Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
The Huskies are heavy favorites against the Cougars, but the unexpected is always expected in the Apple Cup.
The Huskies are right on the cusp of their best season ever under Steve Sarkisian and the only thing that stands between them and the most wins of the Sarkisian era is a team that has yet to win a conference game. But why are so many Husky fans still scared of their final regular season game? Because it's the Apple Cup.
No matter how many stats, trends and match-ups suggest that this should be an easy win for the Huskies, there is simply no convincing a Husky fan with a decent memory that this will be an easy game, especially because it is in Pullman. The Huskies have only won an Apple Cup comfortably in Pullman once in the past 20 years and that was when they were the best team in the conference as opposed to a team that is hoping to win 8 games.
Since most of these fears are just superstition and deeply pessimistic fears that have seeped into fans' brains from years of failure and Cougar teams that weren't utterly hapless, here are the keys to Friday's game.
What Husky fans should be confident about
Pass defense - The Cougars only real strength, their passing game, plays right into the hands of the Huskies biggest strength, their pass defense. Arizona is the only team that hasn't had their passing game shut down by the Huskies all season, so the mistake prone quarterback due of Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday trying to pass all day against the Huskies strong secondary might be exactly what the Huskies want.
Pass rush - The Huskies finally found a bit of a pass rush against Colorado and the good news is the only team that does a worse job of protecting their quarterbacks than the Buffs are the Cougars. The Huskies can make their secondary virtually impossible to pass against if they can get pressure on the quarterback how they should.
Waking the dead - The only team in the conference who seems to get off to slower starts than the Huskies are the Cougars, who have been down by at least 30 points at halftime in each of their last 3 games. The Huskies have a great chance to get a couple of scores early in the game if the Cougars come out slow and then can control the rest of the game with the run.
What Husky fans should be worried about
It's the Apple Cup - No game is less predictable year in and year out than the Apple Cup. Frequently it seems like whoever shouldn't win or whoever has less at stake always wins and that isn't good for the Huskies. Also, the game is in Pullman where the Cougars have a certain magic against the Huskies.
Desmond Trufant - Trufant has a bad hamstring and didn't suit up against Colorado. Not having one of the best cornerbacks in the conference could be a huge loss for the Huskies against the conference's best passing game.
Road game - The Huskies may have won two-straight on the road now, but they haven't looked great doing it. The Huskies came out very slowly on offense against a Colorado team that is one of the worst I have ever seen in the conference and if they come out slow in Pullman and the Cougars get a couple early big plays, the crowd will get into it and it could be very tough for the Huskies.
Players on the spot
Desmond Trufant - The Huskies really need Trufant to play with how much the Cougars pass the ball so he can shut down either Gabe Marks or Isiah Myers. If he can't there will be a ton of pressure on Marcus Peters, Greg Ducre and Tre Watson to have very good games.
Bishop Sankey - Cougar fans have to be very upset about how quickly Sankey is becoming one of the best backs in the conference, since he committed to them early in his recruitment only to switch to Washington late. The Cougars assuredly want to beat up Sankey and he will be counted on to get a lot of carries and he needs to be able to hang onto the ball and prevent the crowd and the Cougars from getting in his head.
Everyone who plays on the Defensive Line - The Huskies might need to get pressure on the quarterback in this game more than any other game on their schedule. The Cougars quarterbacks and receivers aren't quite on the level of teams like USC and Arizona, but they are prolific and will score against the Huskies if they aren't facing any pressure up front.
As much as every Husky fan is worried about getting upset by the Cougars no matter how good the Huskies are and how bad the Cougars are, these aren't the Mike Price, Dennis Erickson, Jim Walden or even Bill Doba Cougars that were well coached and had a deep rooted hatred for the Huskies. These Cougars might not even be as good as the Paul Wulff coached Cougars and are well removed from the glory days of the Apple Cup. There is no reason the Huskies shouldn't easily win this game.
With that said, the Huskies still don't look like a good road team and the Cougars are capable of playing with them if they can get some big plays early and get their passing game. I think the Huskies will be able to run the ball and control things enough to where it is a truly tight game, but I do think the Cougars will always be in striking distance because of the Huskies offense inability to put the game away. I think the Huskies will win, but the Cougars will have some shots late to make it very interesting.
Washington 28 Washington State 20