SEATTLE — With Washington State losing at Colorado earlier Saturday, the University of Washington football did not need to beat Arizona State to set up a winner-take-all Apple Cup next Friday afternoon in Pullman.
But Washington won anyway and did so convincingly, shrugging off a sluggish offensive start to bury the slumping Sun Devils 44-18 on a cool but dry evening at Husky Stadium. The win in the team’s home finale lifts the Huskies to 10-1 overall and keeps them squarely in the chase for a top-four spot in the College Football Playoff, with that bid evidently depending on the outcome of next week’s Pullman showdown.
“We’re just really excited to play for something that hasn’t been done in a long time,” said UW safety Budda Baker, looking ahead to the Apple Cup. “We’re just really excited. … Whoever wins represents the North (in the Pac-12 Conference championship game), so it’s going to be a very big challenge and we’re just really excited.”
“It’ll be the biggest (Apple Cup) since I’ve been here, for sure,” agreed defensive tackle Elijah Qualls.
Next week’s Washington-Washington State game will be in the college football spotlight because the Huskies took care of business against Arizona State. One week after suffering their first loss against USC, they bounced back with a thorough thrashing of the Sun Devils. Washington sputtered offensively in the early minutes, but still built a 24-0 halftime lead and then pushed the margin to 30-0 midway through the third quarter. From there the two teams pretty much traded points, with Arizona State scoring two late touchdowns on desperation fourth-down heaves to the end zone.
But this one was probably not as close as the final score might suggest. Through three quarters the Sun Devils were woeful offensively, totaling a mere 84 yards and three points, though they padded those numbers by mustering some too-little, too-late offense in the final period.
Washington’s offense started slowly, coming up empy on the team’s first four possessions, save for a first-quarter Cameron Van Winkle field goal set up by a UW fumble recovery on a Sun Devil punt return at the ASU 12. But a change of direction in the second quarter seemed to make a difference — there was a brisk wind off Lake Washington, and the Huskies had it at their backs in the period — as Washington scored touchdowns on three of four drives before halftime.
Slot receiver Chico McClatcher turned a backfield screen pass from Browning into a 75-yard TD scamper early in the second quarter, Browning followed with a 46-yard scoring strike to Pettis behind the ASU secondary, and the Huskies mounted a seven-play, 62-yard touchdown drive in the late moments. Browning had six straight completions on the march — he had eight in a row to close the half — and running back Lavon Coleman bulled through the middle for the final yard with 10 seconds remaining on the scoreboard clock.
“I thought we were moving the ball well the whole time,” Browning said. “We just had some bad turnovers (early in the game) by me. I missed on some throws I usually make, so that part’s on me.”
With Arizona State threatening a fourth-qaurter rally, Washington got two big-play touchdowns in the final 15 minutes. Running back Myles Gaskin exploded through a big hole for a 45-yard TD sprint and linebacker Keishawn Bierria, whose usual job is to deny touchdowns, gave the Huskies an unusual late-game TD, snagging on ASU onside kick on a high bounce and spinning through the oncoming kick team for a 46-yard scamper to the end zone.
This victory, though far from flawless, was an important tonic after last week’s decisive loss to USC. “I’m proud of these guys,” said UW coach Chris Petersen, “and I’m happy we can send our seniors out with a win because I think that’s always extremely important.”
Ahead for Washington will be the team’s biggest game of the season with so much — a spot in the Pac-12 title game and perhaps in the College Football Playoff — riding on an Apple Cup win against the Cougars.
“I think everybody knows it’s a big game regardless of what the records are, and now we have two pretty good teams with good records and a lot to play for,” Petersen acknowledged. “Everybody plays really hard in that game anyways and now it’s kind of like everybody hoped it’d be.
“Washington State has done a great job,” he said. “They just continue to get better every week and they’re playing at a high level with a really good quarterback … so we’ll have our hands full for sure. It’ll be a heck of a game.”