Nov. 25, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Kasen Williams was recruited by just about every school that owns a set of shoulder pads - including Washington and Washington State.
Yet his father Aaron, a UW receiver from 1979-82, made sure his son's priorities began and ended with the Huskies.
"He didn't instill hate in the Cougs," Kasen Williams said this week, smiling, "but he wanted to make sure I didn't go there being recruited.
"Every time I said something about the Cougars he made it known that was the wrong thing to say."
The younger Williams now wears the same jersey No. 2 his father did while playing in Apple Cups for the Huskies 30 years ago. Kasen even plays the same wide-receiver position at UW that his father did. But the native of the Seattle suburbs has never attended an Apple Cup.
Until now. The freshman play maker is about to learn firsthand what Huskies versus Cougars means.
"It's a rivalry," he said, "that's going to go down."It indeed goes down, for the 104th time, Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at CenturyLink Field in downtown Seattle when Washington (6-5, 4-4 Pac-12) hosts Washington State (4-7, 2-6). Versus cable television has the national broadcast. The Apple Cup will also again be on the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with the live game chat with play by play and analysis from the sidelines.
The Huskies are seeking to improve their final regular season record for the third consecutive year. That's hasn't happened since 1989-91, the run up to and through UW's national championship.
Washington is also trying to take third place in the Pac-12 North division before bowl pairings come out Dec. 4. The Huskies, the eighth team since 1960 to reach two bowl games within three seasons of going winless, could play in the Alamo, Holiday, Sun, Las Vegas or Kraft Fight Hunger Bowls depending how the next two weekends shake out across the Pac-12 and the country.
And depending on how yet another fevered Apple Cup, often pitting friends against friends, turns out Saturday.
"The fact I'm finally going to be a part of one, it's real big for me," said Williams, one of three true Huskies freshmen to start a game this season.
The 2010 Parade Magazine national high school player of the year is one of 46 Washington natives on the Dawgs' roster that grew up following Apple Cups. Four players from his Skyline High School in Sammamish will be playing in this one: Williams and Huskies place-kick holder William Chandler, plus brothers Gino and Jordan Simone, wide receivers for the Cougars.
"I haven't talked to them much during the year. But this week, we've been having some conversations," a grinning Williams said of the Simones.
In coach Steve Sarkisian's first two seasons, Washington has beaten WSU 30-0 at Husky Stadium and 35-28 in Pullman. The latter was last December 4 when Chris Polk romped for 294 yards rushing to clinch UW's first bowl bid since 2002.
A win Saturday in the first game since Husky Stadium renovations began would give the Huskies their first three-game winning streak over the Cougars since a six-game one through 2003.
One factor that will help UW's recently skittish offense immensely as the Huskies seek to end a three-game losing streak: Keith Price is healthy again and will play after missing last week's start at Oregon State.
"Oh yeah, he looks great. He really looks good -- the bounce and spring in his step," Sarkisian said of his redshirt sophomore quarterback who sprained his left knee two weeks ago at USC. "(This week) he's looked really good moving in the pocket and out of the pocket. Much more alive, to me, in his legs."
Price has 26 touchdown passes, two away from Cody Pickett's school record from the 2001 season. He says he feels as good as he has in weeks, maybe months. He took all of last week off, save for 11 plays in the fourth quarter while trying to rally the Huskies at Oregon State.
"Oh, it definitely helped me. I didn't get hit much. It's always good when you are not getting hit," Price deadpanned.
And, of course, there's this, as Price noted: "It's definitely motivation when you've got a team like Wazzu coming in."
The site of crimson and gray should motivate Polk. He bulldozed the Cougars last season for the second-biggest rushing day in UW history, four yards shy of Hugh McElhenny's mark from the 1950 Apple Cup.
Polk extended his school record of 100-yard rushing games to 19 last week in Corvallis. A 20th on Saturday would leave him with at least 1,341 yards this season and would give him two of the top five rushing seasons in Washington history. Polk is 304 yards from Napoleon Kaufman's career rushing record at UW of 4,106 set from 1991-94.
Polk said last month he is targeting that last record and perhaps would even return for a fifth, redshirt-senior season in 2012 to break it.
"I wouldn't want to leave for the NFL until I thought I was the best one here that ever did it," Polk said after a five-touchdown night against Arizona Oct. 29, Washington's only win in the last five games.
Washington State has improved its run defense and its overall defense since the last Apple Cup, partly because of more dynamic play at linebacker. The Cougars are eighth in the conference in total defense (408 yards allowed per game) and eighth in rushing defense (152 yards per game).
Saturday's game may come down to Washington's offense outscoring WSU's, if the Huskies' defense can't create turnovers against the Cougars' passing attack.
Marshall Lobbestael will start at quarterback for Washington State for Connor Halliday, who suffered a lacerated liver while playing all of last week's overtime loss to Utah. Lobbestael played in the 2009 Apple Cup in Seattle. The senior took over early this season when Jeff Tuel, who started last year against UW, got hurt. Lobbestael has thrown for 2,220 yards and 16 touchdowns against seven interceptions in 10 games.
Washington State is the second-most prolific passing offense in the Pac-12 thanks to receivers Marquess Wilson and Jared Karstetter. Wilson leads the conference at 116 yards receiving per game and has 10 touchdowns among 75 receptions in 11 games. Karstetter has 51 catches and five TDs.
"We are not going to just eliminate them, they are too good and they throw to them too often just to eliminate them," Sarkisian said. "But we do need to contain them."
A more consistent pass rush to at least affect Lobbestael would help. Oregon State's static Sean Mannion beat Washington last week by having ample time to watch numerous receivers run across the field.
UW has just 17 sacks in 11 games, which is why coaches emphasized faster blitzing and more conviction in winning one-on-one battles at the line to their Huskies this week.
True freshman Danny Shelton, who was all over the field pressuring, tackling and recovering a fumble last week at Oregon State, will get his first start Saturday to help provide more energy along the defensive front. Sarkisian said he thinks Shelton's jolt has enlivened senior defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu next to him.
Creating more energy team-wide shouldn't be a problem for the Huskies this week.
"I know people say, `Oh, it's just another game.' And the reality of it, it isn't," Sarkisian said. "That's a rivalry game, and that's the pageantry of football. A lot of guys on our team grew up playing with guys on that team or against guys on that team growing up or in high school or all-star games. So I think it carries a little added incentive. And then, obviously, there's the bragging rights of it all.
"But that's what college football is all about. That's why we do what we do, to enjoy these experiences."