The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

COMMENTARY: If the Rebels destroyed the Death Star, the Cougs can win the Apple Cup

Cougars walk into evil purple empire 1 p.m. Saturday
WSU+running+back+Nakia+Watson+scores+a+touchdown+during+the+Apple+Cup%2C+Nov.+26.
COLE QUINN
WSU running back Nakia Watson scores a touchdown during the Apple Cup, Nov. 26.

The Rebels were not supposed to win.

The Imperial Empire’s Death Star was a heavily shielded battle station with the firepower greater than half a Starfleet. 

Kalen DeBoer’s 2023 Washington Huskies are something of a Death Star to any college football team that dares oppose them. The kind of threat designed for the college football playoff. 

The Huskies are led by a Heisman-contending quarterback, anchored by an elite offensive line bolstered by the nation’s most dangerous receiving core (358.4 yards per game, best in college football) and backed up by a defense that punishes the simplest mistakes with game-changing takeaways.

They are of course undefeated. 11-0 on the year and an 18-game win streak stretching into last season, the second-longest active win streak in college football, behind only the reigning National Champion Georgia.

Enter Washington State. A small band of rebels with no conference home after this game.

The days of a hyped-up Cougar football team that was 4-0 and No. 13 in the nation are long gone. Erased by a six-game losing streak, struggling defense and an offense that was about as predictable as the plot of a Hallmark Christmas movie.

After an embarrassing loss to UCLA in which the offense was completely bamboozled, the Cougs lost to two currently ranked teams (No. 19 Arizona and No. 6 Oregon) and have fallen to Pac-12 cellular dwellers Arizona State, Stanford and Cal by 11, three and three points respectively.

They finally snapped their six-game losing streak with a resounding 56-14 rout of Coach Prime’s Colorado Buffaloes who now sit all alone in last place.

The Huskies have not won a game “comfortably” in other words by more than 10 points, since a 59-32 Sept. 23 victory over California. Since then, however, they have racked up four ranked wins, including a 31-24 win over now-No. 19 Arizona in Tuscon, a 36-33 win over then and now-No. 6 Oregon in Seattle, a 35-28 win over now-No. 16 Utah and most recently a thrilling two-point win over now-No. 15 Oregon State in the final Pac-12 game in Corvallis.

A win is a win and Washington is winning.

UW gained a No. 4 AP poll ranking and College Football Playoff weekly ranking. With their ticket to Friday’s Pac-12 Championship game already punched, the Huskies are fighting for an undefeated season to keep the committee’s respect and for the sake of pride.

“I’d say Oregon is our rival, but Wazzu is our little brother, that’s the best I can put it,” UW defensive lineman Bralen Trice said. “It’s a little brother that’s always talking, making noise, being annoying. You want to smack ’em — so that’s what we’re going to come out and do.”

A long time ago (the last two years) in a galaxy far, far away (West Coast babeyyyyyy!!)

The scene of former Coug QB Jayden de Laura planting the Cougar flag at midfield surrounded by hundreds of Cougar fans who rushed the field after WSU embarrassed UW in Husky Stadium with a 40-13 Apple Cup win two years ago still haunts Huskies today.

 If you think that doesn’t matter, think again. It bothers them. UW has not lost a home game since the 2021 Apple Cup.

Under DeBoer’s leadership, UW has not lost a home game, took back the Apple Cup with a 51-33 win in Pullman last year and has the second-longest winning streak in college football (18 games).

To take all of that away from the Huskies would be so, so sweet.

It sounds impossible. The WSU defense has too often lacked the juice to make it of use, the Cougars’ offensive line has gotten run over by the Pac-12’s best (and worst) and the days of Max Borgi running through a brick wall are long gone, much less the days of Nakia Watson rushing for 800 yards last season. The senior tailback has only managed a season single-game high of 47, which he achieved last week against Colorado.

However, Oregon State, who despite losing 38-35 to WSU in September has maintained an AP ranking and at 8-4 has had a remarkably different season than Wazzu, took the Huskies to the brink. 

The Beavers capitalized off of Washington’s mistakes on a cold, damp night in Corvalis to fall by just two points. Their success and failures lay the perfect battle plan for our band of Cougs.

The Beavers were not without mistakes in their 22-20 Saturday loss. DJ Uiagalelei turned the ball over twice and a mishandled long snap found its way into the endzone where the Beavers’ punter kicked it out the back of the endzone, giving the Huskies two points they would desperately need down the stretch. 

Michael Penix Jr. did just enough in the Corvallis rain, having an otherwise underwhelming game throwing for 162 yards.

Down by 12 the Beavers engineered an incredible near comeback by intercepting Penix and scoring a touchdown late in a nearly 9-and-a-half minute 78-yard drive following a Husky missed field goal.

The Beavers benefited from heavy rain impairing UW’s top-ranked passing attack. But their offensive line anchored an offense that hung around with the Huskies and Oregon State did what they needed. The Beavs deserve a lot of credit. The Huskies do too for winning in the challenging elements.

WSU will not have the benefit of a rain game to throw off Penix and company. They also may be without their top-ranked cornerback Chau Smith-Wade for yet another week. Rome Odunze ranks in the top five in multiple categories and may be the best wide receiver in next year’s NFL Draft class.

“It’s not impossible, I used to bullseye Womprats in my T-16 back home. They’re not much bigger than two meters”

A special pair of WSU seniors showed up yet again last week to send Sanders and Colorado packing. RJ Stone Jr. and Brennan Jackson combined for two straight forced fumble and scoop and scores. On the second fumble, Jackson returned the ball 74 yards to the house for his third fumble recovery for a touchdown, the only person in college football with more than one to his name, much less two in one game.

The Rebellion was built by heroes. I can think of no one more fit, or crucial, for the role of hero than Stone and Jackson.

Also, Luke is the kind of enduring hero who is so easy to root for, just like Stone and Jackson. Even if you’re a Husky, you’re crazy if you don’t love them.

“Use the Force, Luke. Let go”
 Saturday will be a matchup between two QBs in the top five in passing yards. Ward is fifth with 3,419 yards. Penix is the top passer in the nation with 3,695. Ward deserves way more credit than he gets. His ability to extend plays is rare. He has, however, struggled with ball security, fumbling 12 times this year and losing eight of them. 

It can be easy for Ward to get in his own head. He can’t do that in this stage. Just like Luke, there comes a point where you can’t rely on your targeting computer and need to trust your teammates. After all, he’s got a talented group of pass catchers.

“Now this is pass-catching!”-Cougar football fans

The Huskies’ receiving corp deserves praise, but the WSU trio of Josh Kelly, Kyle Williams and Lincoln Victor have earned the respect of their opponents.

Kelly and Williams turned heads with multiple highlight-reel catches against Oregon State and Colorado while Victor caught more passes (16) against Oregon than anyone had all year (and more than anyone ever had in the history of Eugene’s Autzen Stadium).

Kelly, Williams and Victor are good dudes. The kind of dudes I would gladly fly into battle with in decades-old starfighters against the best military in the galaxy. You can’t help but believe in good dudes.

“Yahoo”-Han Solo after believing in something for the (second) time in his life.

It does not look good on paper. The Huskies, for their own sake, have no business losing this game.

All the Rebels had was a bunch of scrappy X-Wings and Y-Wings, a super sketchy comms center and a pretty basic military strategy that was incredibly difficult to execute.

It took the son of the chosen one using his newly discovered sense of the force and a wise ghost in his ear to shoot the two-meter wide shaft and destroy the Empire’s finest weapon.

You’ve heard it before. Rivalry games are different. They mean more. Head coach Jake Dickert knows this. 

“I always lean to more of the importance of what the Apple Cup means, what the rivalry means, so they understand what they’re walking into,” Dickert said. “To say it’s just another game is not fair. It’s not.”

It does not matter that the two schools agreed to play the game for the next five years. UW chased the money to the Big Ten and left WSU to sink. Then they challenged WSU’s attempt to fend for itself and claim the remaining Pac-12 assets as one of the two remaining members.

Huskies have always hated the Cougs, from disputing their existence as a rival state institution in the 19th century to a lopsided athletic rivalry in which UW’s lucrative resources lead to countless Apple Cup victories.

Every Cougar victory over the Dawgs means a little more, even more so this year.

When the Cougs walk into Husky Stadium, the odds will not be in their favor. But the force just might be.

See you at 1 p.m. Saturday!!

May the force be with you and Go Cougs!

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About the Contributors
SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports co-editor
Sam is a senior multimedia journalism major from Lacey, Washington and the sports editor for spring 2024. He was the sports editor for the 2022-23 school year and managing editor for the summer and fall 2023. He plays the trumpet in the Cougar Marching Band, loves sports and has worked at the Evergreen since fall 2021.
COLE QUINN, Evergreen Sports Photographer
Cole Quinn is a photographer and columnist for the Daily Evergreen. Cole primarily shoots sports for the Daily Evergreen and writes album reviews in his spare time. Cole is a junior broadcast production major and sports communication minor from Snoqualmie, Washington. Cole started working for the Evergreen in the fall of 2020 as a photographer. Cole was the Photo Editor during his sophomore year and Deputy Photo Editor for the fall 2022 semester.