Been a while since I’ve written that, hasn’t it?
But it’s also been a while since they’ve been favorites in any game — the Stanford game, when UW was a three-point favorite — is the only other time UW has been favored this year.
The Huskies were also favored last year against the Cougars, by six points.
That one didn’t go so well, but this is obviously a much different Cougars team (as it is a much different Huskies team).
We in the media have obviously all written all week about the historical ineptitude of each team, for which this game is earning some unexpected national attention. ESPN.com sent blogger supreme Ted Miller here instead of either of the other two Pac-10 games this weekend to detail the carnage.
But while it’s easy to make fun of it all, the reality is that this could be the most interesting game of the year from a strictly matchup standup.
Everyone in Husky nation, used to a steady string of uninteresting blowouts this season, at least goes into this one not really sure what is going to happen.
One reader sent me a mild critique last week for continuing to harp on which team is going to play harder for its coach.
I won’t do that this week. I’ve covered a dozen or so Apple Cups now, and emotional readiness has never been a problem for either team, and despite the weirdness surrounding the Huskies right now with Tyrone Willingham, I don’t think that will be a problem for them tomorrow. Consider that since 2001, every game has been decided by eight points or less. All the cliches about throwing out the record books really tend to hold in this one.
So assuming motivation isn’t an issue, who has the edge?
When I broke down the matchups, here’s what I came up with:
QB — UW. As shaky as UW’s Ronnie Fouch has been of late, WSU’s quarterback situation is worse. Kevin Lopina has battled a concussion all week and the only other alternative is true freshman J.T. Levenseller, ticketed for a redshirt at the start of the season. Neither Lopina nor Levenseller has thrown a TD pass this season. If Fouch gets hurt, walk-on Taylor Bean is the only other option for the Huskies
RB — WSU. A tough call, but the Cougars may have a slight edge if Logwone Mitz and Dwight Tardy are healthy enough to play. Tardy is having the best season of any tailback suiting up today with 353 yards. UW’s situation is a little murkier because of injuries to Terrance Dailey and Willie Griffin, and Brandon Johnson missing much of practice this week because of a death in the family. Johnson has been playing the best of late, but his time could be limited today.
WR — WSU. This is an offensive strength for both teams. The best player on the field may be WSU’s Brandon Gibson, who is fifth in the Pac-10 in receiving with 51 catches for 628 yards. Sophomore Jeshua Anderson (31 catches) is a good No. 2. UW’s D’Andre Goodwin is fourth in the Pac-10 (53-645) but hasn’t had a lot of help from anyone else of late. TE Devin Frischknecht caught two TDs against UW last year but has been injured much of this season. If healthy, he could be a key today.
OL — UW. Washington’s line has underachieved all season and heads into this game with a little uncertainty because of a concussion to LT Ben Ossai, meaning freshman Skyler Fancher could get his first start, though Ossai returned to practice on Thursday after sitting out earlier in the week. But UW’s veteran middle of the line could dominate WSU’s D-line and pave the way for a good running game today. WSU has started the same offensive line just twice all season.
DL — UW. Huskies get a slight edge for having the best player of the bunch, DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, who is fifth in the Pac-10 in sacks with six. Otherwise, UW has struggled with youth up front, though Huskies have been better of late. DE Everrette Thompson, in particular, has played well in recent weeks. WSU has also seen some improvement since going to a three-man line two weeks ago. Improving health of some players (notably, end Andy Mattingly) could also help.
LB — UW. This is the best group on the defense for both teams. UW’s Mason Foster leads the Pac-10 with 8.6 tackles per game playing on the weakside; WSU senior Greg Trent is at 6.73 playing in the middle. WSU true freshman Louis Bland looks like a future star. UW’s corps solidified with the addition of Trenton Tuiasosopo in the middle and the move of Donald Butler to the outside after the USC game. That veteran presence gives Huskies a slight edge.
Secondary — WSU. Just going on stats, WSU has the edge here. Some of that is surely because opponents rush so well on WSU they don’t need to throw much. But Cougars are holding teams to 57.5 percent completion rate compared with 69.7 for UW. The Huskies are also allowing a whopping 8.6 yards per attempt compared to WSU’s 7.6. Huskies picked off three passes last week, however.
Special teams — WSU. Another area where the numbers give a slight edge to the Cougars, particularly in net punting and kickoff returns. Both teams, however, have injury issues at the return spots, particularly WSU, which is now without leading returner Chantz Staden. UW’s Jordan Polk also is questionable. The teams have similar FG averages — WSU is 5-9 and UW 7-12.
I added up and decided that if there’s one potential big edge here for one team over the other, it could be UW’s O-line against WSU’s defensive front. UW’s O-line hasn’t been good this season, but seems overdue for a good performance, and with three in-state guys leading the way in the middle, are sure to be primed for this one. Juan Garcia, Ryan Tolar and Jordan White-Frisbee surely want this game as much as any in their careers.
Sure, lots of things we can’t see ahead of time could change things, as has often happened in this game. And I also think that the start will be critical — neiither team has shown an ability to get up off the mat this season, so whoever breaks serve first figures to have a big edge.
Ultimately, all else being equal, I just think UW is a little better. So call it Washington 27, Washington State 17.
Been a while since I’ve written that, hasn’t it?
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