UW finds its own way to Coug It

PULLMAN, Wash. - Looking back at the 16-13 Washington State win over Washington in the 101st Apple Cup, you can blame this one on the UW coaches. Poor decisions cost their team the game: Whether it was who was kicking the field goals or the plays that were being called, it all went wrong in a way only the hosts know too well.

To start off the game the Huskies instantly found the Cougars' weakness in their run defense. With Willie Griffin rushing twice for a first down, UW Offensive Coordinator Tim Lappano called for a pass. That call led to a Ronnie Fouch interception to WSU cornerback Romeo Pellum. The Huskies defense was able to force a punt after a Donald Butler sack knocked WSU out of filed goal range.

The pass shouldn't have been thrown. Washington found something that worked (surprising) and went away from it (not surprising). The Huskies had been struggling to locate their run game all season and when they found it, they immediately went away from it.

After the first drive the coaching staff figured out that running the ball should be the bread and butter to win this game. They repeatedly ran on first and second down and saved their passing game for third down most of the first half. The result of this was a touchdown and 86 rushing yards for Willie Griffin. He finished the game with a season-high 112 yards - the most gained by a UW tailback this season.

The Huskies figured out a pretty strong game plan, and it looked like if they stuck to the plan they could easily score another rushing touchdown and put the game out of reach. But to start the second half the team again opened up the playbook and it resulted in the drive ending quickly after a near interception by the Cougars.

Expecting to see Griffin come out running again for the second half, the Huskies let Terrance Dailey carry the ball for a while - adding more confusion to an already dicey situation due to injuries decimating most of the tailback depth.

So after having the best half of his career, Griffin basically disappeared. Now Dailey also had a good game, but if it isn't broke why change it? Griffin was running hard and effectively, yet seemed to be phased out of the offense in slow measure. So by the time he did come into the second half, his rhythm was gone.

When Griffin and Dailey needed a blow, Brandon Johnson was the only tailback left on the roster. Apparently it wasn't enough to just have Dailey and Griffin rotate between themselves. In one drive Griffin had had four rush attempts and Johnson came in to give him a blow. On the next play Johnson missed a block and Fouch was sacked for a loss of nine yards. The sack led to a third and 16, and eventually a punt.

With the clock running non-stop and the Huskies intentionally trying to eat time up with the run game, giving up two possessions on questionable playing calling or personnel decisions was tough to swallow.

After their botched drive to start the second half Washington went right back to the running game with Dailey who carved his way through Washington State's defense in much the same way Griffin did the first half. At one point the freshman from Vacaville, Calif. ran the ball seven straight times for a total of 50 yards. The drive stalled, so UW attempted a field goal. Because it was a longer kick (40 yards), Jared Ballman was used. He took his try and missed. The ball was on the left hash and Ballman was only shown this season that he can be consistently successful from the center or the right hash. Because it was a kick they felt was out of Ryan Perkins' range, they had no choice but to use Ballman. They couldn't play the odds, and paid the price as a result.

Not only were many offensive decisions debatable at best, but there were some poor defensive calls as well. The staff's inability to realize Washington State's offensive tendencies held the Husky team back from taking advantage.

One glaring hole in the Husky defense was the stretch running play to the right. The Cougars repeatedly ran the same play with success, and eventually broke one for a 57-yard touchdown when Logwone Mitz found himself running along the sideline unaccompanied. They also used stretch right continuously in the first overtime and had good success, getting the ball all the way inside the UW 5-yard line.

Another poor choice was not playing freshman safety Johri Fogerson on the Washington State drive that eventually sent the Apple Cup into overtime. Fogerson played in the safety spot almost the entire game, but when the team switched to a nickel defense Tripper Johnson was inserted into the safety spot. The result was a 48-yard pass from WSU QB Kevin Lopina to freshman receiver Jared Karstetter that allowed the Cougars to get into field goal range. Karstetter was able to first get by UW cornerback Quinton Richardson, but he thought he had help over the top. Johnson was late to the play.

"Yeah it was real disappointing (that I wasn't in)," Fogerson said after the game. "It's all right; nobody is perfect whoever the DB was. It's just unfortunate."

Right after the big play, the Cougars ran another pass play, and with the Husky defense able to keep the receiver in bounds it looked like the clock would run dry. The same thing happened to California against Oregon State last year when Kevin Riley was stopped in the field of play and the Bears could not get their field goal team in for a final kick, allowing the Beavers to escape from Berkeley victorious.

The Huskies could have been that fortunate. In fact, something as simple as lying on top of the receiver and taking their time getting untangled could have spelled the difference. Maybe the team was so focused on thinking they would need the game-tying drive, they didn't work on protecting the lead. The poor game planning and situational defense allowed Lopina to set his offense and spike the ball with two seconds left in the game. Field goal team comes in, kick is made - the game goes to overtime.

And while there were plenty of nits to pick on offense and defense, perhaps the most glaring issues occurred on special teams. Before halftime, Willingham dialed in a blitz to attempt to block a punt. "I think we came out very fortunate at the end of the half, on the one that they ran the fake punt," he said when asked about Reid Forrest's 28-yard run off a fake punt. "Because I wanted to go for the block and we came after it. That's a risk you take and they came off the edge. We got very lucky there, our defense did a nice job for us."

With less than two minutes to go, why not go into punt return safe and protect the lead? And furthermore, if UW hadn't called a timeout right before the punt, the chances Washington State calls the fake go way down. With the Huskies giving them time to evaluate the situation, they made a gutsy call; and it worked.

Washington got lucky in that situation in that it didn't result in any points, but the bad play calling eventually caught up to them. A Washington punt on 4th and three with 1:06 left in the fourth quarter resulted then a net of 17 yards. They had a number of options: They could have tried a 53-yard field goal to make it a 6-point game; they could have relied on their run game - which had been successful all day long.

Instead, the subsequent punt left the Cougars 56 seconds to attempt a comeback, although an unlikely one. At least, that's what the UW coaches told themselves when they made the choice to punt. If punting was the right choice, why not a coffin kick?

Everyone knows the rest: Washington 'Couged' it, but with a twist. Their opponent made a comeback and stole the game from under them.

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