After beating lowly Arizona last week, Washington State interim coach Jake Dickert said last Friday, “There’s still a lot to play for.”
He was alluding to the Apple Cup rivalry against Washington and the Cougars’ impending bowl game.
A day later, when Oregon lost, Dickert could add a potential Pac-12 North championship to the list of things his team could still accomplish.
With a WSU victory in Seattle on Friday, and an Oregon State win over Oregon on Saturday, the Cougars would tie for first place atop the division with the Ducks and Beavers. Washington State would hold the tiebreaker with a 4-1 record in divisional play and would advance to the Pac-12 title game in Las Vegas on Dec. 3.
That would be quite an achievement considering coach Nick Rolovich was fired last month for not following the state’s COVID-19 mandate.
“They never quit on themselves,” Dickert said of the players. “After everything happened with the coaching change, the captains came together and said, ‘We will change the momentum. We will move forward, and we will keep pressing.’
“I told them, ‘Do it for you guys, do it for the bond you formed in the locker room and do it for what you guys have accomplished here.'”
Moreover, the way the Cougars’ players have responded under Dickert’s leadership has led to growing sentiment that WSU would be hard-pressed not to remove the “interim” tag from his title, particularly if they beat the Huskies. Washington State is 2-2 under Dickert, with the two losses coming to BYU and Oregon (a combined 18-4 this season).
One accomplishment that has eluded these Cougars is a victory in the Apple Cup. They have lost seven straight games in the series, all by double digits, and have not won in Seattle since 2007.
“I want to win this game so bad,” said sixth-year WSU linebacker Jahad Woods, “not only for the teammates that I have now and the coaches I have now, but for my teammates that didn’t win it these past five years that I’ve been a part of playing in the Apple Cup.
“It’s something that’s super important to me and I’m not going to take this week lightly.”
The Huskies (4-7, 3-5) have failed to qualify for a bowl game for the first time since 2009 and coach Jimmy Lake was fired.
So, it’s a pair of interim coaches leading their teams into the 113th meeting of the cross-state rivals (Washington holds a 74-32-6 edge).
Bob Gregory, in his eighth season on the Huskies’ staff, leads Washington as head coach for the third game, having come close against Arizona State and Colorado, but falling by one late possession each time.
He is familiar with both sides of the rivalry, having played linebacker at WSU (1984-86).
“We’re all mercenaries anyway as coaches,” Gregory said when asked about his allegiance. “Whoever pays us and puts food on our table for our kids, that’s who we’re rooting for.”
Gregory was also asked about the plan for heralded freshman quarterback Sam Huard, who could still retain his redshirt even if he played Friday against the Cougars. Might Huard start?
“I could (tell you) but I’d have to kill you,” Gregory joked. “So, no. I’m not going to divulge … no injuries, no quarterback updates.”