Don't let anyone tell you that Washington blew the Apple Cup. Don't let anyone tell you they handed it to the Cougars.
Great games crave great stories. Unfortunately, not every narrative concocted in the wake of the 2012 Apple Cup -- a 31-28 overtime victory for WSU -- is living up to that standard.
I had the pleasure of the listening to the University of Washington postgame show on 950-AM KJR on the way home from my dad's house, and it did not disappoint. Dave "Softy" Mahler, former UW quarterback Hugh Millen and former UW coach Dick Baird lamented the loss together while despondent Husky fans called in to question whether Steve Sarkisian really is the guy to lead this program forward. Mahler -- a midday host at KJR who typically is the loudest of the bunch -- was gracious and levelheaded in defeat, something for which I commend him.
But it was clear all three were still somewhat in shock and disbelief over the ultimate result of the game as they grasped for explanations. In particular, Mahler and Millen, lacking a better explanation, kept coming back to the same idea.
The Cougars didn't really win it. The Huskies lost it.
Which, you know, when your team has 18 penalties for 129 yards and misses a relatively short field goal to win the game as time expired, seems plausible enough ... if you're inclined to overlook mountains of evidence to the contrary.
Over and over, it was, "If the Huskies play the game their potential, this isn't even close." To which I say, of course. If we stack these two teams up talent-for-talent, it's probably not close. But that's not how the game of football is played. Beyond that, it's also rare that a team fire on all cylinders for 60 minutes. There are ups and downs, and ultimately the game usually is decided by who is able to smooth out the low spots along the way.
WSU was the perfect example of that in the Apple Cup. Conveniently lost in the midst of all this "look at how the Huskies blew it" rhetoric is the simple fact that there's a good chance the game could have been a comfortable victory -- for the Cougars, who committed four turnovers and dropped a touchdown pass on their second drive of the game. Two of the turnovers came as a direct result of dropped passes; the other two were fumbles. Given that both the interceptions should have been secured fairly easily by the receiver, and given that we know fumbles are basically 50/50 propositions for recovery, one could argue without much difficulty that WSU only "earned" one turnover as a team.
How different might this game have looked with just one turnover instead of four? Might the Huskies have had difficulty scoring four touchdowns if three of their scoring drives hadn't had to span just 20, 16 and 7 yards? Considering they had just two drives longer than 26 yards, it's a legitimate question.
The reality that fans such as Mahler and Millen are refusing to acknowledge is that WSU was every bit UW's equal -- if not superior -- on Friday. The Cougs dominated most every meaningful metric, including yards per play (4.8 to 4.0). The only place they didn't dominate was in turnovers, which proved to be the equalizer.
"But, but, BUT!" says the Husky fan. "They did commit the turnovers. You can't separate them out like that!" Agreed. But then that means you also can't separate penalties (which all were legit, by the way) and a missed field goal. They happened. And what truly matters is what you do after they occur.
WSU took its four turnovers in stride, continuing to battle and give the offense a chance to redeem itself. I mean, I just want to make some thing really clear: WSU HAD FOUR TURNOVERS AND STILL WON THE GAME. That is beyond remarkable.
"All three sides of the ball had their adversity and fought through it," Leach said after the game. "The biggest thing is we hung together for 60 minutes. You’ll win a lot of games if you’re able to do that."
You know who didn't do that? Washington. You know who did? The team with Logan Mayes that harassed UW quarterback Keith Price into an ill-advised desperation pass that was caught one-handed by a 280-pound defensive lineman on the first play of overtime. The team that then moved the ball to a place on the field where the kicker would have little more than an extra point attempt to win the game.
There was plenty of derp to go around in this one. Yet only one team was able to get above it.
So, if you're like me and you're surrounded by Huskies either now or when you go to work on Monday, just remember one thing: Don't let those whiny Huskies steal your joy with their "we gave it to you" narrative. It's cheap and it's lazy.