The Huskies got back on to the Hype Highway with an easy win against Arizona State. Jake Browning looked shaky again in the first quarter against the Sun Devils but poured it on in the second quarter and never looked back. Myles Gaskin again was solid with another 100+ yard game and the Washington defense came up with two big turnovers to help seal the deal. The Washington defense was short 3 starters but still accomplished the job shutting down ASU’s passing for most of the game. Rising star N'Keal Harry was the solo bright spot for ASU in the receiving game making a few big plays to soften the blowout. Now that Louisville lost big this past weekend the UW is back at the 5 spot as the outsider looking in. Lucky for them Ohio State and Michigan play this weekend and the loser of that game is likely out of playoff contention. This means that UW is perhaps two wins away from a college playoff berth. Next up, the annual Apple Cup and the other 1-loss pac-12 conference team the Wazzu Cougars.
WSU has plenty at stake this year along with UW in this Apple Cup. If the Cougars can muster a win against their arch rival Huskies they will head to the Pac-12 championship where they will play for a Rose Bowl berth. UW is playing for a Pac-12 championship berth as well. A Pac-12 championship win for the Huskies will put them in contention for a top 4 spot in the college playoff and leave the Rose Bowl committee to pick from the cream of the crop left in the Pac-12. If UW does go the the National Playoff it is likely whomever wins the Pac-12 south, Colorado or USC, will go to the Rose Bowl. This creates an interesting scenario for the Pac-12 South champion. If UW is their opponent it is highly likely that win or lose the champion of the Pac-12 south will go to the Rose Bowl. Of course the committee could pick another team other than the Pac-12 south champ so it is not a guaranteed scenario. UW on the other hand has everything to lose in the Pac-12 championship as losing means a likely trip to the Alamo Bowl which at this point would be disappointing for a team on the verge of national attention. But let's not get too ahead of ourselves and see what UW is up against in the Apple Cup.
WSU has become know for their effective use of the Air Raid offense. The leader of that offense is Luke Falk who has been a non-stop throwing machine this season. He has attempted 532 passes this season which is third only to Partick Mahomes of Texas Tech who has 545 and Davis Webb with 572. He has completed more than Mahomes however with 380 to 358 for Mahomes and 350 for Webb. Falk is also the leader in completion percent in the country with 71.4 percent completion rate. Browning held the top spot for a moment earlier this season but dropped to 19th in the past few games. Gabe Marks is the leading receiver with 755 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. He is also leading the Pac-12 in career reception with 301 receptions and 36 touchdowns. Their next leading receiver, River Cracraft, had come on strong this season with 701 yards averaging 13.2 yards per play but tore his ACL against California and is out for the season. Beyond that WSU has a deep bench of receivers to rely on for their Air Raid offense. They are not rushing the ball nearly as well as they are throwing it but have reliable backs in Jamal Morrow, James Williams and Gerard Wicks who have combined for over 1,500 yards for the season and scored 21 times. Certainly, this day will belong to Luke Falk if he can play to his level. The Cougar fans have opined since last year they could have beat the Huskies if Luke Falk had played in the last Apple Cup. Now WSU has the opportunity to prove that statement by playing at home versus a top ranked Husky team. Falk has his biggest challenge yet in the secondary as UW boasts the best in conference. Can Falk beat the Dawgs through the air? We will see on Friday.
Defensively, Washington State has been effective at stopping the run. They are allowing only 130 yards per game which ranks 1st in the Pac-12. Passing defense is not nearly as good allowing 278 yards per game which ranks towards the bottom of the Pac-12. Defensive end Hercules Mata'afa leads the team with 4 sacks and is a disruptive force with dynamic speed. Shalom Luani who is playing the nickel leads the Cougars with 4 interceptions and is another person the Huskies will need to watch out for. WSU has seen a significant improvement in the past two years under 2nd year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. He is a young (36 years old) and upcoming coach who has improved WSU defensive stats across the board. Though the defense is undersized, Grinch utilizes their speed in his schemes using stunts and movement to try to get the edge against his opponents. It has worked well so far. The one knock on the WSU defense this year is giving up big plays. Aggressive at the line schemes have allowed opponents big yardage when the secondary falls apart. And Washington has a few playmakers on offense who will take full advantage in the Apple Cup if this happens. Let's talk about some of the playmakers Washington will rely on to score this Friday.
UW is pinning it's playoff hopes on quarterback Jake Browning and company. Browning has not been as efficient lately but is still putting up good numbers in yards and completions. The biggest concern is the uptick in interceptions the past 2 games. Browning may need to be less mistake prone in this game if he wants the Huskies to win. Having his trio of receivers in John Ross, Dante Pettis and Chico McClatcher should give him some chances to throw down the field and make some big plays to score fast and often. Despite the stout run defense of WSU's defensive line, I surmise Petersen will still pound the ball on the ground. Myles Gaskin will have an important role in keeping the WSU defense on it's toes. Both Gaskin and Lavon Coleman will be relied upon to make some critical 3rd down conversions to continue to move the ball. If Washington can control time of possession they will likely win this matchup.
Defensively, Washington will be ready for the air assault. The defense was able to shut down the pass happy Cal team earlier this year and they will look to do the same against the Cougars. Though WSU has a slightly better conversion rate on passes, this WSU offense will find the same challenges Cal suffered. Mainly, Washington has the best secondary the WSU Cougars will face in cornerbacks Kevin King and Sidney Jones. King made a highlight reel one handed interception last week versus ASU and Sidney Jones has 3 interceptions on the year which is not even reflective of how good he really is. Budda Baker who is a solid tackler at safety is a future NFL prospect along with Sidney Jones and others on defense. Without Azeem Victor and Joe Mathis the Huskies have lost the two best pass rushers on their defense, but luckily the replacements of Connor O'Brien for Mathis, and DJ Beavers, Ben Burr-Kirven and Brandon Wellington for Victor have held the fort down relatively well. The big defensive front men of Vita Vea, Elijah Qualls and Greg Gaines will also make WSU’s job of getting yards difficult. The penetration they get against WSU's offensive line will likely disrupt Falk from completing as many passes as he has against other opponents. Last week the Colorado defense gave UW the blueprint for success against WSU. The Cougars converted only 1 in 4 third down situations and turned over the ball twice. Though the Cougars still put up decent total yardage they only completed about half of all pass attempts. Also, the Cougars allowed over 600 total yards to Colorado. So the Huskies likely can win this game by doing a few things. Hold WSU on third down, force them to turn the ball over a few times and stingily defend the pass. If UW does the same three things Colorado did then they will win this game.
Special teams is worth mentioning as it could play a role in the outcome of the game. For the first time in a decade WSU had a kick returned for a touchdown earlier this year. Same goes for punt returns as they had a punt return touchdown versus ASU. UW will look to repeat some of the special teams magic from earlier this year with a John Ross touchdown return or Dante Pettis highlight similar to the game winning punt return touchdown against Utah. I have a sneaking suspicion we will see at least one big return this Apple Cup. As for kicking neither team has a huge advantages but WSU has only made 6 field goals this year so one should not expect too many in this game either. Van Winkle has been moderately successful for UW with 13 of 17 made this year.
Now let's make some Apple Cup predictions Husky Hype style.
Huskies have 500+ total yards
Browning gets back on track with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions
Washington defense holds WSU to under 30 points
Washington gets 2+ turnovers
Mike Leach angrily drops some F-bombs on the sideline
It rains during the game
Washington retains the Apple Cup
Husky Hype score prediction: Washington wins Apple Cup 42-28