The Apple Cup, that is. And as it usually is, it’s the last regular season game of the year.
I head into it having gone 8-3 straight-up on my picks of Husky games this year. I picked the Huskies to beat USC, which they didn’t; and picked them to lose to OSU and Stanford; which they didn’t (and should I remind you again that I got a direct hit on the Cal game, picking UW to win by the actual final score of 21-13? That’ll never get old).
As for the Apple Cup, the Huskies are now favored by as much as 14 points. It’s the most UW has been favored by in a game in Pullman since 1992, when it was also a 14-point favorite (UW was favored by 7 in 2000).
Instead of basically rewriting the breakdown I did of the game for the paper, I figured I’d just pass along the unedited form of that, as well as the edges (on which I also consulted Bud Withers, who has seen every WSU game this season).
So here’s the position-by-position breakdown:
Offensive line: Each team entered the season with this area regarded as a serious question mark. But UW has steadied itself in the last month, starting the same five players during its four-game winning streak and helping the Huskies establish a consistent running game. WSU, though, has continued to struggle up front and allowed 53 sacks, the most in the nation. Coach Mike Leach often mentions the OL as the most critical area for improvement going forward. Edge: UW.
Receivers: WSU’s receiving corps took a hit when Marquess Wilson – still the team’s leading receiver for the season — quit the team. There’s talent there, but it’s mostly young. UW is led by Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins who have combined for 121 of UW’s 226 receptions this season. UW gets the edge due to its elite talent at the top. Edge: UW.
Quarterbacks: Each team entered the season with a QB getting some pre-season all-conference mention — WSU’s Jeff Tuel and UW’s Keith Price. Each has endured some surprising struggles. Price, though, has begun to come out of his the last month, throwing for eight touchdowns in the last three games. Tuel has had to split time with Connor Halliday, but Halliday may not be available due to an apparent concussion.Edge: UW
Running backs: Almost an unfair position to judge given how rarely WSU uses its running backs — WSU’s 228 total rushing attempts are fewer than Bishop Sankey’s 233. True frosh Teondray Caldwell has shown some promise for WSU in limited work. But the 1,150 yards of Sankey — who went to high school at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane — gives the Huskies a big edge. Edge: UW
Defensive line : WSU has 32 sacks for the season a big reason it is allowing just 4.1 yards per rush — UW is allowing 4.8 and has 22 sacks. But UW’s front, while far from dominant, has played increasingly well of late led by sophomores Andrew Hudson and Danny Shelton to get the lean here. Freshman tackle Xavier Cooper has come on well for WSU this year with 8.5 tackles for a loss. Edge: UW
Linebackers: WSU moved Travis Long to linebacker before the season, and the senior has been a standout, with 9.5 sacks. But he may miss the game with a knee injury, forcing the Cougars to go with sophomore Logan Mayes. UW’s linebacking corps entered the season as a huge question mark but has turned into a strength thanks to the emergence of freshmen Shaq Thompson and Travis Feeney on the outside and sophomore John Timu in the middle. Edge: UW
Secondary: This area has been the key to Washington’s defensive improvement this season led by senior safety Justin Glenn, junior safety Sean Parker and senior cornerback Desmond Trufant, likely to play despite a sore hamstring. UW ranks ninth in the nation in pass defense this week. WSU, meanwhile, is allowing teams to complete 66.1 percent of passes, worst in the conference other than Colorado. Edge: UW
Special teams: Statistically, this area is not a great strength for either team — they rank 11th (WSU and 12th (UW) in the conference in punting, for instance. But WSU has made a bevy of costly mistakes on special teams in recent weeks while UW has had a knack for making big plays — and generally covering well when needed
WSU has had some bad games of late, such as last week’s 46-7 loss at Arizona State. But this being the Apple Cup, I expect the Cougars to play a lot better, maybe as they did against UCLA and Stanford, games in which it outgained the Bruins and Cardinal and held each significantly below their season rushing average, but lost in large part due to turnovers and other such errors.
But while I think the game will be close for a while, I also think UW and its defense and better running game will eventually pull away. Call it WASHINGTON 31, WASHINGTON STATE 17 (and FWIW, I picked that score when the spread was below 14, so I’m considering this picking UW to cover).