Sarkisian, Leach are making Apple Cup about as interesting as applesauce

November 20, 2012 

This is supposed to be rivalry week, but it feels like the post-turkey tryptophan sedation has set in already.

The football rivalry between Washington and Washington State was born in 1900, so it’s understandable it might need to doze off on occasion.

But come on. The Monday press conference of UW’s Steve Sarkisian pretty much mirrored the subdued tone of WSU’s Mike Leach on Sunday.

They both said they’re talking to their teams about focusing on what they can do, and not getting too involved in the opponent or the rivalry aspect of the match-up.

Maybe it’s a smart approach by the coaches. What can they draw on, after all: This is Leach’s first Apple Cup, while Sarkisian has been in three, but never felt what it’s like to lose, the point when you most come to internalize the meaning of a rivalry.

So I can understand their approach. But what about the fans? I haven’t heard alums even bother to hurl any good jabs at their cross-state counterparts.

I suspect it’s less about growing détente than overall indifference. Washington (7-4) has secured a bowl bid already, and Washington State (2-9) has lost eight straight and has been interesting mostly due to the extent of the controversy that’s been generated.

As if all that hasn’t drained your last drop of adrenaline, the game is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Friday in Pullman to satisfy television scheduling. So much for tradition, for interest, for attending the game.

WSU’s students are off all week, so we may question how many will head back to campus. And the kickoff time leaves UW fans with the option of driving over on Thanksgiving and trying to find a room, or testing the pass in the pre-dawn hours Friday.

Sarkisian took the occasion to cite his love of the pageantry and tradition of college football, which is often at its pinnacle for these annual in-state rivalries.

He said that he and his players see the Apple Cup as “an honor to the great players and teams that played before us … we’re embracing it fully … couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity.”

He added the obligatory adage about this being a game in which you can “throw out the records” – an offer that Leach would surely endorse.

But, “it’s important to corral that emotion and put it in a positive direction so that you can ultimately go out and execute and execute at a high level,” Sarkisian said.

Both teams are loaded with underclassmen in crucial positions, and Sarkisian was questioned whether the young players have to learn what a rivalry game means.

“You almost want to tone them down a little bit,” Sarkisian said. “Let them know that at the end of the day, all the buildup is just buildup. When the whistle blows, you have to play the game and you have to execute.”

On Sunday, Leach gave the “tone-down” message, too.

“I think they’re already motivated,” he said. “The biggest thing is to focus on our effort, our work, our development.”

Leach’s message to the guys: “Just make sure you’re settled down and focused on what you can do.”

When asked about heading into his first Apple Cup, Leach said: “Kinda lookin’ forward to it. I’ve seen it on TV for years, and it’s a really impressive rivalry and has been for decades.”

Kinda lookin’ forward to it?

Leach might be inclined toward cautious commentary these days, having been spattered by blow-back from earlier impassioned comments he made to the press.

But “kinda lookin’ forward to it” isn’t exactly the verbiage expected from a coach inspired by the leadership of famed pirates. This sounds more like what we’d hear from the guy who waves you onto the Vashon ferry.

The only WSU wins this season have been over UNLV (2-10) and Eastern Washington, a lower-division team. But the Cougars’ mindset could be the key to whether this becomes watchable.

If the Cougars are doing the coyote thing and are ready to chew their legs off to get this season over in a hurry, then we’ll know about it shortly after kickoff and it will get ugly.

But if these guys are still invested, if they look at this as a chance to salvage something from an otherwise dismal season, they could catch the Huskies vulnerable while lost in thoughts of their impending bowl vacation.

Granted, some of the memorable “pageantry” of Apple Cups gone by involves the sting of mace, or the need to dodge flying Gatorade bottles. We can do without that.

But a decent game doesn’t seem to be asking too much.

Dave Boling; 253-597-8440 dave.boling@ thenewstribune.com @DaveBoling

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