Huskies are a 13-point road favorite in the Apple Cup. But it’s not impossible, Cougars fans, as long as Leach deploys the teachings of SPNW’s crimson-colored “Idiot’s Guide.”
At 31-67-6 all-time against their snooty cross-state rival, the Cougars and their alums base a season’s success on their ability to beat the Huskies in the Apple Cup. Most cherish a win against the UW more than a newly purchased rack of Schmidt beer.
Since WSU victories have been tougher to come by than a dry November day in the Northwest, and since WSU pirate captain Mike Leach is green to the rivalry that re-commences at noon Friday, it’s time to offer the head coach with Sportspress Northwest’s first edition of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beating the Washington Huskies.”
Step One: Do not attempt a punt or a field goal under any circumstances
The Cougars have two field goals and three punts blocked the past two games. Had it not been for a mind-numbing series of errors on specials teams in the first half of their 44-36 loss to UCLA, WSU would have probably pulled off the upset.
No need to spoil another chance at playing spoilers. Leach should simply go for it on fourth down no matter where his offense finds itself. Sure, that move would defy common sense. Then again, so did going for it on 4th-and-three leading by 17 points midway through the fourth quarter of their 35-34 loss to Colorado.
Why stop there?
Step Two: Give the ball to Teondray Caldwell
It’s hard to imagine how a team that averages 1.4 yards per carry could possess a running back as explosive as Caldwell. The five-foot-8 freshman is gaining 4.9 yards every time he touches the ball. That’s the same average as UW’s Bishop Sankey.
Inexplicably, Caldwell has only received 53 carries in 2012 despite being arguably the team’s best offensive player.
Passing yards are fun, but losing the most (only) meaningful game of the season isn’t. Scrap the Air Raid for an afternoon and give the young fella 25-30 touches.
Step Three: Resurrect an Empty Corpse
WSU senior tight end Andrei Lintz is buried so deep on WSU’s depth chart it would take NCAA investigators three months to prove he still exists. The Cougars red zone offense in 2012 has been mediocre, converting a touchdown on just 18 of 34 attempts.
During spring practices, Leach labeled Lintz a potential offensive juggernaut that could compile big numbers this season. Through 11 games, the Whatcom County product has just two catches and 14 receiving yards despite possessing above-average hands and a huge frame (6-5, 250 pounds).
Rather than hand it off to their trio of undersized backs inside the 10-yard-line, why not give it to to the most under-utilized player on the roster?
Step Four: Admit Travis Long is Injured
Okay, so this doesn’t have any bearing on whether the Cougars win or lose. Long obviously hurt his knee in the late stages of WSU’s 46-7 loss to Arizona State on Saturday. He might have torn his ACL (Leach doesn’t discuss injuries). He hasn’t practiced all week and will likely miss his first game after 47 consecutive starts at defensive end and linebacker dating back to his freshman season.
The Gonzaga Prep graduate has been the one constant, positive presence during a season that’s devolved into what outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons called a “bad reality television show.”
Long could have taken an easier route coming out of high school, passing on WSU’s offer to win five times as many games at Arizona State or Boise State.
His subsequent adversity-ridden college career deserves the respect of every WSU alum as well as the rest of the conference. The least his head coach could do is explain publicly why he won’t be able to play the most important game of his college career.
Final Step: Embrace the Rivalry
For all his brash commentary, Leach has oddly chosen to defy WSU tradition by not taking any verbal jabs at his cross-state rival in the week leading up to the Apple Cup.
Somewhere, former WSU offensive linemen Dan Lynch is irate.
“There are four important stages in your life,” Lynch said before playing the Huskies in 1984. “You’re born, you play the Huskies, you get married and you die.”
The Cougars have two wins this season, neither in conference play. Assuming Leach survives Marquess Wilson’s abuse allegations, the program rebuild seems a little longer. Time to appreciate the small victories when they find them.
Fire up, coach. A triumph Friday, and you are captain of the first pirate ship in the Inland Empire.