Washington’s playoff path at the beginning of the season was clear. If it could beat Auburn in the season opener, its talent advantage might be enough to dominate the less-than-stellar Pac-12 and force the selection committee to slot the Huskies—and thus, the Pac-12—into the College Football Playoff for the second time in three years. But the Huskies lost to Auburn, then proceeded to lose in overtime to Oregon and in regulation to Cal, with four-year starting quarterback Jake Browning briefly benched in Berkeley.
Like they planned in August, the Huskies will play for a conference title on Nov. 30 in Santa Clara, but thanks to the timing of one of their best performances of the year, the stakes will be much lower. The Pac-12 will once again not be represented in the College Football Playoff as Washington extended their winning streak over Washington State with a snow-covered, division-clinching, turnover-filled 28–15 win in Pullman.
The loss snapped Washington State’s 13-game home winning streak and sets up a conference title game between Washington and Utah for a Rose Bowl berth. Washington State now has lost six straight Apple Cups and nine of the last 10, the last three with a chance at a division title.
With temperatures in the low 30s at kickoff with heavy rain slowly turning into a snowstorm, Washington turned to its ground game and senior running back Myles Gaskin, who finished with 170 yards and three touchdowns on the ground and became the first Pac-12 running back to run for 1,000 yards or more in four straight years.
After Gaskin’s first two scores of the night, Washington State got on the board with 33 seconds left in the first half when James Williams took a handoff up the middle for a 11-yard TD to cut the deficit to in half heading into the break.
The Huskies used their first possession of the first half to again go up by two scores. After a 57-yard pass to Hunter Bryant on third-and-16, Washington coach Chris Peterson dug into his bag of tricks on the next play for a double-pass from Browning to Aaron Fuller to a wide-open Bryant for a 22-yard score.
That lateral may not have affected his stat line, but it still reflected well on Browning, who became the winningest quarterback in conference history and the only starting QB to go 4–0 in the Apple Cup on a night in which he finished 11-of-14 for 207 yards and an interception.
Petersen’s strategy for slowing down quarterback Gardner Minshew and the nation’s leading passing offense was to rush only three Huskies and play eight-man coverage, mostly in zone. That worked out perfectly as Minshew, who has six 400-yard games to his credit this season, was forced to throw short. Minshew finished 26-of-35 for 152 yards with two interceptions. Washington State had one play all night of 20 yards or more and totaled 237 yards of offense, by far its lowest output of the season. The Cougars’ receivers had trouble all night in the heavy snow trying to find open creases, and although Minshew faced a light rush, he was still unable to produce big plays down the field.
Friday night’s result puts a damper on what had become a magical season for Washington State. Earlier this month, head coach Mike Leach stated his case for expanding the College Football Playoff, saying that 16 teams would be the ideal format. Now that would be the only way the Cougars could dream of winning a championship this season.
The Cougars haven’t won an outright conference title since 1930, but they are still in position to be selected for a major bowl. Still, this latest disappointment against their fiercest rival will sting, and no less so because Washington has made demoralizing division-clinching victories an Apple Cup habit.