SEATTLE — Washington State’s offensive line had been a virtually impenetrable force all season, shielding the nation’s leading passer from opposing defenses while playing a key role in the Cougars’ prolific Air Raid attack.
But on Friday afternoon, Washington sacked star quarterback Anthony Gordon five times — quite the feat against a stalwart offensive line that previously had surrendered just 13 sacks all year.
The Huskies’ ability to pressure Gordon was a key factor in Washington once again stymying the Cougars’ high-octane offense during a 31-13 victory in the 112th Apple Cup at Husky Stadium.
“We got ‘em five times, which is humongous,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “They don’t give up any sacks at all, which is another credit to those guys and that scheme — to throw it that much and not give up sacks. But for our guys to get there today, that was a big part of the game.”
The Huskies (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) rushed just three defensive linemen for much of the contest, often dropping six defensive backs into coverage against Washington State’s high-volume passing attack. Yet, Washington was still able to bring down Gordon for five sacks, including four in the second quarter.
Sophomore linebacker Joe Tryon posted two sacks, while junior linebacker Ryan Bowman and redshirt freshman linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio each recorded 1.5 sacks.
“They’re a talented group, so hats off to them for playing good defense,” Gordon said. “When they’re able to drop eight and rush three while getting pressure, that can make it tough for us.”
Not only did the Huskies post five sacks against an elite pass-protection team, but they did so at pivotal moments.
With the Cougars (6-6, 3-6) facing third-and-goal from the Washington 3-yard line early in the second quarter, Ulofoshio pressured Gordon into an intentional-grounding penalty that forced Washington State to settle for a field goal.
On the Cougars’ next possession, Bowman and Tryon posted back-to-back sacks that pushed Washington State back to its own 3-yard line. That gave the Huskies’ offense good field position, and they capitalized with a 47-yard touchdown drive to take a 21-10 lead.
The Cougars were inside the 10-yard line again early in the third quarter when Tryon sacked Gordon for an 11-yard loss, which led to Washington State settling for another field goal.
“We just feed off each other,” Tryon said. “You see one person get (a sack and) you’re like, ‘All right, I’ve gotta get one now too.’”
Washington’s pass rush was part of yet another strong defensive performance by the Huskies against their cross-state rival. Washington extended its Apple Cup win streak to seven games and held the Cougars to 17 points or less for the seventh consecutive year.
“There’s a lot of things we’ve had success in the past with that we certainly did again,” Petersen said of his team’s defensive game plan. “There (were) a couple little wrinkles in there, … but for the most part it was similar.”
Washington State’s offense entered Friday ranked ninth in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 41.5 points per game and fifth in the FBS with 533 yards per contest. But the Huskies held the Cougars well below their season averages, limiting them to just 13 points and 339 total yards.
Washington took away the vertical passing game and forced its rival’s prolific quarterback to settle for underneath throws all afternoon. Gordon, the FBS leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns, completed 48 of 62 passes for 308 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Washington State mounted a long, methodical touchdown drive on the game’s opening possession, but the Cougars never found the end zone again after that.
“They did a good job holding the ball, dinking and dunking, getting a lot of yards, eating clock,” Petersen said. “But fortunately, when it was time to score points, there wasn’t a lot of points scored on their side.”
The Huskies also forced three turnovers, including both a forced fumble and interception by freshman defensive back Trent McDuffie.
With the Cougars at the Washington 9-yard line early in the fourth quarter, McDuffie stripped the ball free on a third-down completion to the flat and teammate Myles Bryant recovered the fumble to preserve the Huskies’ 28-13 lead.
Then on the ensuing Washington State possession, McDuffie intercepted a pass and returned it 29 yards to the Cougars’ 40. Washington then drove down and kicked a short field goal to make it a three-possession game, virtually sealing the contest.
“The defense (did a) great job once again really playing with that bend-but-don’t-break (style),” Petersen said. “It’s not about yards — it’s about points. And we got some turnovers in some really timely situations.”
Snohomish County well-represented
There was plenty of Snohomish County flavor in this year’s Apple Cup.
Four former local stars started for their respective teams — two for the Huskies and two for the Cougars.
The most notable, of course, was Washington junior quarterback Jacob Eason. The former Lake Stevens High School star completed 15 of 22 passes for 244 yards and one touchdown in his Apple Cup debut. He also plowed into the end zone for a 3-yard score on a quarterback sneak.
It was a nice bounceback performance for Eason, who had struggled recently with only one touchdown pass and three interceptions over the Huskies’ previous two games.
“I thought we took a step forward with him,” Petersen said. “He set his feet a little better (and) had some good balls. … There was a lot of progress there for him. That is what it is about — progress and moving forward.”
Kyler Gordon, a former Archbishop Murphy High School standout, started for the Huskies on defense. In the third quarter, the redshirt freshman cornerback came up with a tackle for a 5-yard loss on a short pass to the flat.
Washington State, meanwhile, featured a pair of Everett natives on the right side of its offensive line.
Abraham Lucas, a former Archbishop Murphy standout, made his 25th consecutive start at right tackle for the Cougars. The 6-foot-7, 324-pound sophomore was named the Pac-12 Offensive Lineman of the Week a few days earlier after Washington State’s win over Oregon State last Saturday.
Josh Watson, a former Cascade High School standout, started at right guard for Washington State.