In few years, we’ll have enough perspective to answer the key Apple Cup question from Saturday night at Husky Stadium.
What will have lasted longer: The party in the Palouse following the Cougars’ 40-13 win (box) over Washington — the biggest Washington State margin of victory in the series’ 113 meetings — or the head coaching career of the Huskies’ Jimmy Lake?
Judging by the exuberance on the field by thousands of Cougars fans after ending a seven-game losing streak to Washington, I’ll wager the party will roll for more than a year and a half.
Cougars fans drink for a week when a traffic light turns from red to green, so imagine sustaining enthusiasm for something they care about.
The only thing that could have made WSU’s night better would have been Lake standing on the sideline as the game for UW ballooned from despair to humiliation. When Lake was UW defensive coordinator, he would mock Mike Leach after the former WSU head coach consistently refused to adapt to the Huskies’ rush-three, drop-eight scheme that smothered Leach’s Air Raid offense.
But Lake never made the Apple Cup as a head coach, thwarted in 2020 by cancellation via pandemic, then in 2021 by his own hand, getting fired at mid-season mostly for having a poor team that had its ultimate indignity in the Apple Cup.
In dropping the Huskies’ final record to 4-8, the formerly kitten-soft Cougars rushed for 209 yards. The Cougars! That’s like Danny DeVito leading the NBA in rebounding.
In a wire-to-wire loss that should have been much worse except for several unforced errors by WSU, the Huskies were no match in any facet — player talent, coaching, scheme, fans.
RB Max Borghi, who rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries, expressed the vindication with vintage Apple Cup contempt that seemed to have dissipated in recent years.
“I was just so happy,” he said. “I absolutely hate the Huskies. Every Cougar absolutely hates the Huskies. Purple’s the ugliest color in the world. I just know this cup’s never going back over here. Told the young guys, ‘Make sure this cup never comes this way again.'”
Makes a long-time follower of this little saloon brawl want to mist up.
If it’s possible, the Cougars deserve more credit because of having to endure the disruption of their own mid-season debacle, the firing of coach Nick Rolovich and four assistants for refusing to vaccinate against COVID-19. The institution endured temporary national mockery, but the players ignored the tempest and won three of five games under promoted defensive coordinator Jake Dickert.
At a bowl-eligible 7-5, the Cougars could earn the Pac-12 Conference’s North Division title Saturday if Oregon State were to beat Oregon in Eugene. So we know the Cougs party going is to roll east across the state for another shot Saturday at state record for per-capita liquor consumption.
In Montlake, however, the seasonal denouement was a disaster of high order. The enfeebled Huskies managed 14 yards rushing on 10 carries and had 200 yards of total offense after turning to prized freshman QB Sam Huard for his first career start.
He threw four interceptions, one for a pick-six (as well as a pick on a two-point conversion try), finishing with 17 completions on 31 attempts for 190 yards. Purely from a game standpoint, it was terrible decision by interim coach Bob Gregory to start a kid seven months removed from high school.
“Give us a spark,” he said, explaining the decision. “Do something different. We had to do something different.”
But to be different for difference’s sake isn’t a game plan. It’s a shrug. It was a typical feckless response in a season that was a stunning, 180-degree spin from preseason expectations.
Huard is the key player from whom much is expected, but in the immediate-gratification world of college football, he did little to impress his current and future teammates, as well as his future UW coach.
The best available coaching talents didn’t see a lot of guys Saturday who looked like would-be winners in 2022. In fact, one of the graduating seniors, RB Sean McGrew, asked to define the season in a few words, nailed it in one.
“The words I want to use, I’m not allowed to say . . . Just chaos.
“We weren’t really expecting the games and the season to turn out the way they did at all, whatsoever. We had expectations for ourselves and came up short on about all of them.”
A more complete report from damage control will be available after the latest recruiting class is announced Dec. 15. But any coaching change always makes for chaos, even more so in the era of the transfer portal.
It gets worse when the fans of the formerly downtrodden rival plant their flag on the home field.