History shows that the Apple Cup doesn’t need two quality teams (or even one) to produce epic games. Part of the lore of the event – as with all rivalry games – is that the more downtrodden of the two teams rises up when least expected to crush the other’s sky-high aspirations.
Think of 1982, when a 2-7-1 Washington State squad stunned 9-1 Washington and denied the Huskies a third straight trip to the Rose Bowl. Or in 2003, when a 5-6 Husky team losing to Cal 54-7 shocked the 27-19 of the eighth-seeded Cougars 9-2 to end their Rose Bowl hopes.
There are many other examples, with gratifying and haunting memories on every page, depending on the year. Still, I would argue that the very best Apple Cups are those where both teams are good and have a significant amount of play that exceeds annual standards, such as: B. Pride and Statewide Boasting Rights.
That’s why this year’s version of the Apple Cup, held on Saturday night in the cool climes of the Palouse, is so appealing. Washington and Washington State have each shone in their first full seasons under coaches who both came in with many questions to answer. And both have done so positively, Washington coming up with a 9-2 record while Washington State is 7-4. The Huskies are on a five-game winning streak and the Cougars have won three in a row. Both are playing for tangible rewards that go beyond the emotional — a (still long) berth in the Pac-12 title game, or a possible New Year’s Six Bowl for the Huskies, and a higher-profile bowl in the case of WSU.
There are other aspects that spice up this game, such as the chance of cold, snowy conditions in Pullman. Nothing like a little inclement weather to produce Chaos Ball like the legendary Snow Bowl at Pullman in 1992 when WSU defeated the defending champion Huskies 42-23. The image of Cougars receiver Philip Bobo sliding into a snowdrift in the West End Zone while catching a 44-yard touchdown pass from Drew Bledsoe is indelible. Such are the images of snow flurries at Martin Stadium as late as 2018 when No. 16 UW dominated No. 8 Washington State 28-15 en route to the Rose Bowl.
The other element fueling the hype significantly on Saturday is revenge, always a welcome wrinkle in the Apple Cup. It’s not just that the Cougars beat Washington 40-13 last year — at Husky Stadium, no less — marking WSU’s biggest win in the annals of the series. It spectacularly ended Washington’s seven-game winning streak in the Apple Cup, which it had won by an average margin of 22.7 points.
It’s the burning memory of the Cougars fans who reveled on their turf, and particularly of the now-deceased quarterback Jayden de Laura, who planted the Crimson flag on the Washington logo driving the Huskies. The image was omnipresent during their preparation this week.
“I take it personally, the whole thing bangs the flag on our logo,” Washington receiver Jalen McMillan said on Tuesday. “We don’t take this lightly. We play it all over the weight room. Wherever you enter this building you will see this image. So we take it personally.”
Michael Penix Jr., the Huskies’ outstanding quarterback who propelled their breakthrough season, was in West Lafayette, Indiana this weekend watching injured from the sidelines as his Indiana team beat the Old Oaken Bucket 44-7 Purdue lost. But he has absorbed the outrage of his new teammates through osmosis.
“For the people who were here last year, I can understand how they felt about the whole flag planting thing,” he said. “Obviously there was a certain disrespect, so whatever my brothers think, I’ll feel the same because I stand behind them. I’m a Dawg now, so whatever you’re feeling, I’ll feel, and we know what we need to do this week to make sure we don’t have that feeling again.
DeBoer has also taken on the matter, although he was only hired as Jimmy Lake’s replacement a few days after the 2021 Apple Cup. Husky linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio recalled Tuesday that DeBoer didn’t wait long after accepting the job to prioritize the win over Washington State.
“I remember one of his first meetings he just said he saw the game. And one of his priorities was, ‘We have to get that back,'” Ulofoshio said. “That was sort of like priority #1 – no national championships, none of that. The Apple Cup is the most important game in Washington. And we have to get it back.”
All the elements are there for a classic Saturday. With Washington only a two-point favorite, it won’t come as much of a surprise no matter what. But it will be very satisfying for the winner.