PULLMAN — The Huskies planted an imaginary flag.
They didn’t need a real one.
In the closing moments of Washington’s 51-33 Apple Cup win Saturday night, Husky edge Zion Tupuola-Fetui corralled quarterback Cameron Ward for an 11-yard sack. After the play, the redshirt junior pass rusher emphatically waved a fictional flag, before stabbing it in the turf inside Martin Stadium.
A year after then-Coug quarterback Jayden de Laura planted a very-real, very-oversized, very-crimson flag inside Husky Stadium, the intention was obvious.
But there were no fights, no elaborate field-storming and no flag-planting Saturday.
The Huskies took what they wanted and headed back home.
“For them to come in and do that to us and celebrate on our field [after last season’s 40-13 win], we just took that as complete disrespect — and we knew we had to come out here and play our best football for the Dawgs, because that’s what Husky Nation deserves. That’s what happened,” UW wide receiver Rome Odunze told Pac-12 Network after the win. “They had the ropes go around their logo at the end of the game. They thought we were going to go plant that thing. No, we’re good. We’re going to go take that cup and go to the crib.”
But does home transcend Seattle? After he dialed up 703 total yards and 51 points, UW offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb tweeted a photo of himself smoking a cigar and throwing up the “W” alongside offensive linemen Troy Fautanu and Roger Rosengarten.
The caption: “Hey Husky Nation I’m down with this Apple Cup thing!! 9-0 at Home this year!!!”
Washington, of course, went 7-0 inside Husky Stadium.
Flag or not, the Huskies claimed both Pullman and Eugene, Oregon, as homes away from home.
UW coach Kalen DeBoer picked up another rivalry win five days after signing a two-year extension.
On Saturday, he said: “I’m blessed to have a support system around me, starting with the president [Ana Mari] Cause and [athletic director] Jen Cohen believing in what we’re doing, not just the wins on the football field but what we do in building better men.
“We’re having a lot of fun doing it. That culture continues to change. That’s something I’m glad they feel really, really good about. This is a place that my family and I have really enjoyed settling into here and I can’t wait to continue to build on what we’ve done this year.”
So, speaking of building: What comes next?
UW, Oregon and Utah finished tied for second in Pac-12 play, at 7-2. But because Utah’s conference opponents had a higher combined Pac-12 winning percentage (0.469) than both UW’s (0.395) and Oregon’s (0.457), the Utes won a tiebreaker to meet 11-1 USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Should the Trojans win Friday and secure a spot in the College Football Playoff, the Rose Bowl will likely welcome the next highest ranked Pac-12 program — which almost certainly would be Washington. But a Utah win and a Rose Bowl berth would likely send the Huskies to either the Cotton Bowl or the Alamo Bowl.
It’s also worth noting that a New Year’s Six berth — in this case, Rose or Cotton — would trigger a $300,000 bonus for DeBoer. (A Pac-12 Coach of the Year honor would earn him an additional $25,000.)
UW’s bowl selection will be revealed next Sunday.
“Roses sound pretty great,” UW left guard Jaxson Kirkland said on the field. “I wouldn’t be too mad about that one.”
Regardless of the destination, UW’s trajectory is upward.
“People can believe, just like we did,” said UW running back Wayne Taulapapa, who rushed for 126 yards with 9.7 yards per carry and a 40-yard score. “Not just for us as teammates and brothers and coaches but also the fan base and people who want to support us: There’s a lot of good things going on here, and it starts with us. We believe in ourselves, and we hope everyone can jump on with us.”
Odunze and McMillan’s shared milestone
UW sophomore wide receivers Odunze and Jalen McMillan both crossed the 1,000-yard mark Saturday, becoming the first Husky teammates to do so in the same season. McMillan led the Huskies with six catches for 150 yards and a 75-yard touchdown, while Odunze added five catches for 157 yards and a touchdown (as well as a 5-yard rushing score).
Their seasons, side by side:
McMillan: 12 games, 71 catches, 1,040 receiving yards, 14.6 yards per catch, 8 receiving TDs
Odunze: 11 games, 70 catches, 1,088 receiving yards, 15.5 yards per catch, 7 receiving TDs, 1 rushing TD
Try finding a more balanced tandem across all of college football.
“When I hit milestones, I tend to look back on what it took to get there,” said McMillan, sitting next to Odunze on Saturday night. “I remember me and Rome and Ja’Lynn Polk, there’d be days when I’d call Rome up and it’d be 7 pm, 6:30, 5, and be like, ‘Let’s catch JUGS,’ or ‘ Let’s go work on the top of our routes.’ We’d do that. Rome’s a great teammate, a great friend, a great person. Being able to have him next to me, it tests me every day.”
But how much longer will they stay side-by-side? For the 2020 Husky signees, breakout seasons have yielded looming NFL draft decisions.
UW running game flourishes
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr.’s day — 485 passing yards and three touchdowns — might distract from the fact that Washington’s run game dominated for a second consecutive week.
Against a WSU defense that entered Saturday leading the Pac-12 in both opponent yards per carry (3.46) and rushing touchdowns allowed (11), UW ripped off 218 rushing yards, 9.1 yards per carry and four touchdowns Saturday night. Taulapapa led the way, while sophomore Cameron Davis contributed 55 yards and 9.2 yards per rush and Penix added 34 yards and two more scores.
In wins over WSU and Colorado, UW rushed for a combined 498 yards with 7.4 yards per carry and nine touchdowns.
It’s true, the Huskies are pass-happy — ranking first nationally in passing (376.7 yards per game) and fifth in attempts per game (43.3).
But, from a statistical standpoint, UW has developed into a complete offense.
UW’s defense rebounds
After surrendering 304 yards, 27 points and 6.1 yards per play in the first half, UW’s defense stood up in the second — allowing just 129 yards (including zero rushing yards) and six points, while forcing three punts and a turnover on downs.
Some of that credit goes to a persistent pass rush that totaled 11 tackles for loss and six sacks — five of which came in the final two quarters. Senior edge Jeremiah Martin contributed three tackles and two sacks, while ZTF, Bralen Trice, Kristopher Moll and true freshman defensive tackle Jayvon Parker each added a sack of their own.
Parker — a 6-foot-3, 312-pound freshman — made the most of increased playing time, tallying three tackles and a sack in the middle of UW’s defense. Sophomore linebacker Alphonzo Tuputala led the Huskies with nine tackles and two tackles for loss as well.
- Washington moved up to No. 9 in Sunday’s Associated Press Top 25 poll, which featured five other Pac-12 teams. The Huskies trail only No. 4 USC and rank ahead of No. 12 Utah, No. 15 Oregon, No. 16 Oregon State and No. 17 UCLA.
- UW went 11 for 13 on third downs Saturday — which, honestly, is nothing new. UW’s 57.06% third-down conversion rate leads the nation. The Huskies also amassed 30 total first downs and lead the country in that category as well (27.4 first downs per game).