Washington State ended a seven-game skid in the Apple Cup last season and looks to upend the season of No. 13 Washington when the fierce rivals meet in Pac-12 play on Saturday night at Pullman, Wash.
The Huskies (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) still have an outside chance of reaching the conference title game but a loss would end that pursuit.
Washington enters with a five-game winning streak but first-year coach Kalen DeBoer has noticed a coveted piece of hardware is missing.
“We definitely don’t have that trophy in our trophy case right now,” DeBoer said. “I know that it means a lot. It is one of those two games that all of Husky Nation circles each year and we are looking forward to having a great week. I think that we are playing for a lot of stuff, it is not just that trophy.”
DeBoer has set the school record for most victories by a first-year coach and he was rewarded Tuesday with a contract extension through the 2028 season. His salary for next season was increased by $1 million to $4.2 with annual $100,000 raises to follow.
A big part of Washington’s rise is due to the stellar season put together by Indiana transfer quarterback Michael Penix Jr.
Penix leads the nation with 3,869 passing yards, which ranks second in school history behind Cody Pickett’s 4,458 yards in 2002. Penix has tossed 26 touchdowns against six interceptions.
Penix passes praise around in the same manner as his 66.7 completion percentage.
“My season wouldn’t be possible without this team,” Penix said. “I don’t really talk about just myself in general. It’s always about this team because team success would definitely put light on individual success.”
“At the end of the day, no matter what you do as an individual, if your team isn’t winning it’s no good.”
Washington State (7-4, 4-4) has won three straight as it looks to beat the Huskies in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2007-08.
The Cougars have won just six of the past 23 Apple Cups but put on a dominating show last season when they won 40-13 in Seattle. Washington State intercepted four passes and held Washington to just 200 yards.
“I thought they played free,” Cougars coach Jake Dickert said of the impressive win. “I thought that’s a big thing in a rivalry game, in a perceived big moment. Guys got to go cut it loose and be themselves and have fun and understand it’s going to be a little chippy. … Enjoy the moment. Be present in it.”
This is the first Apple Cup for Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward, who has passed for 2,772 yards, 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season.
While he said he is eager to add his name to the list of quarterbacks who won the Apple Cup, he also insisted Saturday’s matchup isn’t any bigger than any other game.
“There is a lot of energy around the building,” Ward said. “For me specifically, it’s just another game. I try to approach each and every game the same. This game has a bigger tag and has bigger history behind it and we want to win it for Washington State and all the Cougs out there.”
Washington State ranks 23rd in scoring defense at 19.8 points per game with star linebacker Daiyan Henley (102 tackles, 12 for losses) leading the way.