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No. 6 Huskies make statement, beat No. 23 WSU 45-17 in Apple Cup

PULLMAN, Wash. ‚Äď It was supposed to be one of the biggest Apple Cups of all-time, an epic clash of Top 25 teams looking to clinch a division championship in a game that would go down to the wire.

So much for that.

The No. 6 Huskies¬†made a huge statement at the expense of their chief rivals on Friday, ripping the No. 23 Cougars¬†45-17 in a one-sided affair to lock up the Pac-12 North title, a spot in next week’s conference championship game, and vastly improve their¬†case to be included in the four-team College Football Playoff that determines the national title.

WSU doomed by slow start |¬†Huskies’ stand |¬†Apple Cup by the numbers |¬†Stats

The Huskies looked right at home in Martin Stadium, jumping out to a 28-3 lead in the first quarter thanks to an outstanding performance by sophomore quarterback Jake Browning. Coming off two of his shakiest games of the year, Browning looked like the picture of confidence against the Cougars, completing 17 of 22 passes for 243 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions before halftime.

Among Browning’s¬†touchdowns were a pair to Dante Pettis, including a spectacular 61-yarder in which Pettis leaped to win a one-on-one battle despite a WSU pass interference call. Browning¬†also dropped a¬†dime of a 6-yard pass to John Ross in the corner of the end zone.

UW was far from perfect in the first half, though, struggling to get its run game going, mounting seven penalties (most committed by offensive linemen), and losing fumble by Ross. The Cougars failed to take advantage of the majority of those miscues, though, save for a four-play, 18-yard drive that resulted in a 1-yard Jamal Morrow touchdown run that came after the fumble.

The Cougars’ own missed opportunities loomed much larger. Morrow had a nice 13-yard run on WSU’s first drive of the day, but he fumbled it to Washington at the end of it, opening the door for the Huskies to turn it into a two-score game. Then near the end of the first half, quarterback Luke Falk took a shot at the end zone from the UW 9 and was picked off by Washington’s D.J. Beavers, silencing the WSU crowd and keeping a comfortable distance on the scoreboard in the Dawgs’ favor.

Washington State opened up the third quarter with a touchdown drive, but that only cut UW’s lead to 18, magnifying the importance of the interception before halftime. The Cougars managed to move the ball well in the third quarter, possessing the ball for 12:27 of clock time in the frame, but that resulted in just one score as UW made a stop on fourth and goal from the 1 late in the stanza. It was the second time in the game Washington stopped WSU in a fourth-and-goal situation, both instances in which the Cougars opted to run the ball.

Lavon Coleman’s 15-yard rushing touchdown, his second of the game, pushed the Huskies’ lead to 42-17 early in the fourth quarter to seal the win.

With the victory, UW clinched the Pac-12 North, giving the program its first championship since it won the Pac-10 in 2000. The Huskies will meet either Colorado or USC, the only team to beat them this season, next Friday in the Pac-12 championship game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

Turning point:¬†Jamal Morrow’s lost fumble on WSU’s first drive, when the Cougars were already trailing 7-0, put momentum firmly on the side of the Huskies and gave UW the opportunity to open up a 14-0 lead halfway into the first quarter.

Biggest takeaway: With yet another blowout victory, the Huskies showed they are back in the form that saw them dismantling opponents week after week on their way to winning nine straight games before a loss to USC.

Player of the game: It’s tempting to give Lavon Coleman the nod after he ran for two big touchdowns to help seal the win, but it was Washington’s passing game that was the difference, so I have to go with quarterback Jake Browning. He shook off rough performances against USC and Arizona State, proving to be surehanded by leading Washington on five TD drives in the first half.

Passing grades: Browning had a 191.1 rating, completing 21 of 29 passes for 292 yards and three scores. His top receiver was Dante Pettis (six receptions, 86 yards, two TDs), followed by John Ross (eight catches, 80 yards, TD) and Chico McClatcher (six receptions, 80 yards). WSU’s Luke Falk was 33 for 50 for 269 yards, a touchdown and three¬†interceptions. Gabe Marks led the Cougars with 112 yards and a TD on 11 catches.

On the ground: Lavon Coleman had 82 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries for Washington, while Myles Gaskin added 50 yards and a score on 16 carries. WSU was paced by James Williams, who had 42 yards on 12 attempts.