When the Huskies’ 26-13 defeat to USC was announced to the Martin Stadium crowd of 30,135 Saturday, the roar may have been the biggest of the evening in the Palouse. The 23rd-ranked Cougars had begun a 56-21 dismantling of the Cal Bears, a development that has become almost routine, so surprises had to come from elsewhere.
The No. 4 Huskies’ vulnerability and Washington State’s ascension — the first eight-game winning streak since 1930 and the first 7-0 conference start in school history — makes even more appealing for Cougars fans the Nov. 25 Apple Cup in Pullman, which will be for the Pac-12 North title and a berth in the conference title game, from where the winner goes to the Rose Bowl.
Sunday morning’s release of the weekly polls showed the Cougars advancing from 23rd to 20th in the Associated Press poll and the coaches poll. Washington dropped from fourth to seventh in each.
The College Football Playoff rankings, the only thing that counts in creating the playoff field, are released Tuesday.
“I think we’re clicking on all three sides, and that tends to multiply things,” said Cougars coach Mike Leach. No kidding.
The defense held Cal to its fewest points this season, the offense was again balanced with 254 rushing yards to go with 400 passing yards, and a 75-yard dash by Caleb Fossum was the first WSU punt return for a touchdown since 2005.
The score came on the Cougars’ first touch after stopping Cal’s opening possession at two yards. The Bears had the Pac-12’s most prolific offense entering, but a terrible defense dropped the record to 4-7 and likely will keep them out of the bowl scene. A week earlier, Washington beat Cal 66-27.
Another worthy individual feat came on the final catch by WR Gabe Marks, a seven-yard touchdown from QB Luke Falk that completed the scoring. The reception, his seventh for 87 yards, made the fifth-year senior the Pac-12 career receiving leader with 295. He also passed Marquess Wilson as WSU’s career yards leader with 3,268.
“That’s a huge body of work that he’s a part of,” Leach said. “And Gabe would be the first to tell you there’s a lot of teammates that contributed to that record. He’s a great representative to have that record, and continues to have a very impressive career.”
WR River Cracraft had three touchdown receptions, tying his career high and coming on consecutive possessions. Falk, with 373 yards, also broke Connor Halliday’s record of 23 games of 300 or more yards.
Before the Apple Cup, the Cougars have a formidable challenge at 12:30 p.m. PT Saturday at Colorado, the Pac-12 South leaders, who beat Arizona 49-24 Saturday to improve to 8-2, 6-1.
But the Cougars are on an uptick, playing their best ball late.
“I think we’ve continued to elevate our excitement to play as the season’s gone on,” Leach said. “I think that’s been an important element. If you can do that, that tends to get contagious among everybody.”