After COVID-19 concerns within the Washington State football program eventually led to the cancellation of the 113th Apple Cup, the Huskies needed a new opponent.
At one point in the week’s game prep, Washington football head coach Jimmy Lake had four depth charts on his desk.
“This week, leading up to the Apple Cup, we heard whispers that game was going to be canceled,” Lake said at his Wednesday news conference. “There was definitely some potential games that we were trying to get ahead of that we felt would replace the Apple Cup this weekend.”
Though the Huskies (2-0) were rumored to have considered out-of-conference opponents like BYU and San Diego State, a conference opponent was preferred, Lake said.
Washington moved swiftly to lock in a game against conference foe Utah, and is slated to kickoff at 4:30 p.m. at Husky Stadium on ABC. The Pac-12 canceled Utah’s originally scheduled matchup against Arizona State this weekend as the latter has struggled with a coronavirus outbreak the last few weeks. Luckily for Lake and the Huskies, that was the team they suspected they would play.
“We played the odds a little bit, we tried to get some intel where we could,” Lake said. “Thankfully we did practice against Utah yesterday, Tuesday’s practice, and then of course we practiced today against Utah, so our guess was right.”
Utah (0-1) was not afforded the same luxury. Arizona State hasn’t played since its opening loss to USC on Nov. 7, and though Utah suspected the Sun Devils would be unable to play, head coach Kyle Whittingham and company were forced to at least partially gameplan for ASU until Tuesday’s decision.
Per Whittingham, Utah allocated roughly 60% of its game prep to Arizona State, and 40% to Washington before the announcement late Tuesday night.
But now, with a team, time, and place locked in, the uncertainty, at least in the interim, is gone.
“They have always been one of the toughest teams to go against, year in and year out,” Lake said. “We know that they will be coached up on offense, defense, and special teams. They will be tough to defend, they are going to be really tough on defense, historically every single year it’s either us or them as the best defense in the Pac-12. And the film that we’ve watched, they’ve replaced all that talent that went to the NFL with players that are just as good if not better.”
Utah lost its first matchup of the season to USC last Saturday, 33-17, after a COVID-19 outbreak forced two cancellations to start its season. After losing starting quarterback Cameron Rising due to a shoulder injury just 14 plays into his season, backup transfer Jake Bentley struggled, throwing for 171 yards, just one touchdown, and two interceptions.
The Huskies, meanwhile, have had a strong start to their season, beating Oregon State 27-21 in their opener, and thumping Arizona 44-27 last Saturday.
Struggling with its run defense and showcasing a run-dominant offense, Washington did just enough in Lake’s debut to beat the Beavers Week 1 but made strides in its Week 2 win. Redshirt freshman quarterback Dylan Morris was given the keys to UW’s offense, and has avoided mistakes and even flourished at times in new offensive coordinator John Donovan’s offense.
So far, the first-year starter has completed 59.2 of his passes for 371 yards, two touchdowns, and no turnovers.
On the other side of the ball, Washington has showcased a strong secondary and pass defense, as it has over the past half decade. However, an improved pass rush featuring sophomore Zion Tupuola-Fetui and senior Ryan Bowman have UW looking even more dangerous on the defensive side. The pair have six sacks through two games combined.
The Huskies will need more of the same from Morris and the defense, as it looks to start a season 3-0 for the first time since 2017.
Lake open to rescheduling Apple Cup during championship weekend
Though the Huskies won’t be playing against their cross-state rivals the day after Thanksgiving, as they have the past two seasons, Lake is open to rescheduling the game should Washington miss out on the Pac-12 Championship.
“Everyone wants that to happen, so yes, if we are not in the Pac-12 Championship game, definitely I think that last game there should be the Apple Cup,” he said. “I know our fans and their fans and this whole state and this whole region want that game to happen.”
While the Pac-12 hasn’t allowed room for games to be rescheduled during the regular season, the conference has set aside Dec. 19 for seeded cross-division games for teams that don’t qualify for the championship game.
If the Huskies and Cougars fail to qualify for the title game, both Washington Athletic Director Jen Cohen and Washington State Athletic Director Pat Chun are looking into options to play the game.
“We will work with the Pac-12 to prioritize this game and look into any opportunities to play it should there be an open date for both schools down the road,” Cohen said.
The Apple Cup has been played every year since 1944, and the Huskies have historically had the better of the Cougars, with a series lead of 74-32-6. UW has also won seven straight matchups against WSU.