SEATTLE — Mike Leach could see what was coming. The mistakes were building one after another, the eyes were getting wider and No. 20 Washington State was on its way to getting run off the field.
The Cougars ended their stunning turnaround regular season with a collective thud.
"I've been on both sides of kind of floodgate games. Fortunately I've been on the positive end of more of them than the negative end, but the thing is they're all the same," Leach said. "They're a deal that starts gradually and then it's a series of overcorrections. It's like fishtailing down a road or something like that. Then one thing leads to the next, leads to the next, leads to the next and that was us today."
The Cougars committed seven turnovers for the first time since 2009, and watched Sidney Jones, Darren Gardenhire and Azeem Victor take three of them back for touchdowns as Washington rolled to a 45-10 win in the Apple Cup on Friday.
Freshman Peyton Bender made the first start of his college career and looked the part of an inexperienced freshman. Bender threw two interceptions, the Cougars fumbled the ball five times and Washington gladly turned the most anticipated Apple Cup in more than a decade into a laugher.
The last three times Washington State has been ranked coming into the Apple Cup, the Huskies have come away as the victors.
"For whatever reason, our guys played wide-eyed," Leach said. "We've clearly beaten teams that are considerably better than Washington this year."
The Cougars also missed a chance to keep their rivals home for the postseason, or at least add the asterisk of Washington getting to a bowl game with a losing record. The Huskies were in line to possibly get a bid with a 5-7 record, but now are assured of a bowl berth along with the Cougars.
"It meant a lot to us getting that sixth win," Washington linebacker Keishawn Bierria said. "Today we made a statement."
Bender started because Luke Falk did not dress. The standout sophomore that had an outside shot at setting a handful of Pac-12 records was a spectator on the Cougars sideline in sweats a week after getting carted off the field on a backboard with an apparent concussion. Bender said he knew all week he'd be the starter, but even having that preparation couldn't get him ready for the Huskies swarming defense.
Washington held the Cougars more than 100 yards passing under their season average. Washington State could not find anything downfield behind the Huskies defense and all the passes were short. The Cougars had on three receptions in the second half longer than 10 yards.
Bender finished 36 of 58 for 288 yards and a 1-yard TD pass to Dom Williams in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 24-10.
"They pretty much did what we thought they were going to do," Bender said. "We just have to execute better."
Along with Falk's injury, the Cougars may have lost standout wide receiver Gabe Marks. Marks entered the week as the Pac-12 leader in receptions, but suffered an ugly looking right leg injury in the fourth quarter. Marks was in such discomfort he immediately dropped the ball, which Gardenhire picked up and returned 28 yards for a touchdown.
On the Cougars next play from scrimmage, Bender was intercepted by Victor, who returned the pick 27 yards for a score.
But Washington State had made plenty of mistakes before giving up two defensive touchdowns in the fourth-quarter. The problems started on the Cougars first drive when on third-down Williams dropped a screen pass with a convoy to the end zone in front of him leaving Washington State to settle for a field goal.
Erik Powell missed wide left from 42 yards on Washington State's next series and two fumbles inside Washington territory cost the Cougars chances at points later in the half. It was just the second time this season Washington State did not score a touchdown in the first half. The only other time was against Stanford in a game the Cougars led 12-3 at the break.
The Cougars also couldn't slow down Washington freshman Myles Gaskin in the second half. Gaskin was held to 29 yards in the first half but rushed for 109 yards in the second half and the second of his two touchdowns.
"Washington, they came out ready to play. They wanted it more than we did and this is the outcome," Washington State linebacker Jeremiah Allison said.