Observers will be left to wonder how the Washington State Cougars might have fared in Friday’s Apple Cup game had starting quarterback Luke Falk been able to play.
But with Falk sidelined by a head injury, the Washington Huskies held their cross-state rivals without a touchdown for nearly three quarters in a surprisingly dominant 45-10 victory before a crowd of 70,348 at Husky Stadium.
The win assures UW of a bowl appearance for a sixth consecutive season.
The Huskies (6-6 overall, 4-5 in Pac-12) have won six of their last seven games against WSU, and await their bowl destination.
The Cougars (8-4, 6-3) entered the game with a No. 20 national ranking and hadn’t lost since Oct. 31, but their offense struggled without Falk at the helm. Redshirt freshman Peyton Bender made his first career start and threw for 288 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw two interceptions, both returned for scores, and lost a fumble after being sacked with WSU driving in UW territory late in the first half.
His offensive teammates didn’t help him much. Dom Williams dropped a third-down pass on a tunnel screen that might have gone for a touchdown on WSU’s first possession, forcing the Cougars to settle for a field goal.
They didn’t score again until 4:14 remained in the third quarter, at which point a 1-yard, Bender-to-Williams touchdown pass trimmed the Huskies’ lead to 24-10, six plays after a 66-yard interception return by WSU cornerback Marcellus Pippins set WSU up at UW’s 19-yard line.
But Washington responded with an 11-play, 84-yard touchdown drive keyed by Myles Gaskin’s 55 yards rushing. Gaskin, who rushed for 138 yards on 32 carries, capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run to put the Huskies ahead 31-10 early in the fourth quarter.
WSU’s ensuing possession ended with a failed fourth-down conversion attempt at UW’s 47-yard line, and the Cougars had no chance after that.
The Huskies scored the game’s first touchdown on a 26-yard run by Chico McClatcher, who took a reverse and ran untouched into the end zone. UW’s second touchdown came with 3:58 left in the first half, when Gaskin capped a seven-play, 70-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to give the Huskies a 17-3 lead.
They went ahead 24-3 when Sidney Jones stepped in front of a poor pass by Bender, intercepted it, then sprinted 69 yards for a touchdown with 9:00 left in the third quarter.
UW added two more defensive touchdown in the fourth quarter — first when cornerback Darren Gardenhire recovered a fumble by WSU receiver Gabe Marks and returned it 28 yards, and then, on WSU’s next offensive play, UW linebacker Azeem Victor returned a Bender interception 27 yards for a touchdown.
Despite the loss, WSU will play in one of the Pac-12’s top five bowl games.