UW, WSU clash for Pac-12 North
PULLMAN, Wash. — They build programs in their own unique and sometimes quirky ways. That's what Chris Petersen and Mike Leach have proven through their history at respective stops.
And in their latest construction projects, the pair has No. 6 Washington and No. 23 Washington State playing for a tangible reward today beyond bragging rights and a trophy with an apple on top. The winner will claim the Pac-12 North title, a spot in the Pac-12 championship game and at the very least a shot at the Rose Bowl.
For Washington (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12, No. 5 CFP), two more wins could mean a spot in the College Football Playoff. For Washington State (8-3, 7-1, No. 23 CFP), two more wins would lead to its third Rose Bowl appearance in the past 85 years.
Just eight years ago, these schools met in a game that was mocked to the point of being affectionately called the "Crapple Cup" when winless Washington faced one-win Washington State. Thanks to Leach and Petersen, the 2016 version is being considered one of the most important in 109 all-time meetings.
"It's competitive. It's hard-nosed. It's fun," Washington defensive lineman Elijah Qualls said. "It's intense."
Petersen and Leach have developed a unique camaraderie away from the field. They are friends — well, at least friendly — each finding entertainment in the idiosyncrasies of the other.
Leach refers to Petersen as "The Bishop," a nickname that has spread among Pac-12 coaches. Petersen has his own nickname for Leach, but not one he's apt to share.
"I really like being around him because half the time I don't have a clue what he's talking about and the other half I think is really funny," Petersen said.
They are the CEOs of their programs, but lead with a different tact. Petersen is meticulous and watches his words as carefully as he watches over his Huskies. Leach is brash and doesn't shy away from having an opinion.
They are opposites in personality, each befitting the side of the state they represent. Leach, the unabashed "Pirate of the Palouse," and Petersen, the carefully crafted, even-keeled leader on Montlake. Inside the same state, they are inverse counterparts that have attracted a mutual appreciation for what the other is accomplishing.
"You know when you're growing up I've known a lot of guys like him. My parents would say, 'Why can't you be more like the Petersen boy? He's so nice and polite and well dressed,'" Leach said. "He's the kid that my parents wished they'd had. They wanted Chris, they ended up with me. Well, you don't always get what you want."
Earlier this year at Pac-12 media day, Petersen said if he was on a driving road trip he'd want Leach as one of his passengers. The pair has spent time together at Pac-12 events the past few years.
"We'd have a good time. He's probably a good driver too. (Because) I hate to drive because I want to look out the window, I want to talk, I want to read a book and I don't get car sick," Leach said. "I think he'd be a great driver and then about the time I was thinking about doing something I probably shouldn't do he'd be a good influence not to."
All joking aside, whichever coach comes up with the best game plan today likely heads to the Pac-12 title game. Here's what else to watch for in the Apple Cup:
If Washington State QB Luke Falk is given time to throw, he should be able to find gaps against Washington's stellar secondary. Falk has thrown for 3,935 yards and 36 touchdowns this season. The Cougars' offensive line has also been excellent at limiting pressure allowing just four sacks in the past four games.
Washington's pass rush was quiet for weeks, but had six sacks last week against Arizona State.
MYLES OF SPACE
Washington RB Myles Gaskin has run for at least 100 yards in five of the past seven games. That number is an important benchmark when it comes to the Apple Cup in Pullman. Washington has won five of the past eight games on the Palouse and in four of those, the Huskies had a running back rush for at least 100 yards.
ROSS AND MARKS
Between them, Washington's John Ross and Washington State's Gabe Marks have combined for 138 receptions and 27 touchdowns this season. Ross is coming off a 12-catch game against Arizona State, while Marks has eight career games of 10 or more catches. Whichever wide receiver can have more of an impact may decide the outcome.