Apple Cup: Husky defense lives up to billing, while Cougars fall short without Luke Falk

Nov 27, 2015, 6:01 PM | Updated: 6:08 pm
Washington defense held WSU’s Air Raid passing attack to just five yards per pass attempt in ...
Washington defense held WSU's Air Raid passing attack to just five yards per pass attempt in the Apple Cup. (AP)

The Husky defense didn’t get to face the Pac-12’s leading passer in the 108th Apple Cup, but it was prepared just in case the occasion arose.

There was no such occasion, and after Washington thoroughly dominated backup quarterback Peyton Bender and the 20th-ranked Cougars 45-10 on Friday, it’s hard not to think what if.

What if, after suffering head injuries in back-to-back games, Luke Falk was in good enough shape to lead the Cougars into battle at Husky Stadium against a stacked Washington defense?

That question won’t be answered, at least not this year.

The Cougars instead had to turn to Bender, a redshirt freshman who had played decent in relief of Falk a handful of times this season but faced the tall task of making his first career start for the Cougars in Montlake.

Bender definitely had his moments, especially early on as he completed his first six passes and eight of his first 10. But everything eventually unraveled in a disastrous final three quarters, and he ended the day with two interceptions, two fumbles (both lost) and just 288 passing yards to show for on 58 attempts.

While Bender couldn’t approach the incredibly high bar set by Falk this season, Washington’s defense more than lived up to its billing. The Huskies created a whopping seven turnovers and scored 21 points on defense, including a pick-6 each for cornerback Sidney Jones and linebacker Azeem Victor as well as a fumble recovery touchdown by cornerback Darren Gardenhire. They held Washington State’s Air Raid offense to just five yards per pass attempt and eight yards per completion. And the Cougars’ running game, which has been a big reason for their surprising success this season, managed just 31 yards on the day.

It was a stellar day for the Husky D, even by its own lofty standards.

“With all of those turnovers and then scoring those three scores on defense, that is pretty impressive,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “Going in thinking we would have had seven turnovers and three scores, I don’t think I would have thought that. Those guys have played great all year and I am really proud of them.”

Added Jones, who had six tackles and three passes broken up in addition to his interception: “This was huge for our defense. To hold them to 10 points and hold them back was big. It feels great for our defense.”

The win could not have been bigger for the Huskies. Not only was it sizable in terms of the score – in fact it was the fourth largest margin of victory in Apple Cup history and the biggest since a 51-3 Washington victory in 2000 – it came with a giant implication for the Dawgs: It makes them 6-6 and bowl eligible.

The Cougars had a chance to stonewall Washington at five wins and assure they would be the only team from the state heading to a bowl this winter. But when all was said and done, they were a long ways from making that happen.

Now the Huskies, who relied relied heavily on three true freshmen Friday in quarterback Jake Browning (203 yards passing), running back Myles Gaskin (138 yards rushing, two touchdowns), and wide receiver Chico McClatcher (43 yards rushing, touchdown), are heading to the postseason in a season many expected them to finish near the bottom of the Pac-12.

“It means a lot,” Petersen said of reaching bowl eligibility, “and not only going but winning a bowl game… I am excited for these guys because we have kind of had our backs to the wall. It has been a battle all season long but I do think there has been progress. I think that they feel it and I think that is important for confidence.”

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Apple Cup: Husky defense lives up to billing, while Cougars fall short without Luke Falk