If this Apple Cup had been played in September, there’s a lot of reason for concern if you’re the Huskies. If the Washington’s young secondary hadn’t made such strides over the past month — if it continued to look as helpless as it did against Eastern Washington — you wonder what kind of damage Luke Falk and the Cougars’ offense might be able to do against UW.
But Budda Baker looks more and more like he belongs out there at free safety. He absolutely belongs. Kevin King is proving to be a bit of a big hitter. Sidney Jones is more confident, and rightfully so. And converted receiver John Ross III, for whatever he lacks in defensive experience, makes up for it with his pure athleticism.
All this is to say … I think the Huskies will be OK Saturday night in Pullman (7:30 p.m., FOX Sports 1). They should be even better than that.
The Huskies, overall, are coming off two of their best performances of the year — the shocking loss at Arizona, and the runaway win over Oregon State — and the UW veterans this week sound confident and motivated and focused. For those who were part of UW’s fourth-quarter meltdown in Pullman two years ago, there’s some added incentive this week heading back there.
I think this game comes down to UW’s ability to make Falk uncomfortable, something UW’s veteran defensive line was able to do fairly consistently against Sean Mannion last week. The Cougars are tied for 11th in the Pac-12 with 32 sacks allowed, and the Huskies are second in the nation with 44 sacks, and they do that while rarely blitzing. They don’t have to always take down Falk — Andrew Hudson, Evan Hudson, Hau’oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton just need to make their presence know, and they have certainly done that this year. There’s no reason to doubt that will continue Saturday night. Their ability to dominate the line of scrimmage obviously makes the job easier for UW’s secondary.
It will be interesting to see how Cyler Miles and the UW offense handle expected frigid conditions. The UW run game, behind Dwayne Washington and Lavon Coleman, has been better the past two weeks. WSU counters with a pretty good run defense, allowing just 3.97 yards per rush. The reemergence of Jaydon Mickens was a positive development last week, and it would be great to see Kasen Williams involved a bit Saturday in his final regular-season game for UW.
Chris Petersen played the WSU fight song repeatedly around his team this week, and he brought in three former players — Brock Huard, Lawyer Milloy and Mike Rohrbaugh — to speak about the significance of the game. I think Petersen gets it, and I know UW’s seniors do, too. I think that adds up to a significant win Saturday night.
Prediction: Huskies 38, Cougars 24.
Larry Stone’s pick: Huskies 28, Cougars 24.