Saturday, November 17 -- 12:35 PM
Husky Stadium – Seattle, WA
Last Meeting: November 18, 2000 – Washington 51, Washington State 3
Series All-Time: Washington leads, 60-27-6
The city of San Diego will take keen interest in this game after what the Oregon State Beavers did to the Huskies in Corvallis last weekend. The initials "BCS" now stand for "Bad Case (of) Simonton" after Dennis Erickson's team dismantled Rick Neuheisel's. Now the Holiday bowl will take the stage and watch Saturday's grudge match between the Huskies and Cougars to see whom they may take.
This could be one of the most important Apple Cups in its' 39-year history, if not in the all-time, series between the two rivals. Besides 1981 when both teams were playing for the Rose Bowl berth, the stakes haven't been quite this high for both teams heading into the game. That's quite a feat, considering that the PAC-10 writers targeted the Huskies to finish fourth in the conference –- and the Cougars to finish tenth.
"Yeah, ain't that neat?" laughed Mike Price about his team's predicted order of finish. Price strongly feels that this is his best coaching job that he's done in his 13 years at the helm of WSU football.
"They say losing is supposed to build character. Well, we've been building character for the last three years," Price says matter-of-factly about the Cougars' stark climb from the lower reaches –- one every bit as sudden as the plunge that followed their 1998 Rose Bowl appearance. "And I decided we'd had enough of that ‘character building' stuff around here. It was time for us to start worrying more about winning."
He broke the season up into two portions, the regular season and then the Apple Cup.
"Well, we finished 9-1," after his Cougars beat ASU 28-16 in Tempe last Saturday. "And now we're 0-0. It couldn't be a better scenario."
"It was unfortunate Washington lost (last week). However, it's still for the PAC-10 title for us."
The game could have BCS implications, in Price's eyes, if his Cougars are victorious.
"The Cougars travel as well as anyone. Over half of our home fans travel 300 miles every week," says Price -- should WSU win and Oregon prevail in its' Civil War tussle with Oregon State on December 1 (which would earn the Ducks the automatic PAC-10 BCS berth). The BCS only guarantees an at-large berth if a team is either #3 or #4 in the BCS standings –- and a lot would have to happen to push the Cougars to an automatic slot should Oregon win as expected.
Every football fan from Blaine to Camas knows what's at stake in this one. Oh sure, there will be the usual barbs –- after all, Don James was the 2,000-word underdog to Jim Walden. Trevor Highfield would have rather puked than harbor a thought of losing to the Cougars. Timm Rosenbach considered the Huskies better dancers than hitters. Cougar wives not speaking to Husky husbands.
This time, both teams will be on edge. For only the fifth time in series history, both teams go into the contest ranked. Washington State has in front of them a Pac-10 championship as well as the memory of last year's 51-3 drubbing that catapulted the Huskies into the Rose Bowl.
Washington wants to send out the likes of Larry Tripplett, Willie Hurst and Omare Lowe for their final home game in style, and will be more than a little bit perturbed after being thrashed so visibly in Corvallis last week.
Last week, both teams' bowl possibilities were endless. Now, it looks like San Diego is the likely Grail. For Washington, it would be a nice way to erase the Reser Stadium disappointment. A Husky loss would most likely put them into the inaugural Seattle Bowl, for the first (and only) football game at Safeco Field.
WSU Cougar Two-Deeps as of 11/13/2001
UW Huskies Two-Deeps as of 11/13/2001
TEAM STATS: 37.3 points, 450.3 yards (142.0 rush, 308.3 pass)
RUSHING: Dave Minnich 160-732-6 TD (4.6), John Tippins 68-252-2 TD (3.7)
PASSING: Jason Gesser 162-301-10, 2502 yards, 23 TD
RECEIVING: Nakoa McElrath 62-949-8 TD (15.3), Mike Bush 40-870-8 TD (21.8)
With their single-back, four-wideout set, The Cougars trail only Stanford in the conference scoring race, and only Oregon in total offense. Not bad for first-year offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller. Plenty of team and individual records have fallen, or are on their way to being broken.
This should be junior QB Jason Gesser's (6-1, 192) first Apple Cup start, after missing most of last season with a broken leg. Gesser, the PAC-10's total offense leader, has a TD/INT ratio of better than two-to-one. He threw for a school-record 432 yards (on only 19 completions) and four TDs against Cal, and last year threw for six scores against Arizona. He'll throw it long, he'll throw it short, and he's quick to hightail it if his first option isn't there. Gesser made a brief appearance as a freshman in the 1999 Apple Cup, throwing only one pass (incomplete). But he served notice then that he liked the wide-open game, running for 59 yards the first time he escaped the pocket. Gesser suffered a concussion against ASU, but is likely to be ready to go Saturday. Last year's Apple Cup starter, sophomore Matt Kegel (6-5, 230), is 18-32 on the season with no picks for a Cougar passing game that averages over 300 yards. Kegel even has a 63-yard TD catch-and-run to his credit -– one of 19 Cougars to have at least one reception -- and would love nothing more that bit of redemption from last year's debacle in Pullman.
With over 1,800 yards and 16 touchdowns between them, senior Nakoa McElrath (6-3, 200) and junior hoopster Mike Bush (6-6, 203) have wreaked havoc on PAC-10 defenses all year. McElrath, a Biletnikoff Award semi-finalist who only needs six receptions to eclipse Levenseller's Cougar season record, has been in the Top-20 nationally in receiving yards most of the season -- in large part to a two-week, 373-yard binge against Boise State and California. Bush averages over 20 yards per reception, and has picked up football like he never left it. He rates as dangerous a receiver as Stanford's Teyo Johnson. Bush, the Cougars' leading scorer last season in basketball, plans on turning out for hoops again just as soon as Washington State's bowl game is complete. Puyallup junior flanker Collin Henderson (6-1, 185) has only eight receptions, but surely must lead the world in career passing rating, with a three-year mark of 8-for-8 for 374 yards and five touchdowns. WSU has run the flanker pass many times, and still nobody stops it. Junior Jerome Riley (6-2, 185) had a career game against ASU, with six receptions for 158 yards and two scores. Riley has 25 catches and four TDs on the season. Senior tight ends Mark Baldwin (6-5, 248) and co-captain Jeremy Thielbahr (6-2, 237) are good run blockers. Baldwin has a pair of TD receptions.
Senior marine vet Dave Minnich (6-0, 221) has battled injuries most of the season, but figures to start here as the lone back after missing most of four games, the result of having scar tissue removed from his knee. Minnich averages 105 yards rushing per game, with six touchdowns in seven games, and impressed Husky coaches last year with his hardball style of running. He enjoyed a 130-yard, four-touchdown day against Arizona, and he also threw for a score against the Sun Devils. Junior John Tippins (6-2, 228) filled in well for Minnich and is dangerous as a receiver, and the Cougars like what they see in RS-freshman speedster Lavell Anderson (5-7, 160).
There isn't a senior starter on the front line, and only one (guard Joey Hollenbeck) on the two-deeps. It's also on the light side, but it is quick and depends on spacing and creating lanes more than brute force. Tacoma-Wilson junior center Tyler Hunt (6-3, 271) is in his first year starting, and has held his own against bigger nose tackles. Sophomore tackle Josh Parrish (6-6, 296) and junior guard Derrick Roche (6-5, 281) are the lone Cougars to have started every game. Centralia RS-freshman Calvin Armstrong (6-8, 298) took over at the other tackle when Billy Knotts went down with a dislocated kneecap. Junior Phil Locker (6-5, 305) splits time with Hollenbeck at the other guard.
TEAM STATS: 21.6 points, 354.7 yards (131.3 rush, 223.4 pass)
TACKLES/TFL: Lamont Thompson 68/1, Raonall Smith 61/7, Billy Newman 61/5
SACKS: D.D. Acholunu 10, Issac Brown 8, Rien Long 3
INTERCEPTIONS: Thompson 8, Newman 3, Marcus Trufant 3, Erik Coleman 3
You might think of the Cougars as all offense, but Washington State ranks third in the conference in total defense, and except for the infamous 446-yards rushing Oregon popped on them three weeks ago, the Cougars have been allowing well under 100 yards per game on the ground. And with a turnover margin of +13 and seven defensive touchdowns, WSU is one of the best ball-hawking teams in the nation.
The Cougars' top two sack-masters (of a unit that leads the PAC-10) don't even start. Sophomore ends D.D. Acholonu (6-3, 238) and Issac Brown (6-3, 220) are both speed rushers -- Acholonu leads the PAC-10 in sacks with 10, while Brown ranks third in the conference with eight. Senior starter Tupo Tuupo (6-3, 276) is no slouch either, with three sacks even though he's more of a run stopper. Junior Fred Shavies (6-2, 253) makes his 20th start, and has a pair of fumble recoveries on the year. Sophomores Rien Long (6-6, 287) and Tai Tupai (6-5, 332) are the run-stoppers inside –- Long had a huge day against the Sun Devils last Saturday, registering three (of his nine on the season) tackles-for-loss and one sack.
Healthy linebackers have been a rare commodity all year for Washington State. The losses of Curtis Holden to academics, Melvin Simmons to a USC transfer, and a mid-season injury to James Price left the Cougars pretty thin underneath. Sophomore Al Genatone (6-0, 218) went down in August with a knee injury, so senior Alex Nguae (6-0, 245) went from fourth-string in spring to first-team starter. Nguae suffered an ankle injury just after Genatone returned, but now both are back. Genatone scored the first third-quarter TD UCLA allowed all season with a 73-yard fumble recovery. The anchor is senior Raonall Smith (6-2, 248). WSU's third-leading tackler, Smith's disputed 27-yard fumble return against ASU was the game-clincher for the Cougars. He also has a 54-yard INT touchdown to go with his seven TFLs and five pass breakups. Sophomore Ira Davis (6-0, 200) has two sacks as a fourth LB.
The Cougar defensive backs have 98 collective starts and 39 career interceptions between them. With the return of junior corner Marcus Trufant (6-0, 189) from a broken thumb, there may not be a better unit in the PAC-10 right now. Though he's only played five games, Trufant has four interceptions and another four breakups. Senior free safety Lamont Thompson (6-2, 220) set an all-time PAC-10 record with his 22nd career interception against ASU. Thompson, who missed then entire 2000 season with a neck injury, is second in the nation with eight thefts this year (including FOUR against UCLA). He also leads the Cougars in tackles, and should get first-team All-American honors. Thompson picked off three Brock Huard passes in the 1997 Apple Cup. Senior Billy Newman (5-10, 201) is the Cougars' second-leading tackler to go with three interceptions. Sophomore Jason David (5-9, 165) has 10 passes defended, plus a pick and a fumble recovery. Sophomore Erik Coleman spelled when Trufant was out, and has three interceptions as well.
KICKING: Drew Dunning 14-18 FG (long 49), 42-46 XP
PUNTING: Alan Cox 53-40.1 (long 55), 1 blocked
KICK RETURNS: Jason David 10-19.0 (long 34), Erik Coleman 6-22.0 (long 31)
PUNT RETURNS: Collin Henderson 16-5.8 (long 13)
Drew Dunning (5-11, 165) was named the Cougar kicker just before last year's Apple Cup, and he promptly airmailed his first effort. Since then, it's been pretty much dead center for the sophomore place-kicker. Dunning, the leading scorer in the conference, has been perfect from inside the 40 (13-13). He has missed four extra-points, however. Senior punter Alan Cox (6-2, 207) is a 25-percenter placing punts inside the 20, and averages a solid 40 yards per kick.
Senior Josh Moen has the only kick-block for the Cougars, but Jeremy Bohannon scored on the play against Stanford, and Moen was named PAC-10 Special Teams player-of-the-week for it. The Cougar return game is not a strong suit. Collin Henderson has been returning punts while Trufant heals – Henderson averages six yards per return. Jason David and Erik Coleman will be the WSU deep men for kickoffs. David has the longest Cougar return so far this season, at 34 yards.
Twenty-two seniors will make the run up the Husky Gauntlet for the final time. Over their five possible years, Washington has gone 39-18, and is eligible for their fifth-straight bowl . . . In addition, four Husky seniors are potentially eligible to return (Braxton Cleman and Jafar Williams are redshirting, Anthony Kelley is eligible if he graduates this spring, and Jon Schimdt, who still has a year of eligibility remaining) . . . Only five times since the Apple Cup trophy was inaugurated in 1962 has Washington State owned a better record than Washington going into the contest. The Huskies won the first two times, while the Cougars have won the last three -– twice in Husky Stadium (the last time in 1997) . . . Keep those hankies fresh: Washington State has been granted a mind-boggling 38 first downs via penalty –- 17 more than their nearest conference pursuer. Washington has given 22 first downs via penalty (while only getting 12), third-worst in the PAC-10 (Cal is tops with 34). Stanford has only given up four via illegality . . . Though Nakoa McElrath still co-leads the Cougars with eight TD receptions, he hasn't been in the end zone in five games . . . Charles Frederick is the nation's third-leading punt-returner at 15.6 yards per effort . . . Either the Huskies' 13-game home winning streak or the Cougars' five-game road winning streak is going down. Both are currently the PAC-10's longest . . . Do you think Cal wants to "Throw out the records" for their Big Game with Stanford? The Bears are in danger of becoming only the second Cal team ever to go an entire season winless (the 1897 team went 0-3-2) –- though they do have a game with 2-7 Rutgers next week in New Jersey. It can only get better for whoever succeeds departing Tom Holmoe . . . What's that? If USC can hand UCLA their fourth-consecutive defeat, the Trojans will own a five-game conference-winning streak? . . .