place Washington State hasn’t won in a decade.
Not so simple, huh?
“You do your best all the time, so there really hasn’t been any holding back, effort, focus with regard to our team,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said. “So it’s not like there’s some extra private reserve in the cellar of the bank that we are able to draw from because all the sudden, this is a game that gets a lot of attention around here.”
This won’t be entirely on Falk’s shoulders. Washington State’s offense is the most diverse it’s been since Leach arrived in Pullman, and the Cougars have an underappreciated defense led by defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa that ranks second in the conference and 11th nationally.
Of course, Washington (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12, CFP No. 17) will also have a significant say in whether the Cougars are celebrating their first division title. The Huskies are the spoilers this time around, their loss to Stanford two weeks ago assuring that Washington can’t repeat as North Division champions no matter Saturday’s outcome.
The Huskies have won seven of the last eight in the series and for most of this season had one of the top defenses in the country.
But the Huskies have shown some vulnerability of late, giving up 30 points in consecutive games and last week watching Utah’s Tyler Huntley throw for 293 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think we’ve been being tested like real football in the Pac-12 is,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “I think there are some good quarterbacks and there are some good coaches that can scheme. I think we’ve been tested like we really should be. To me, it’s been real football.”
Here’s what else to watch in the 110th Apple Cup:
ON THE LINE: The matchup between Washington State’s defensive line and Washington’s offensive line will be critical. The Cougars are 10th in the country with 35 sacks. The Huskies are tied for 24th in the country allowing just 15 sacks. Mata’afa has 9½ sacks, but he’s gotten help from Frankie Luvu.
TIME AFTER TIME: It may be a bit of a misnomer considering the type of offense Washington State runs, but the Cougars lead the Pac-12 and are ninth in the country in time of possession. Petersen believes that will be important in which style will dictate the pace of the game.
“They’re hanging on to the ball and they’re converting third downs,” Petersen said. “They’re controlling the clock and the game their way.”
EARLY JUMP: Recent Apple Cup matchups have become blowouts very early in favor of the Huskies.
Last year was the worst example for Washington State as the Huskies jumped to a 28-3 lead and cruised. In the three previous matchups with both Leach and Petersen as the head coaches, Washington has outscored Washington State 66-13 in the first half of those three games.
LUCKY NO. 7: There’s been a bit of magic for Washington State in the past two Apple Cup’s that have ended in 7s.
The most famous was the 1997 game won by the Cougars 41-35 that clinched Washington State’s first Rose Bowl berth in 67 years. Led by Ryan Leaf, the Cougars stormed the field after the victory with roses handed out as part of the celebration.
Ten years later was almost as satisfying for the Cougars. Down 35-28 early in the fourth quarter, Washington State rallied for a 42-35 win on a 35-yard TD pass from Alex Brink to Brandon Gibson with 31 seconds left.
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