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No. 16 Washington secures Pac-12 North with Apple Cup upset of No. 8 Washington State

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It’s been a dream season in more ways than one for No. 8 Washington State and everything was there for the taking on Friday night. A Pac-12 North title, a conference championship, a potential Rose Bowl berth and perhaps, if things broke their way, a trip to the College Football Playoff was on the line for the Cougars in their final home game of the year.

There was just one problem: that team from the other side of the state relishes playing spoiler for their rivals when the stakes are the highest.

Such was the case again as No. 16 Washington braved blizzard-like conditions on the Palouse to knock off Wazzu 28-15 and capture the Pac-12 North title for a second time in three years.

Seniors played a big role in the game for the Huskies as they won their sixth in a row in the series, none of which came close to being as cold, snowy, icy or windy as things were at Martin Stadium for this one. QB Jake Browning only threw three incompletions despite those elements but was reduced much more to game-manager status with 207 yards and a bad red zone interception in the first quarter. He was no doubt fine with that in keeping his record perfect against the in-state rivals during his career on Montlake and especially so given that it was a big night for his teammate in the backfield as Myles Gaskin rushed for 170 hard-fought yards and three touchdowns.

Wideout Aaron Fuller was responsible for UW’s other score that came off a Chris Petersen special: a reverse pass trick play that found a wide-open Hunter Bryant in the end zone.

While there will be plenty of taunts from those in purple and gold that the Cougs, well, Coug’d this one, that wasn’t the case.

Heisman candidate Gardner Minshew threw for only 152 yards on 35 attempts against one of the best secondaries in the country (the weather was obviously a factor too) but didn’t quite have another rally left in him. Tailback James Williams had a nice night as the one player who could find some success on offense for Mike Leach’s crew, rushing for 65 yards and a pair of touchdowns while also catching seven passes for 30 yards.

Not all is lost for Wazzu however, as the team is likely to be ticketed to a New Year’s Six Bowl even with the loss should they remain in the top 12 of the standings. That will be a bitter-sweet trip to either the Fiesta or Peach Bowl if it does indeed happen come Selection Sunday given what was in front of the team on Friday night but such is life after one of the best rivalries up in the Pacific Northwest.

The Huskies, meanwhile, can look ahead to the Pac-12 Championship Game next Friday night against Utah at Levi’s Stadium. The two have already played this season, staging a defensive-minded game that Washington won 21-7 back in mid-September. Both teams have had several up’s and down’s since that meeting and it is safe to say they enter as very different teams when they meet again.

The end goal is still there for the taking for the preseason Pac-12 favorite though: a conference title, a Rose Bowl berth and a bit of respect.

No. 8 Washington State destroys Arizona for 10th win, sets up Apple Cup for the Pac-12 North

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There’s Pac-12 After Dark and there’s Pac-12 gone dark. Given what No. 8 Washington State did to Arizona on Saturday night, safe to say the latter applied to one of the last games of a snoozy Saturday.

The Cougars scored a touchdown eight times in the first half as they routed the visiting Wildcats 69-28 in chilly conditions on the Palouse, setting up an Apple Cup that will once again be for all the marbles next week and perhaps clinching a trip to New York for the team’s star quarterback.

That would be Gardner Minshew, who should be no worse than third on every Heisman ballot in the country in the next few weeks. In an effortless performance, he threw for 473 yards and a school-record seven touchdowns (five in the first half). Perhaps the mustachioed maestro of the Air Raid’s best accomplishment was just how well he got everybody involved against a defense disinterested in defending, with some 11 different players catching a pass for the Cougs. Wideout Calvin Jackson caught two scores, Tay Martin had 124 yards and a score through the air, tailback Max Borghi was once again stellar out of the backfield with six catches for 65 yards and James Williams recorded 79 total yards.

It was such a dominating effort for Wazzu, that they even accomplished something rarely seen by a Mike Leach-coached team in winning the time of possession battle.

His opposite number in Kevin Sumlin did not enjoy his return to Pullman, where he first got his start in college coaching. The Wildcats were playing behind the eight-ball all night long and added to their misery time after time. They fumbled at the one-yard line for example and even allowed a muffed kick return to be recovered in the end zone for a touchdown the other way. It was one of those ‘it rains, it pours’ nights for the visitors from the desert.

That said, quarterback Khalil Tate did dazzle at times in throwing for 294 yards and four touchdowns (one INT) while rushing for another 25. JJ Taylor chipped in with another 69 on the ground and wideout Shawn Poindexter continued a streak of his last six catches all resulting in scores. If there is one silver lining for UA, it’s that the game doesn’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things as the team can still become bowl eligible next weekend against rival Arizona State and wash away any memories of this trip to the Pacific Northwest.

Wazzu, meanwhile, can turn their attention to what is shaping up to be yet another epic Apple Cup with plenty on the line. Facing off against rival Washington, the winner of that game will clinch the Pac-12 North and a trip to the league title game. The Cougars still have an outside shot of making into the playoff if they can get a little help and run the table along the way.

Those are thoughts for another day though, as Cougars fans no doubt will revel in that thrashing of Arizona just a bit longer.

No. 8 Washington State survives pesky Cal team with last minute drive to move to 8-1

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After ascending to No. 8 in the polls last season, Washington State went on the road at Cal and ran into a buzzsaw during a brutal loss where they didn’t play particularly good in any phase of the game.

After ascending to No. 8 in the polls this season, the Cougars played host to a pesky Bears team and very nearly ran into the same kind of buzzsaw, needing a last minute scoring drive to secure a sloppy 19-13 win and keep whatever slim hopes of a College Football Playoff appearance there is for the Pac-12 alive.

This was, no exaggeration, one of the worst games to watch of the season so far and a very, very dark edition of Pac-12 After Dark. Despite there incredibly being only two 3-and-outs the entire ballgame, there were four combined turnovers (two apiece) and just eight 3rd down conversions. The two sides dropped passed, made mind-numbing play calls, had issues in the red zone and generally played the anthesis of the wide-open football we normally find out West.

Wazzu QB Gardner Minshew was not as sharp as he has been in rolling through conference play but came up big in the final minutes when his team needed it most. Throwing darts on the final drive, he needed just six plays to cover 69 yards before finding Easop Winston in the corner of the end zone. That naturally delighted the home crowd, who sat through plenty of boring football in the three quarters prior to the stakes getting turned up a few notches for the final frame.

All told, the mustache-laden signal-caller threw for 334 yards and that one score while also tossing an interception on the third series of the game. The Cougs run game was not all that consistent against a tough Bears front and even short passes over the middle were a struggle compared to some of the team’s recent outings. Gardner still found 11 different receivers by the time the clock had expired, with Winston leading the way with 92 yards and the one score while tailback James Williams added 10 receptions to go with five carries for 34 yards on the ground.

The loss will be one that Cal head coach Justin Wilcox won’t enjoy watching back in the coming days. While his defense did play well, the offense punted four times, turned the ball over twice, missed a field goal and saw time expire on them at the end of the game. In fact, their most consistent form of picking up first downs might have been penalties on their opponents that gave them a free one.

The coaching staff did rotate quarterbacks as they have done in past games but they strangely took out the hot hand under center at the time — Chase Garbers, who had 127 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and led the team with 67 yards rushing — for a backup during a key late drive. Brandon McIlwain entered late in the fourth quarter and wound up throwing an interception in the end zone on a bad decision — only bailed out when WSU missed a field goal after promptly marching down the field themselves.

There is a thought that surviving and advancing at this point in the college football season is all that matters and Washington State has to hope the Selection Committee doesn’t mind them doing just that against a Cal team that is still looking for that elusive sixth win for bowl eligibility. The Cougars didn’t play well at all but a win is a win and they might benefit from chaos elsewhere across the country on Saturday to even move up a spot or two in the rankings from where they sit now.

No. 14 Washington State takes control of the Pac-12 North with shootout win over No. 24 Stanford

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Mike Leach began the season with an opening at quarterback, questions about his staff, and a host of preseason expectations saying his team would fall flat in a deep Pac-12. The old pirate, it seems, is about to have the last laugh however.

No. 14 Washington State and their merry band of underdogs continued their winning ways on Saturday night to move to 7-1 on the season, capping off a wild 41-38 shootout with No. 24 Stanford to take firm control of the Pac-12 North in the process.

Quarterback Gardner Minshew was once again in the middle of things when the Cougars needed a big play, throwing for 438 yards and three touchdowns while moving the sticks with his legs on a critical fourth down conversion on the go-ahead drive. He was particularly lights out after halftime, going 24-of-27 in the final two quarters as the Air Raid got turned up to full blast as the game went on. James Williams was also fantastic out of the backfield, rushing for 30 yards and a pair of scores while catching nine passes for 79 yards.

Dezmon Patmon was Wazzu’s leading receiver with 10 receptions for 127 yards as the ball was spread around quite a bit considering there were 10 pass catchers in total.

The thrilling comeback by the visitors spoiled a pretty good offensive show from the home team. While Bryce Love was limited as he dealt with injuries and rushed for only 53 on the ground, K.J. Costello put together one of his best performances of the season. The young signal-caller threw for 323 yards and four touchdowns all told, dropping back a very un-Stanford-like 43 times in the game. JJ Arcega-Whiteside had a pair of his trademark box-out touchdowns to go with 111 yards while tight end Kaden Smith was a problem all night for the WSU defense with 112 yards and a score of his own.

The Cardinal wound up with 443 yards of total offense and averaged nearly seven yards per play but couldn’t get a second half stop as they blew an 11 point halftime lead.

The victory helps re-shape the entire division on a wild day in the Pac-12 North where another top 25 team, Washington, lost to Cal across the bay minutes beforehand. Washington State will wrap up the first few months of the season in first place and a clear path to Santa Clara for the conference title game if they can avoid a letdown and beat the Huskies in Pullman for the Apple Cup. Stanford will travel to Seattle next weekend in a game that was billed to be for the division title but will instead be a contest for second place at best as each tries to keep pace with the Cougars.

This is not at all a place many expected WSU to be in but here they are — possibly to stay — as they hit the first set of College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday with plenty of momentum and a ton of good wins in their pocket.

No. 24 Stanford, No. 14 Washington State staging a shootout in wild first half on the Farm

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Stanford head coach David Shaw is not one to get excited at the prospect of a shootout but he and the No. 24 Cardinal found themselves locked into one on Saturday evening as they lead No. 14 Washington State 28-17 at halftime of a critical Pac-12 North showdown.

Quarterback K.J. Costello was already up to 192 yards passing, recording three touchdowns in a far more wide-open version of Shaw’s offense than we’ve gotten used to seeing over the years. One of those scoring strikes naturally went to top target JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who once again posted up a defensive back in the end zone for the first points of the ball game before finishing with six catches for 56 yards. Tight end Kaden Smith had the other touchdown, smartly leaving his block when Costello started to scramble and winding up walking across the goal line nearly untouched as a result.

Maybe the most encouraging sign however was the play of oft-injured running back Bryce Love. The one-time Heisman contender rushed for 50 yards and looked a bit like last year’s version by breaking off a 43-yard run with plenty of burst and speed to the outside. Trent Irwin did a little bit of everything with 46 yards receiving and had a huge 39 yard punt return as well.

The effort was far from the Cougars’ best as they look to follow up their huge victory over Oregon last week with another on the Farm. Mike Leach’s side was already up to seven penalties for 69 yards in the first half and improbably had two three-and-outs on offense among their six drives.

Gardner Minshew was still efficient exploiting the underbelly of the Stanford defense, throwing for 191 yards and a touchdown while tailback James Williams took one across the goal line on the ground while recording 72 total yards.

The winner of this game will take their place atop the Pac-12 North standings ahead of a big stretch of conference games for both sides. We’ve seen some wild second half finishes out West already today, could there be another one in store? It’s trending that way.