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Husky Football Blog

The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

November 25, 2011 at 4:38 PM

The pick. …

I’m watching the Utah-Colorado game as I type this, which concluded as game No. 2,897,653 that serves as proof that anything can happen in college football.

There was zero reason to think Colorado would go into Salt Lake City and beat the Utes given all that Utah had on the line and how poorly its own season has gone.

Longtime Apple Cup watchers, of course, don’t need reminding that this is a game that always tends to be close — 12 of the last 16 have been decided by eight points or less — regardless of how the seasons of the two combatants has gone coming into it.

So you wouldn’t go wrong expecting the unexpected tomorrow.

Still, I like to try to come up with some sort of reasoning for predicting an outcome, and as regular readers of this space know, I also like to use the conference-only stats as the best comparison once it gets to this point in the year.

UW is 4-4 in conference play, WSU 2-6. Each beat Colorado, each lost to Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State. UW beat Utah and Cal, while each of those beat WSU (the Cougs also lost to UCLA and beat ASU while UW lost to USC beat Arizona). You’d probably rate UW as having played a slightly more difficult schedule getting USC while WSU didn’t, but overall, about the best you can do for a comparison. So let’s look at the key conference-only stats:

SCORING OFFENSE
Washington 29.0 (sixth in Pac-12)
Washington State 23.8 (8th)
SCORING DEFENSE
Washington 33.6 (9th)
Washington State 34.1 (10th)
TOTAL OFFENSE
Washington 392.2 (7th)
Washington State 383.5 (8th)
TOTAL DEFENSE
Washington State 421.2 (8th)
Washington 422.2 (9th)
RUSHING OFFENSE
Washington 154.5 (5th)
Washington State 86.6 (11th)
RUSHING DEFENSE
Washington 159.8 (7th)
Washington State 174.4 (9th)
PASS OFFENSE
Washington State 297.9 (3rd)
Washington 237.8 (8th)
PASS DEFENSE
Washington State 246.9 (5th)
Washington 262.5 (6th)
SACKS BY
Washington 12 (8th)
Washington State 8 (11th)

SACKS AGAINST
Washington 26 (tied 11th)
Washington State 26 (tied 11th)
3RD-DOWN CONVERSIONS
Washington 48.1 percent (2nd)
Washington State 41.4 percent (6th)
OPPONENT 3RD-DN CONVERSIONS
Washington State 46.1 percent (9th)
Washington 47.2 percent (11th)

TURNOVER MARGIN
Washington State minus-2 (7th)
Washington minus-3 (tied 8th)

A lot of similar-looking numbers, but UW has one big edge — in rushing offense — that could prove the key to the whole game tomorrow. That’s obviously no secret and has been much-discussed all week, as it also proved the whole key last year when Chris Polk went for 284. He was coming off the momentum of the “God’s Play” win in that game and was running as well as he ever has. He hasn’t put up those kinds of numbers of late, but he’s also often had not a lot of room.

Given WSU’s run defense numbers, you’d think Polk will have some space tomorrow. But then, that’s what we thought about last week’s game. The return of Keith Price, though, could open up a lot more running (OSU didn’t seem too worried about the deep passing game when Nick Montana was in there), though it’s also worth wondering how much the loss of Colin Tanigawa will impact the OL’s ability to run block — it seemed like a lot in the second half last week.

UW’s pass defense and WSU’s pass offense numbers indicate the Cougars could have a lot of success in that matchup. But WSU obviously will have a different dynamic there with Marshall Lobbestael back at QB and receiver Isiah Barton out. As you can also see in the stats, neither team has shown much ability to protect the passer or rush the quarterback. Whichever team figures that out tomorrow will have a big edge.

In keeping with the you-never-know aspect of this game, the team that has rushed for the most yards has only won four of the past 10 Apple Cups (and that includes each of the last two), counter to what I might have thought about the importance of a better running game.

Still, from this vantage point, that seems like the one big edge that either team has, and in this case it belongs to UW. I expect a close game, closer than the nine-point spread. But ultimately I’ll call it WASHINGTON 37, WASHINGTON STATE 31.

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