Apple Cup preview: WSU offense has been missing vs UW in recent years
By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS
Throughout his tenure at Washington State, Mike Leach’s offense has found a way to torment the rest of the Pac-12. With one exception.
The Air Raid has been grounded when facing Washington in the Apple Cup.
Washington State has not scored more than 17 points against Washington since Leach’s first season in 2012, the only year he’s raised the Apple Cup trophy in victory. That’s six straight losses and six straight seasons where Washington has shut down what’s typically been the best passing attack in the country.
“It’s been a tough stretch against those guys,” said Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon.
But Gordon and the Cougars (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12) would seem to have a good chance on Friday to snap their losing-streak to the Huskies (6-5, 3-5) and maybe see their offense find the end zone. Gordon is the top passer in the country. He’s already set a Pac-12 record with 45 touchdown passes while leading a Washington State offense that is averaging 41.5 points per game, best in the conference.
And this Washington defense, while young and talented, doesn’t match up with what the Huskies have fielded in recent seasons. The Huskies are giving up 217 yards per game passing and have allowed only 12 TD passes, but in each of the past three seasons, Washington was allowing less than 200 yards per game through the air.
If nothing else, the Cougars would like to find the end zone in the first quarter. They have yet to score a first-quarter touchdown against Washington during the six-game losing streak and have averaged just 14.3 points per game in the losses.
Last season, the Cougars marched into the Apple Cup with 10 wins built on the arm of record-setting quarterback Gardner Minshew. But the Cougars managed just 152 passing yards and Minshew didn’t throw a touchdown in a 28-15 loss in snowy Pullman.
Leach said he didn’t really know why the Cougars have struggled so much on offense against Washington.
“They’ve always had big, physical kids,” he said of the Huskies. “The NFL drafts all their players.”
Coaching also has played a part in the Huskies’ win streak and Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake has taken great pride in shutting down Washington State.
In 2016, after a 45-17 Washington win, Lake described the Apple Cup as his favorite game of the year. He said the pass-happy Washington State offense “really makes game-planning easy.”
After last year’s game, Lake said the Washington State offense looked “exactly the same. Exactly the same.”
“They do the same thing year in and year out,” Lake said after the win. “That’s five years in a row now so it makes it really easy to game-plan when an offense does the same thing every year.”
Asked about Lake, Washington State linebacker Jahad Woods declined to say much.
“I’m a player trying to do my job,” Woods said. “I’m not really into the dramatics and the WWE stuff that he says.”
Gordon, who needs 80 yards passing to become the 12th quarterback to reach 5,000 passing yards in a season, said he is more focused on what happens on the field.
“Man, I don’t really think about it much,” Gordon said. “We’ll see if he can stop us this year.”
The Cougars are not deficient in trash-talking. Running back Max Borghi promised last weekend that he would be scoring “a lot” in the Apple Cup.
Wide receiver Renard Bell, one of seven Washington State receivers with at least 39 catches this season, was more effusive about what a win would mean.
“It would mean the world to me pretty much to win this game, especially over at their stadium,” Bell said.
More on the Apple Cup
• Moore: Lake stoked UW-WSU rivalry, but his defense isn’t as good this year
• Apple Cup Decision Day: Will Paul Gallant choose to be a UW or WSU fan?
• Moore: Apple Cup history isn’t usually on WSU’s side, but it could be Friday