Three things from Washington’s Apple Cup win
The Huskies’ season seemed to build right up to Saturday’s frigid Apple Cup in Pullman, with Washington’s fearsome defense facing the one thing that could possibly expose it – Washington State’s FBS-leading passing attack. The Huskies were up to the challenge in a big way, though, leading from their first possession on in a 31-13 win that was even more in their favor than the final score showed.
Here’s what we learned and what’s still to be figured out after the Huskies capped off an 8-5 regular season with a win over the Cougars.
Three things we learned:
1. Defensively, the Huskies are who we thought they were.
Washington State’s offense had the numbers to get everybody thinking the Apple Cup was going to be an even game, but Washington’s group of star defensive linemen and linebackers had other ideas. Hau’oli Kikaha, Danny Shelton, Evan Hudson, Andrew Hudson and Joe Mathis combined to sack Cougars quarterback Luke Falk four times, and their ability to get a push on the Washington State’s line also helped pressure Falk into two interceptions. Then there was do-everything linebacker John Timu, who had seven tackles (five solo) to tie for the team lead, recovered a fumble and broke up a pair of passes. The Huskies needed a big game from their front seven to help out their less experienced secondary, and they couldn’t have asked for a better showing.
2. Apple Cup history was close to being made.
So dominant was the Huskies’ performance, the vaunted Washington State offense was in serious danger of being shut out on its home field until wide receiver Dom Williams brought in a 35-yard touchdown pass from Falk with 9:55 remaining. That finally put to rest the very serious concern that the Cougars would finish a game with no points for the first time since Oct. 30, 2010. Even more notable, however, are the historical implications it brought to light. Washington State hasn’t been held scoreless in an Apple Cup on its home field since 1964 – a 14-0 Huskies win in Spokane. And to find a time when Washington State was shut out by the Huskies in Pullman, you have to go all the way back another 29 years earlier to 1935.
3. The future of the Huskies’ offense is suddenly bright.
Sophomores Dwayne Washington and Cyler Miles both seemed to find their grooves over the final month of the season, helping make the Huskies a much more well-rounded team than they were earlier in the year. Washington was the undisputed offensive star for the Huskies over the final three games, rushing for over 100 yards in each contest, and his Apple Cup performance was the best of them all. He reeled off impressive touchdown runs of 51 and 60 yards and finished with a game-high 135 rushing yards. Miles didn’t let the cold night air affect him much and put together his second straight game of strong efficiency, completing 25 of 39 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns and an interception. With that duo starting to reach its potential, plus the emergence of junior wide receiver Jaydon Mickens and promising moments out of sophomore tailback Lavon Coleman and junior tight end Joshua Perkins, the Huskies have a formidable group of skill players on the rise.
Three things we’re still trying to figure out:
1. Will the bowl game be the last hurrah for Washington’s defense?
Before the season, expectations were that Washington’s defense was going to be good but not exactly great. There is no doubt the defense has been the Huskies’ biggest asset, though, as well as their biggest surprise and the prime reason they put together a winning record. Virtually all of the stars on that side of ball that won’t be around next year, though, including seniors Kikaha, Timu and both Hudsons. Conventional wisdom also suggests junior linebacker Shaq Thompson will head for the NFL Draft, lending even more credence to the idea that Washington’s defense will look drastically different in 2015, making the Huskies’ bowl game likely the last chance to see their trademark pressure-heavy style running on all cylinders.
2. Is Jaydon Mickens the No. 1 receiver going forward?
Mickens has turned into Miles’ most consistent receiving option down the stretch, bringing in at least four receptions and topping 50 yards in each of the last three games. His season-high is just 84 receiving yards, though, which suggests the 5-foot-11 junior is still more of a No. 2 or 3 receiver. The question is whether anybody else currently in the program can take over as the No. 1 guy. The obvious choices are freshman Dante Pettis and sophomore John Ross, but they’ve got some room to grow. Pettis did have a 76-yard game earlier in the year, but he doesn’t have more than two catches in a game. Ross has four long touchdown catches and a 100-yard game to his credit this year, but he’s been primarily a cornerback late in the season and dropped a sure touchdown Saturday after beating the entire Cougars secondary in a rare offensive opportunity.
3. Where will the Huskies go bowling?
The Huskies improved their bowl prospects by notching win No. 8 in the Apple Cup, but they have to wait until seeing the outcome of next weekend’s Pac-12 championship game between Oregon and Arizona before anything will be official on where they’re heading. According to The Seattle Times, the two most likely destinations for Washington are the Cactus Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. or the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas. Both of those games are scheduled for Jan. 2.