I'm old enough to have seen my share of upsets in the Apple Cup - games where the Cougars had no business winning, but did, because Apple Cup. I know how WSU lives and dies by this game, while for the UW it just doesn't seem to have the same level of importance (in most years at least). I know that I'm supposed to think that due to the rivalry nature of the game, anything can happen.
But I'll be damned if I can find a good reason why Washington shouldn't win this game comfortably. For all the talk about how you throw records out the window in the Apple Cup, Washington still has won at a 66.7% clip in this rivalry. And when you look at the numbers for this matchup, there isn't a single one that points to an avenue of success for WSU (seriously, look at the numbers in that link).
While I will feel more comfortable if Keith Price is able to go at QB for this game, Washington should win either way. Bishop Sankey is playing at an extremely high level, and the UW run game should be operating with great confidence after rolling over, around, through and back again vs. the Beavers. The passing game should find success with Miles at the helm, but I'd feel even better about it if KP starts. Either way, WSU will have a hard time dealing with the combination of Jaydon Mickens, Kevin Smith, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Damore'ea Stringfellow and John Ross.
Defensively, this is another game where the matchups seem to favor the Huskies. The Cougars run the ball only for show, and while the UW run defense has been mediocre, it seems unlikely that WSU will be able to take advantage. Defending the pass has been a Husky strength as they rank 16th in the country in pass efficiency defense, and while there's a definite drop-off in coverage ability after Marcus Peters, it hasn't been much of an issue most of the season. Cal sports a very similar air attack to WSU, and the Huskies handled them with ease.
Finally, I believe the motivation factor is very high for the Dawgs; they talked all off-season about how much the losses to WSU and Boise State stung, and we've already seen how they dealt with the Broncos this year. The Apple Cup loss last year was exceptionally painful, and I have little doubt the sense of payback is deeply ingrained in the whole team. At home, with revenge on their minds, I think the Huskies roll in this one: Washington 41, WSU 20
Keith Price's one-man dance performance takes off, and he announces that he's leaving the team on Thanksgiving Day to go and try to make it big on Broadway. He also announces that Cyler Miles and Jeff Lindquist have agreed to join him as assistants. Austin Sefarin-Jenkins agrees to chauffer them to the airport and provide security.
Bishop Sankey, looking to get an early morning workout in, slips on a flight of stairs and breaks both of his big toes.
Danny Shelton eats an entire 22-pound turkey, and follows that up with an 18-pound turkey for desert. Unfortunately, he suffers a near-coma from the tryptophan ingestion, and passes out on the alarm clocks of the entire starting defensive and offensive lines, so they all sleep through the entire game.
Damore'ea Stringfellow, Jaydon Mickens, John Ross and Kevin Smith spend the entire night playing a "World of Warcraft" tournament, and tell the coaching staff they're in no shape to play a football game the next morning. Each is recognized as a senior on Friday.
Marcus Peters and Sean Parker decide helmets mess up their hair too much, and quit the team.
In a shocking recount, Mike Leach is named the new mayor of Seattle, and renames it "Pullmantown." The people rejoice. Bill Moos is named his deputy mayor.
Cougs win 914 to 12. Reverse psychology lives on.
Friday marks the 106th matchup between the Huskies of Washington and the Cougars of Washington State. This matchup, which was for the "Governor's Trophy" until being upgraded to the Apple Cup in 1962, has been dominated by Washington for 105 years prior. In fact, UW has 35 more wins than the Cougs in this game and hold the record for the largest margin of victory - a 51-3 rout delivered by Marques Tuiasosopo and friends in that memorable (albeit tragic) 2000 Rose Bowl season. However, bragging rights for the Apple Cup currently reside in Pullman following WSU's own little record - the greatest come from behind win in AC history.
And that's where the story for this year's Apple Cup begins. Motivation should not be an issue for this year's Husky team.
On the Defensive side of the ball, Connor Halliday has recently transformed himself from a wild, gunslinging, interception-machine into a true "point guard" style distributor who is clearly becoming more comfortable making reads and taking advantage of the open spaces that the Air Raid is designed to create. He is supported by a handful of effective wide receivers who - unlike the one-man show that we saw in Corvallis with Brandin Cooks - all are a threat to have a big game. Seven different Cougar receivers have over 300 yards receiving this year led by the troika of Vince Mayle, Gabe Marks and Dom Williams. Fortunately for UW, they have the pieces in the back seven to effectively challenge this kind of passing attack. I expect the Huskies to employ a lot of man coverage, taking advantage of the versatility of their LBs - in particular Travis Feeney and Shaq Thompson - and force Halliday into a few misfires and mistakes. The big question will be whether or not the D-Line can hold up their end of the bargain and get to Halliday. The Cougs have surrendered fewer sacks than UW this year - a testament to the improvement of the WSU O-Line. I think Halliday will run into two or three coverage sacks, and that should be enough for the Huskies to execute their game plan.will have his hands full preparing for a Cougar offense that is just starting to find its stride late into the second season of coach Mike Leach.
Offensively, the Cougs are really no match for the Huskies balanced attack. They are among the worst in the conference in both run D and pass D and have seen their physicality become significantly eroded since that memorable early season upset against the Trojans. That doesn't mean you can sleep on them, however. The front line is still the strength of the Coug D and I expect that they'll have their share of one-on-one wins over a middling Husky O-Line. The play of Husky tackles, Ben Riva and Micah Hatchie, has really improved as the season has gone on and I think their play tomorrow will be a key indicator - in particular for the Husky passing attack. In the end, I expect the Huskies to impose their will as the Cougs simply lack the bodies to simultaneously take out all of the Husky weapons like Bishop Sankey, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jaydon Mickens, John Ross, Demore'ea Stringfellow and Marvin Hall. No matter who the QB is, I expect that the Huskies will score early and often in the efficient and ball-controlling manner that they have demonstrated for most of the season.
In the end, I'm forecasting a straight-forward beginning-to-end victory for the Huskies. I do not expect that it will be like Corvallis as the Cougars are sure to be more effective in making some plays and getting their points. But the Huskies should be able to create more mistakes, build up a lead and make Keith Price's last game at Husky Stadium one to remember. Call it UW 48 - WSU 27