Not just a rivalry week around Washington. It’s the annual intra-state or intra-city grudge match all around the Pacific-10 Conference:
* Arizona State plays at Arizona on Thursday.
* Washington is at Washington State on Saturday for a 4 p.m. Apple Cup kickoff.
* The Civil War (Oregon versus Oregon State) is 31/2 hours before that in Corvallis.
* Southern California travels to Pasadena for a Rose Bowl date against UCLA for the Saturday nightcap.
Here is what a couple of league coaches said about their rivalry game compared to what goes on at the Apple Cup.
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel (former UW coach, too): For the Apple Cup, it’s a state pride thing. … For USC and UCLA, it is a city thing – the city of Los Angeles, and there are very few straddlers.
“Again, you feel it a little more here because it’s a city thing.”
ASU coach Dennis Erickson (former WSU coach, too): “It’s the same. You’re either a Sun Devil or a Wildcat in this state. You’re either a Husky or Cougar in the state of Washington.”
Here is the Steve Sarkisian transcript from the weekly conference call with reporters:
Having Jake Locker in the fold, what have you learned about coaching quarterbacks in the future?
“I think the biggest thing we’ve learned is our ability to remain flexible. We came in here with a definite pro-style approach to the quarterback position, and with Jake’s physical attributes – his ability to run – I don’t know if I want to say forced us, but it made us think about who we are, what we do and how we do it. Ultimately we’ve adapted some to Jake Locker as he’s adapted to this system, and in turn, we’ve become a much more multiple offense.”
Have these two years prepared you for facing ‘lean’ years in the future?
“I think that is what coaching is all about. That is why we do what we do. As much as coaching has to do with Xs and Os, it’s also about motivating a team, whether it’s coming off a win, or coming off a loss, or heading into a season, or coming off a bye. That is ultimately what we do.”
Who are some of the WSU defenders that stand out?
“It starts up front with Travis Long. He’s a tremendous football player coming off the edge – physical against the run, excellent pass rusher. And the other guy that just really jumps out at me personally is Dion Buchanan. For a true freshman, the things he’s doing – the physical nature in which he plays the game – he’s always around the football. Those are the two guys that really jump out at me.”
Is the possibility of snow this weekend a concern?
“No, I don’t think so. In all honesty, as a player I always would rather play in the snow than in the rain. It wasn’t an issue. I spent three years in the CFL. It was pretty cold up there, too.”
What has been your approach with the team after bad losses to Arizona, Stanford and Oregon?
“There were a few things involved there. One, let’s focus on the task at hand. We can’t dwell on what just occurred. We were coming off the Oregon game. We actually had a bye week, and the focus of the bye week was – one, to get some of our bumps and bruises and nicks of guys who were playing significant time to get them healthy; two, to continue to bring along our young guys that we knew were going to have to play for us down the stretch; and three, to get our psyche back right. It wasn’t about who the upcoming opponent was, it was about competing with one another, battling with one another to get our level of competitive nature back to where we needed to be to be competitive in the final three games. …
Now, the focus is on the Apple Cup, in all reality – playing our rivals and how much this game means to our state. I don’t want our seniors, or the rest of the players for that matter to miss this experience of playing in an Apple Cup on Dec. 4 in Pullman because this is going to be a memory of a lifetime for them.”
How do you think Jake Locker’s season will be evaluated by NFL scouts?
“Well I don’t think we played great as an offense this year, in reality. Obviously the quarterback gets a lot of attention in that, I didn’t think we were very good up front this year, which is where it starts. If you’re not pass-protecting the way you need to, it’s hard to find rhythm in the passing game. Ultimately when you get injured as a quarterback, it can take its toll on you depending on what that injury is. Through it all, I think when NFL scouts and people really evaluate Jake Locker, they are going to see the number of throws he makes under distress, and the quality of throws he makes under distress that make him the special player that he is.”
The feeling of that final play against California to extend playoff hopes?
“Well obviously it was exciting. It allowed us to play the way we always talked about playing, especially late in the season, and that was our ability to finish on the road in the Pac-10, in adverse conditions in a hostile environment. That was something we were unable to do last year. … and we were able to do it once this year at USC on the final drive. To turn around and do it again at Cal, I think speaks volumes to our coaches, I think speaks volumes to our senior leadership that guys are really buying into the things we’re trying to get accomplished here. And when that moment came about, I felt like if we kick that field goal and go to overtime, I’m not displaying everything I’ve talked about – who we are and what we’re about. So it felt like the right thing to do, and fortunately we executed it well.”
Ever seen a game come down to one play like that before?
“Don’t know … to that significance, but we’ve hit three walk-off home runs this year. We’ve won three games on the last play of the game, so unfortunately it’s becoming somewhat normal around here.”
After the loss to Oregon, was the pressure off your team?
“I don’t know. You could look at it the other way and say maybe the pressure heightened if the guys were thinking, ‘Man, we have to win these last three ballgames.’ I’m not sure. What I do know is our guys really remained focused. When you get beat like that as we did in three consecutive weeks, it can take its toll on you, not only physically but mentally. And again, it’s a real tribute to our coaches and our senior leadership that these guys stayed resilient. They came back to work, day in and day out.”
Are you sensing the team has grabbed a bit of good momentum heading into the Apple Cup?
“I’d like to think so. I’ve always kind of said this, winning is contagious. Unfortunately so is losing. When you string one of the two (traits) together, it becomes a little easier to get the next one. Fortunately for us now we’ve strung two wins together. I think there is some nice confidence amongst our team in believing in what we’re doing. So hopefully we can continue to build on that momentum.”