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John Blanchette: Washington happy to let Mike Leach keep getting in Washington State’s way at Apple Cup

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 29, 2019

SEATTLE – Sometime in the second half of Friday’s Apple Cup, a Fox camera zeroed in on a couple in the stands, the female decked out in Husky purple, the male in all Coug attire.

Now, maybe they were just next-seat neighbors. But the facial and body language made it look as if she was taking his sorry butt to Dump City – or at the very least giving him a little dose-of-his-own-medicine mansplaining.

Surely by Saturday morning, a creative editor will have a version on social media with their faces replaced by those of Chris Petersen and Mike Leach, likely with a caption along the lines of, “It’s not me, Mike. It’s you.”

Boy, is it ever you.

Six times now, Leach has lined up his Washington State Cougars against Petersen’s Washington Huskies in what used to carry hints of a football rivalry. Six times the Cougs have been dominated – the closest finish a 13-pointer last season. This one finished 31-13, matching the 2014 score.

If that’s a pendulum swinging, maybe next year the Cougs can get back within 10 points.

But don’t bet on it.

This is as ordinary as the Huskies have been since 2015, when they had to beat Southern Mississippi in a dreary bowl game to finish over .500, and the Cougs were in the fray on Friday for barely a quarter.

Last year, with the winningest team in Wazzu history, the excuse was a snowstorm.

Not that Leach needs to be creative with his alibis.

Just two questions into his postgame debriefing, he exhumed a fave when asked about any frustrations that attend a streak that every Coug seems to find damnable except him.

“I do find this part of it interesting, though,” he said. “As fast as you guys rank their recruiting class, you know, in the top 10 and then you’re always surprised when they win. I think maybe that would have a little something to do with it?”

Well, A) Petersen has never had a top 10 recruiting class and B) no one has ever been surprised when he beats Leach. Also, with all these glitzy recruiting classes, Petersen has still managed to lose to every other Pac-12 team except Oregon State and the Cougs.

But it’s a theory Leach first trotted out after the 2016 Apple Cup (“I don’t think it’s a big secret on recruiting within the state who typically comes out on top”) and repeated the next year. He obviously likes the sound of it by now. Perhaps he can share it in the living rooms of some high school players when he’s out on the talent trail.

Of course, this is the same Leach who stands in front of the same inquisitors every winter and swings his mighty sword at those who rank recruiting classes.

“I don’t recall ever calling any of these individuals and asking them what I should run on third down,” he said last December. “So I certainly don’t ask them who can play.”

So, to review: Recruiting rankings are relevant after losing to UW, pure nonsense on signing day.

But, hey, Leach is always ready with a theory. What he’s never ready with is a changeup, an adjustment or a different approach to a matchup that’s become college football’s “Groundhog Day.”

Even former players on Twitter were calling him out on it Friday afternoon.

Because it’s very much an offensive problem in this game, and Leach is supposed to be the offensive guru. Yet his Cougs have never scored more than 17 points against a Petersen team.

Every year, the Husky defense rushes three players and drops eight into pass coverage, with the odd blitz or four-man rush. Every year, Leach rolls out the same package, with predictable results.

To be fair, the Cougs face eight-man coverages from other opponents, too, and seem to handle it just fine. So why are the Huskies so effective with it?

“They really know what they’re doing,” said WSU receiver Renard Bell. “When most teams drop eight against us, they’re switching their defense … they’re not really accustomed to it.”

Now, you could extrapolate that into a rationale for Leach refusing to add any wrinkles to his game plan. The overall record suggests if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. But the results in this game – and Leach’s own past remarks – scream something much different: he’ll never tweak his plan because winning the Apple Cup doesn’t mean anything to him.

And worse, now his indifference is catching.

“A lot of guys like to go, ‘Oh, it’s Washington, ohhhhh,’ ” said running back Max Borghi. “I just feel like as a team we could do a better job of just playing. A lot of guys get tight and antsy, and it shows.”

Well, sorry, but in a season of treading water at the .500 mark, winning the Apple Cup is a pretty fair salve. That’s certainly grasped in the other locker room.

“I just think it means more,” said UW defensive back Myles Bryant.

Not that many weeks ago, Leach assailed the leaders on his football team as “frauds.” But when it comes to the Apple Cup, that’s not quite the case.

It’s not them, Mike. It’s you.

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