Washington draws one of the most consistently dangerous teams in America when they face the Boise State Broncos for their Las Vegas Bowl matchup. Even though the Broncos’ coach, Chris Peterson, has lost three offensive coordinators in the past four years he has always been known for his tendency to use “trick” plays especially in big game. Sometime in this upcoming game I promise you we will see a reverse, a reverse pass, a double pass, a flea-flicker, a statue of liberty play, as well as an assortment of screens, draws, and quarterback boots. We will probably see a number of different plays designed to fool you by using them in unusual and even critical situations. He does it on purpose because he wants you to use extra practice time preparing for all the unusual things his offense brings to the table. He has also added such plays to his defense with more pressure packages as well as the use of disguise in his secondary. He has used reverses and throwbacks on kick returns and of course there are fake field goals and fake punts to consider.
Wow? How can they possibly practice that many things in addition to preparing their regular offense and defense? They can’t, but they will prepare a few and make you guess what, when, and where they will use them. It really gets back to your players being disciplined with their eyes. Read your keys and stay disciplined in checking all things every play before jumping to conclusions. Boise State will definitely be trying to fool you especially in their passing game where they often use double moves by receivers or crossers that run you into the referee who stands right behind the linebackers. Most of these routes take time to develop so rushing the passer becomes paramount to playing good pass defense.
Let’s be clear that Boise State is not really an all-out passing team like WSU but is really more of a “gun-run” team that prefers to move the ball more conventionally by use of the run. If Washington is to win this game they will have to stop the Bronco’s running game and their thousand yard rusher, DJ Harper, or at least not allow that aspect of their offense to dominate. A lot of this is based upon the fact that they have a first year quarterback, Joe Southwick, who took over for a four year starter, Kellen Moore, who moved on to the NFL. Leaving with Moore over the past few years were some great wide receivers as well as a number of key linemen on both sides of the ball. Point is, this Bronco team is not the same throwing machine they were under Moore so the Huskies’ defensive front better key up to stop the run first and then try to key for the pass while at all times expecting the unexpected. That’s a lot to put on the kids but that is a reality when comes to bowl games simply because teams usually have three weeks to prepare for the game. That’s a lot of extra time to put in plays that could catch your opponent off guard.
In Boise State’s final game of the season they completed two passes for touchdowns where there wasn’t a single defender in the picture. They were both wide open routes based upon trick maneuvers. Protecting the football though might be the single most important thing the Huskies can do. This year Boise State lead the nation in fumble recoveries and was in the top five in caused fumbles and their turnover ratio. They are constantly ripping and tearing at the football and if Washington has no turnovers they will greatly enhance their chances of winning the Vegas Bowl.
Those might be the keys to winning this game; stop the run, don’t turn over the football, and don’t be fooled, oh and pound the rock by running the ball themselves. Not really that simple but certainly those things will be major factors in the Huskies winning this game. Husky fans must face it; Boise State is one of the best programs in the west and have been for almost a decade. The Huskies would love to have their record of 82-8 since 2006 when Peterson took over the team. They are really a solid football team but Washington can win this game if they mix their own run game and get a great game out of Keith Price at the quarterback position.
Price has been the brunt of much of the criticism thrown at this year’s team. He will be rested, fresh, and revitalized and I predict and expect him to win the player of the game honors for this bowl. Anyone who has followed the Huskies this year realizes that Keith has struggled and some even have begun discussions about replacing him for next year. I think this game will prove he is capable of leading the Huskies into the upper echelon of the conference and becoming a true contender. If I’m right then it couldn’t happen to a nicer kid because this is just a special individual and this is still his team. He has been very good in bowl games and will need to be again in order for Washington to pull off this upset.
The reality is when it comes to the Apple Cup you throw out the records because anything can happen. This past Friday more than proved it when the lowly Cougars stunned the overconfident Huskies with a combination of grit and determination and literally stole the Cup back to Pullman where it will be housed for the next year. The Huskies left the Palouse with their tails tucked beneath their legs and will have a whole year to think about it.
Years ago when I was coaching for Don James and we lost a similar game to the Cougars and he put the number of days until the next Apple Cup on every practice plan, on every schedule, and basically on everyone’s locker until the next time we were scheduled to play them. Because we failed to go to a bowl game that year he even went so far as to buy us all a “no bowl” watch and we had to put a little red dot on it to remind us all of how important it was to beat the Cougars and qualify for a bowl.
Basically the Cougars won three of the four quarters and for whatever the reason the Huskies came out flat for the second week in a row against an inferior opponent. The previous weekend the Huskies failed to show up in the first quarter against a terrible Colorado team and only led 7-0 at half. This game they trailed at half 10-7 before making a game of it in the third quarter when they scored three times to take an 18 point lead. They thought they had it in the bag at that point but they underestimated their rival and by the end had lost to another terrible team. So what does that make the Huskies?
You can never let one game dictate or define your season because it is a collection of wins that determine your overall record and whether you win a championship or not. That is not the case, however, if you are a Cougar because beating the Huskies is simply the most significant thing in any Cougar’s life. It’s never been like that for Huskies and no matter what you try to tell them they never realize the importance of this game to the Cougs. Honestly, if you ask any Husky fan, what team would you most like to beat? I’ll bet the majority say the Ducks. If you ask a Cougar that question it is always the Huskies. The Washington Huskies are a good team but with 5 losses they are far from a great team. They had three really good wins and three really bad losses and even though the Cougars barely won this last one, that’s all it takes.
Interestingly for me was that the Cougars were exactly like they were when I was a senior and the Cougar captain in 1967. That was 45 years ago and we entered that game with no conference wins and only one victory on the whole season. We beat a 5-4 Husky team in Husky Stadium and get this; we won it 9 to 7 because the Huskies’ kicker missed a chip-shot field goal on the last play of the game. Sound familiar? It was almost spooky for me watching the Husky kicker “Coug it” on the last play of regulation. I promise you that beating Washington was one of the greatest wins for all of us and even though our coach got fired the next day we had done something no Cougar team had done in 8 years and that was to win the Apple Cup. That time it made our whole season because we had only beaten Idaho and Washington but for a Cougar those are the most important games of any year. This time I was literally sick at the end of the game because even though I was a Cougar, I am now a Husky and the result pretty much wrecked an otherwise good year. It also means that Washington essentially has not taken the next step as Coach Sarkisian has been preaching all year long. They have improved, but good teams win the games they’re supposed to and the Dawgs failed miserably in this, a game they should’ve won.
It’s never fair to place the blame for a loss on any one player or one play because if the Huskies had really taken care of business it wouldn’t have come down to the last kick. Unfortunately, they didn’t appear ready for this opponent and when they had their chance to put the game away they didn’t. Of course, the kicker was bailed out of full blame when Keith Price resorted back to his old ways and stupidly threw up an interception that sealed the Cougars’ comeback. For whatever reasons Price has had a disappointing junior year and you have to believe that Coach Sarkisian will open up the competition at the quarterback position as early as next spring.
Winning or losing in college football is such a fine line and sometimes the stars just all align properly and the underdog, er undercat, steals the prize. Of course, a few Cougar fans had to wreck the victory by attacking the Husky players as they left the field proving that Oregon isn’t the only school with obnoxious fans. That didn’t piss me off as much as a few of their players who sprinted across the field not to shake hands with the Huskies but to taunt and ridicule them. That sort of player misbehavior is simply reflective of not knowing how to win but then when you leave your opponent in the game instead of putting them away you pay the price of losing and the insults that come with it.
Playing in Pullman is very difficult in itself and this Husky team had to watch all those games of the Cougars who entered the game with an 0-8 conference record and had been blown out by 40 and 50 points. Kids are kids and it’s a tough sell to prepare your team when the other team looks so bad on film. Hopefully, the Huskies who return next year, and there are a lot of them, will remember this insulting behavior and this disheartening loss and be more mentally and emotionally prepared in late November of 2013 when they host the Apple Cup in Husky Stadium. They’d better be or they’re liable to repeat this same scenario. Give credit to your opponent but light a fire in your guts that burns for a year. They are your rival and it’s always more dangerous if they’re entering the game with a terrible record. It happened in 1967, in 1982 and 83, and in 1992, all years when the Huskies were ranked or had the better record and the Cougars were going nowhere. Of course it also happened in reverse when the Huskies upset a ranked Cougar team in 2001, 2002, and 2003 when the Cougars were at their peak winning 10 games per year. That’s what makes the Apple Cup such a special game, anything can happen and usually does.
That’s why it is such a special game and that is exactly why you’d better play your best or you’re going to regret it for at least a year and probably a lifetime. Good for the Cougars and their fans but hopefully they too learn from the experience. I know this, when I was a kid and if some stupid fan attacked me with my helmet on right after we had lost a game, I’d have dropped him right there on the spot. But then again maybe I would have just walked away. It never happened and shouldn’t because it’s only a game, isn’t it?
A winning record is assured, a bowl invitation is secured, and with one more victory the Washington Huskies will finish with an 8-4 record and a chance to win a 9th game before the end of the year. Over the past four years the Huskies have slowly but surely climbed their way back into the upper echelon of the Pac-12 Conference. They need only to go into Pullman and bring the Apple Cup back to Seattle with a solid victory to complete yet another step in their climb back to the top. The Cougars will make it a hard fought game in order to salvage their season but the Huskies should prevail because of their defense, their ability to run the football and because they are solid in the kicking game. Those are three things that the Cougars are obviously lacking and basically some of the reason they haven’t won a conference game and will enter this contest with only two wins over Eastern Washington and UNLV.
Stanford’s stunning victory over the Oregon Ducks suddenly makes Washington’s win over the Cardinal look that much better and there is a chance to finish as the fourth place team in the twelve team conference. Pending the outcome of the ASU/Arizona game, the UCLA/Stanford game, as well as the Civil War in the state of Oregon and even the USC/Notre Dame game, any of a number of combinations wins could send the Dawgs to the Holiday Bowl (Pac-12 #3), the Sun Bowl-12 (Pac#4) or even the Las Vegas Bowl (Pac-12#5). Winning could make the difference for the Huskies in going to one of those bowls or dropping into the Craft Fight Hunger Bowl or the New Mexico Bowl. Whatever the outcome or destination the Huskies will have earned the 15 extra practices that come with going to a bowl game and that alone is critical in terms of your roster development.
The fact that the Huskies only lose a dozen kids of the roughly 100 on their roster is another reason to value these extra practices. Of those twelve seniors, only 5 are starters, meaning that the Huskies will be returning almost everyone next year. The value of winning this game and the bowl game can’t be underestimated in terms of both recruiting and to further show the positive direction of the program.
I personally thought they were still a year away from being a contender at the start of this season and that has essentially been proven correct. They struggled thru a lot of injuries and a three game losing streak, losing badly to the Oregon and Arizona and letting USC out Seattle with a game the Huskies easily could have won. Regardless, this Husky team has survived one of the hardest schedules in America and now must finish it right. A win against the Cougars is the last piece to the puzzle and the 8 wins would represent the most in a season since 2001. The Huskies are finally relevant again and need to finish this climb with a solid win over their cross state rival. Just like last weekend, go on the road and win the games you’re supposed to.
It’s been a long climb back for the Husky program and its fan base and this is a chance for a really good season and to prove they have indeed taken the “next step” as Coach Sarkisian had hoped for this team. Washington is no longer hoping to win games, they are expecting to win games and that is one of the most important things Coach Sarkisian has brought to the program. They expect to go into Pullman and win this game and know they will be given the Cougars best shot but they are the better team and they have a lot to play for.
Nothing can be taken for granted in the Apple Cup and I will always remember my senior year as the Cougar captain when our team went into Husky Stadium for the Apple Cup with only one win and somehow won the game. Our team was in a terrible place with an about to be fired head coach and we somehow beat the Huskies 9-7 when their field goal kicker missed a chip shot field goal right at end. Best for Washington to have this game already decided before the start of the fourth quarter because anything can happen in a close rivalry game.