An Apple Cup for the ages is set up for Friday Afternoon when the Washington Huskies will come to Martin Stadium to play the Cougars in a game that will determine the Pac-12 North division title and will keep the Rose Bowl hopes of the Cougars alive. There’s been many years when this game has been viewed as a joke and both teams playing were trying to just have a positive end to a miserable season. This year it is the exact opposite and it is throwing fans and analysts around college football for a real loop. What makes this situation even more surprising is that Washington State started off 0-2 and had a loss to FCS Eastern Washington. People thought the Cougars were a joke at that point and that their season was going nowhere and that Mike Leach should even be fired. It’s funny what a couple of months can do to a football team. Not only will Washington State be looking to go to the conference championship, but they will be looking to end any hope that their rival Huskies have of making the college football playoff
Players to watch for the Huskies: When a team is going into the final game of the regular season 10-1 it is safe to say that they have a good number of players to watch. It starts with quarterback Jake Browning. Browning has been very efficient this year sporting 37 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions. He is a hard guy to force turnovers from and he does a great job of spreading the ball around. Washington State defensive coordinator Alex Grinch will have to do a great job of disguising coverages to try and make Browning think too much and give their secondary a better chance at forcing some turnovers. Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman provide a very strong 1-2 punch in the running game for the Huskies. Gaskin is more of a home run threat, while Coleman is more of a power back that can lean on a defense and help wear them down. They will have to do a good job of containing both of these guys. John Ross is the most explosive player the Huskies have. He is averaging 15.5 yards per catch and has 15 touchdowns, but to go along with his great receiving numbers he is an excellent kickoff returner averaging 28.6 yards per return and he has one touchdown on the year. Dante Pettis is also a target the Cougars have to be aware of especially in the red zone. Defensively the Huskies have two excellent corners in Sidney Jones and Kevin King. They are two guys the Cougars have to be very careful testing. Budda Baker is the biggest playmaker on defense. He makes a lot of plays near the line of scrimmage and is a guy that is frequently around the ball and is a good threat to be able to force an unexpected turnover. With Azeem Victor out, the linebacking core is now reliant on Keishawn Bierria to make a lot of the plays and he does a very good job of that. He is the leading tackler on the team behind Victor.
Keys for the Cougars: Washington has a very good defense at each level, but when the Huskies played USC a glaring weakness in the defense got exposed. That was throwing the ball over the middle of the field. With the two excellent corners on the outside it is a tough task to beat them consistently on the outside, but over the middle of the field some damage can be done. USC did it with their tight ends and if you watch the Cougars you know they don’t use tight ends but they still do like to get the ball to players in the middle and a lot of that is done to their running backs. Leach is going to have to find a way to get those backs into space and give them a chance to beat linebackers in the passing game to help loosen up the rest of the defense. The defensive line of the Huskies is probably going to be the toughest thing the Cougs’ offense has to deal with all day. They are able to get so much pressure on opposing quarterbacks while not even blitzing. The line is going to have to hold up and play a good game to give Luke Falk a chance to get the ball down the field and they will also need to work to establish a running game to make life easier on Falk and the Cougars receivers. I know I say that almost every week, but it is going to be even more important this week because if you become one dimensional against this Huskies defense it is going to be very hard to move the ball drive after drive in this game. Defensively the Cougars are going to have to slow down the running game. Last week against Colorado the defense struggled the most they have in a long time stopping the run and it eventually wore them down and cost them the game. If they are giving up a lot of yards on the ground to the Huskies it will allow Browning to use the play action and get the ball down the field. If they are able to slow down the running game like USC was you can force Browning to be a little less decisive and possibly force some turnovers or get him to hold onto the ball too long and get some sacks. I’d definitely give the Huskies the edge in this one but the Cougars definitely do some things that can give them some problems and if they are able to do some of those things, especially force some turnovers, they will have a pretty good chance to win this one with it being at home.
Other information: The Huskies haven’t had to defend this version of Luke Falk with these receivers because he missed the game last year which turned into a 45-10 Huskies win. Falk will be making to look a huge difference. The Huskies come into this game as six-point favorites and the over/under is set at 63.5. The weather is expected to be in the mid 40s with precipitation.