The #16 ranked University of Washington Huskies ( 8-3 overall, 6-2 Pac-12) will travel to Pullman and look to be rude guests on Friday ( 5:30 p.m. PST) as they take on the #7 ranked Washington State Cougars in the 111th edition of the Apple Cup In addition to interstate bragging rights, the Pac-12 North Divison title will be on the line and the right to participate in the Pac-12 Championship game in Santa Clara on November 30th.
(How much of a challenge is it attacking the Air Raid offense? How different is it from other offenses?)
“It’s different for sure. But it always comes down to players. There’s a lot of good styles of offense. If you’ve got the players to complement it, they’re going to bring it to life. That o-line, it always starts there, doesn’t matter your style of offense. That’s really an amazing stat, how few sacks they’ve given up for how much they throw it. They’re one of the better teams in the country in not giving up sacks and they throw it the most. Right there that tells you a lot. Playing with a lot of confidence and all those things.
You’ve had as much success defending the Air Raid as anyone the last few years. Are there a couple keys in those games that have been a consistent theme for that success?)
“Not really. And if I knew I probably wouldn’t say, but I really don’t. Guys played hard.”
(Any comparisons between Minshew and Luke Falk?)
“I think he’s different. Luke was there for so long so it was always him, but it’s definitely different. He’s more mobile, that’s always something. He’s just so decisive with the ball. He knows where it’s going and he doesn’t mess around. Running backs have caught 70 passes, one of them! One of their running backs. Over the two running backs, they’ve caught over 100 passes. And he gets it out there and it’s all about space, creating space. That’s what he does, creates space. Space in the flat? That’s where the ball’s going. Now try and tackle these shifty guys that are hard to tackle. Space downfield? He’ll find it. You rush three guys? He’ll find the space and throw it in there. It’s always a cat and mouse game.”
(By halftime of the Arizona-WSU game Minshew had thrown it to nearly a dozen guys. How does that affect a defense when they can just throw waves of receivers at you?) “I think what he’s doing is just going through his progressions. We always talk about that with our guys. When our quarterbacks are right, it doesn’t matter who it’s going to. It should be spread around. Defenses are going to continuously change the picture and give you different looks and you’ve got to go where the coverage takes you, or the blitz takes you. And I think that’s what he does, the ball goes to so many different guys.”
(But 10 or 11 guys? That feels unique.) “It’s unique because who plays 10 or 11 receivers? Not us. I guess Wazzu.”
(Jake Browning said this game will come down to who handles the quick turnaround the best. Do you agree?) “Now we’re right on our normal schedule. It’s just the last two days right after our game yesterday we just practiced our Tuesday practice. So now we’re right back on schedule. And we have some more stuff we have to get done today and tonight before we go practice from a coaching standpoint. We’ve been planning for this for a while. It doesn’t feel too bad. We’ll see. If we’re playing two days short, play a Saturday to a Thursday, those are hard. Saturday to Friday are kind of hard, especially late in the season but they’ll be fine.”
(Does Thanksgiving change anything at all?) “Just those first couple days, that can a little bit. But once you get to that first practice — we’ve got however we organize those days has to be done and we’re not going backwards. You have to get on with the next part of your game plan. We’ve been well aware of that and kind of on top of that.”
(Is it strange that you’re probably about as healthy as you’ve been this year?) “It’s cyclical. I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it that way. I think there are still some guys that are like — it’s one thing to be healthier and it’s one thing where guys are like, we are in a good groove, really really healthy. We’ve still got some guys that got their feet wet this last game that are still — game reps are different than practice reps. But it’s good moving forward and it’s good to be in that situation.”
(What do you see from WSU’s defense?) “New coordinator but they really kind of picked up where they left off. That’s what really unique about Washington State is they are different on both sides of the ball. It’s not just the Air Raid offense or this unique different defense – stemming, moving, penetrating type defense that’s different than a lot of them in our conference. So you’ve these two different, unique styles which is pretty smart. They were doing that in the past, and even though a new coordinator has picked up where they left off and put his little spin on it, it’s different than it was last year. I think they’ve even improved.”
(On the Apple Cup rivalry …) “It’s your typical big rivalry. I think anybody that wears purple in that town, the bristles start to stand up, ‘What are these people doing here?’ When you live in a big city, everybody gets away with wearing red around here. I’m kind of trying to figure out why. Why wouldn’t we bristle up when we see those Cougar flags around here? I don’t like it, but I guess it’s a double standard.
(On UW players from the state of Washington playing in the Apple Cup) “You couple that with the guys on their roster that are from Washington. Everybody kind of knows everybody. They’re good players that both sides kind of looked at and it’s interesting to see where they end up. You couple that with the families and the histories and all that, makes it kind of special.
(On UW’s success against WSU over the past four years …) “I think you just look at what’s happened around our league and every program in there. I think that says it all. It’s very, very different year to year in college football.
(on crossing paths with Mike Leach …) “The last time I saw him, I didn’t really get a great chance to talk to him because he was a half hour late to our (Pac-12) head coaches meeting and we were all looking at our watches thinking, ‘This might not turn out good for him.’ He walks in with this In-N-Out burger and milkshake and we’re all like, ‘Really?’ And waiting for somebody to say something. He’s just happy as a clam eating away and we’re like, ‘Why didn’t we do that?’ That’s really the last time I saw him.”
(Talk to him?) “I tried to, but he had his mouth full so I moved on.”
(on first hearing about Tyler Hilinski’s suicide …) “It’s one of the more shocking things I’ve ever heard. The guy who is going to be the starting quarterback? Like how could this be teed up for him any better? And then I think you catch your breath and start worrying about the guys in your room. And going, man, if this can happen to somebody that’s got a situation like this, we got to pay closer attention. We’ve had numerous talks since then about depression, anxiety, all these things that are going on. Numerous. And because of that situation. I think we’re much more aware of it. If one of our guys is struggling, I think everybody’s antennas are up. In the past, you were like, ‘He’ll be fine’ and not putting the sense of importance on it that something like that could be.”
(on Washington State’s offense …) “I think there’s a lot of precision to (Washington State’s) offense. Good coaches, special systems and styles, always look very simple. That’s one of the offenses you put on and everybody goes, we run that play, we do that. But they do at such a high level. He keeps it simple for his guys, but there’s a lot of detail and sophistication to get there. From the outside if you’re trying to run that system or put those plays on, it’s like, ‘Why isn’t this all coming together?’ We’ve all been there. That’s part of its beauty. He knows how to keep it simple. He doesn’t have a ton of plays. Year to year, it looks the same. Maybe a couple little tweaks. There might be a new route in there we haven’t seen. If he does that, he takes a route out because he’s not going to overload his kids. He is as sharp as they come when it comes to football.”
(Anything appealing about WSU quarterbacks making decisions without consultation?) “I think the simplicity. I think the whole thing appeals to me in terms of like the simplicity from the outside. But I also know the sophistication, the time and hours it’s taken to make it look like that. For the quarterback to be out there, to be able to see what he sees, he’s trained him that way. There’s not many college programs and stuff that are doing it like that. And I don’t think any like he does it.”
(How has your team improved since September?) “I think we have improved. I think it’s been sporadic. I think it’s been a couple steps forward, a step backwards, where you’d like to kind of get a little more on a roll. I think that’s maybe been the thing that’s been a little bit frustrating. I think our defense has played at a pretty high level and I think on special teams we’ve done some things. But we’ve been up-and-down. And I think on offense, we get on a roll, we do some beautiful things, and then at times we make it harder than we need to. But I think there has been an improvement, I do. I think our kickoff team took a big step with a couple different guys. So I think that was good. The real trick and the real magic in it is when there’s not a bunch of steps backward, certainly late in the season.”
(Do you sense your defense getting “juiced” to play the nation’s top passing offense?) “They know what’s coming. It’s kind of interesting. When you think about getting juiced and ready to go and physical, they go and spread you out and throw it 39 times in one half. It’s more like locked in, really focused on your job more than, OK, they’re going to run power at you 18 times in the first half and super physical. It’s a different style. I think our guys certainly are knowing the big challenge that we have coming.”
(On WSU-Arizona game) “When we watch the coaches’ edits of the game, you’re just watching scheme, what they’re doing. … That’s (effort) is the secret sauce to any game — like, what’s the emotion of the game. You put on the past Apple Cups we played and you watch and, ‘Yeah, this is OK.’ But then you forget about all the emotion that comes with it, that brings plays alive one way or the other. And the momentum, whether a guy hits a big pass or a run or a good play on defense. That changes the next play as well. That’s why it’s kind of interesting to watch a game, a whole TV copy, because they bring the plays to life with emotion and energy.”
(On getting injured players back into game shape — with guys like Trey Adams and DJ Beavers, what goes on on Sunday and Monday with them?) “We’re in our routine like we always are. We lift and we run and … then there’s more practice. Those guys, it’s a little bit different focus because we don’t have to worry about (if) they’re too worn down or anything like that. But you can worry about bringing them back too fast and spiking them and if they’re taking too many reps and then you break them down right away and the guy gets injured and pulls something, because there is a build-up phase to it. So we pay attention to that.”
(On Trey’s return Saturday) “I asked him after. I said, ‘How was it?’ And he was like, ‘Awesome.’ That’s what he said. It was good. He’s not where he has been, but it was great to get him out there and get him some game reps.”
(On Hunter Bryant’s progress) “Same thing. When we brought him back, he was looking like he had his legs back under him and could run like he normally had been. In a game, he’s playing at a pretty good clip. It’s just a matter of getting him more plays and more involved.”
(On Joe Tryon) “Young freshman — that’s what he needs, is game reps. See different things. That’s what I think about Joe. He’s got really big upside. He just needs to see more things. You’ll see him one time miss the play and then he’ll have something similar and he’ll make the play. But he’s got the physical stature you want. He’s got a good mental makeup. Young guy that’s just learning and we’re excited to watch his progression.”
(On Tryon’s first start vs. Oregon State) “I didn’t even know he did start. That’s how close I pay attention to that stuff. I think Coach K, whoever the assistant coach is, they’re always rotating certain guys and some guys look better in practice and are deserving and making plays in the game. They rotate and shuffle guys around. I just know Joe has been coming on slowly but surely.”
(On Ariel Ngata) “You know, he’s another guy with a big upside. Got to get him bigger. He’s got some good twitchy quick-twitch to him. He can be an explosive-type play, but got to get him bigger and he can kind of do it all. We’ve got some pretty good players there (at outside linebacker) that can rotate in with Joe and Ryan (Bowman) and Benning (Potoa’e), and they’re all in there depending on the package. Coach K does a pretty good job rotating those guys around.”
(On UW’s pass rush …) “We’re getting to guys. We’re not sacking them a bunch. We got a few more last week (two vs. Oregon State). But we’re getting close. We do move guys off the spot. I think that’s one of the things on defense — it’s not very complicated what everybody’s trying to get done. One of the things you’re trying to do is get sacks. We know that’s a game-changing thing, and we haven’t got the sacks that we have wanted to and we’re trying different, creative ways to get that done. This will be our biggest challenge this week in that department.”
(Given Gardner Minshew’s success, have your thoughts changed on the graduate transfer rule?) “I think that’s a really interesting question. But it’s a lot harder for us to get transfers. That’s my problem with this whole thing. It’s not all the same, in terms (of academic standards and timelines). I have no idea about his situation, but I just know we haven’t gotten one in here (to UW) yet. So it’s really hard to get that done. At other places it’s not.”
(Hard how?) “Getting them into school. When they have to apply. Grade points, all those types of things, it’s different.”
(Meaning the academic standards here are different?) “It’s just, at certain places they are. We would love to — we’ve been involved with a couple, but it wasn’t going to happen. We were past the deadline and just how they’re doing it here is different. If everybody is on the same page and a guy is going to come play football — because let’s be real: That’s what everybody’s going. They’re not going there to get a degree. They’re going there to play football. Let’s just all be on the same page, and then it’s all good. I’m happy for the guy. I really am. It wasn’t working out where he was and he’s having this unbelievable experience (in Pullman). I think that’s great. I think you’re going to see more and more of it, but we’re not seeing it here.”
(Should there be a standard for all?) “I like standards for everything, right? Should we not all be playing on the same (level)? I think that’s one of the beauties of the NFL — everybody’s on the same page and everybody’s schedules the same.”
(Have you lobbied for that change?) “We’ve had some discussions, but you know …”
(With whom? Within the university?) “Yeah, I mean, I coach football here. I’m not running the university. So they’re making their standards. … I think there has been some conference discussions (among the Pac-12) with some of the academic people, but I don’t know how far that’s gone. But I do think there have been some conversations. … I would think there would be a few schools (in favor of standardization). I mean, everyone’s selfish in this deal. Like, ‘Hey, if they can have them and we can’t, I don’t really want them to change the rule.’ And if we have a hard time, or Stanford wanted to change, whatever. You just want to make it fair for everybody. … It’s been a discussion. There’s a lot of things in college football that fit this mold a little bit.”
(Plans for Thanksgiving day?) “Practice. Come up here, eat a quick turkey, get on a plane and go to Pullman. That’s how we do it.”
(Favorite side dish for Thanksgiving?) “No, I don’t. My big thing is, what I’d really like to do is have a potluck where everybody brings their favorite food. Some people are really into turkey. That’s fine. That should be there. But I’m saying like tacos and some pizza and Italian food. I think it would be awesome, right? Everybody just eats until they can’t even move, so let’s just bring in the things we really, really want. I think that would be awesome.”
(Last time you had a traditional Thanksgiving meal?) “It’s a little bit easier when you play this game at home, because we can practice and then (eat). But when we play away … we’ll have it here. We’ll have some turkey before we get on the plane. And tacos.”