This is the 12th entry in an ongoing series between Ryan Priest and Alex Hyres. Each week, we'll look at the matchup between Washington and their opponent, give predictions for the game's outcome, and hopefully have a little fun along the way. Up this week is Washington State. Our previous chats can be found here: Boise State, Illinois, Idaho State, Arizona, Stanford, Oregon, Arizona State, California, Colorado, UCLA, Oregon State.
Ryan: Well, I think it's safe to say that none of us saw that one coming.
Road woes? What road woes? Teams that struggle away from home don't walk into a divisional rival's house and build a 48-0 lead at the end of three quarters before allowing their opponent to score 27 garbage time points. Teams that haven't won a road conference game don't score seven rushing touchdowns and rack up 530 yards on the ground en route to scoring the most points in recorded program history.
Seriously, just where did that performance come from?
With 11 of this year's 13 games in the rear-view mirror, this team is still a complete enigma to me. I don't understand how the same squad can go down to Arizona State and give up 26 unanswered points and 181 yards in one of the worst quarters of football in memory, and then just five weeks later turn around and put together arguably the most dominant 60 minutes of football that the conference will see this year.
The one thing I'm certain of is that the Huskies could scarcely enter this week's Apple Cup matchup on a hotter hand: Firstly, Washington State is a one-dimensional passing team, and UW just shut down the nation's premiere passing attack to its worst output of the season. Secondly, this game is at home in Seattle. Thirdly, every player wearing purple and gold will be thinking of what happened in last year's contest, and I suspect will come out just as fired up to put on a dominating performance as they were last week against Oregon State.
Alex: There were some people who still held faith that the mighty men in the purple and gold could pull out a victory on road. For all the non-believers out there—mostly notably you, Ryan—that game must have been a huge shock. While I didn't exactly predict the Domination at the Dam, I still had faith that the Huskies could win their final road game.
This is yet another moment in the season where it's important to stay level-headed as a fan. In their true identity, the Huskies are not the team that lost to Arizona State or UCLA. In their true identity, the Huskies are not the team that dominated Oregon State. In a season like this one, the Huskies true identity probably lies between those two extremes.
This season is a reminder that it's often better to assess the success or failure of a season after it's finished. With a victory in the Apple Cup, the Huskies will finish the regular season with at least eight wins for the first time since—way too long ago. With a victory in the bowl game, the Huskies will finish the season with nine wins. If that comes to pass, without reading into the wins and losses too much, it will be hard to say that this season was anything less than a success.
What do you think will be the keys to success for the Husky defense against Connor Halliday and the Cougar offense?
Ryan: I won't disagree that I felt anything other than shock in watching last week's game. Whatever I was expecting, it certainly wasn't a road blowout against a bowl-eligible divisional opponent. And for the record, I couldn't agree with you more about the difficulty of accurately judging the totality of a season until it is well in the rear view mirror. Of course, not talking about the season until it's over would preclude us from ever doing this Dawg Talk series, and what's the fun in that?
To answer your question of what the Huskies have to do to succeed against the Cougar offense, I can think of three keys: penalties, penalties and penalties. The reason that the Cougars were able to engineer their Apple Cup miracle last year had more to do with Washington's eight penalties in the fourth quarter than anything else. The Dawgs have the athletes to match up with Washington State at every position, and then some. It's no accident that the Huskies' best performance of the year came in last week's game, when they drew a season-low four flags. If they can keep from getting in their own way on Friday, they'll give themselves a chance to cruise to victory with little drama.
What do you think the Huskies need to do in order to bring the Apple Cup back to Seattle?
Alex: The most important key for the Huskies is winning the battle on special teams. From kick coverage to kick returns to punting to kicking, the Huskies need to create more opportunities for their offense and to mitigate the opportunities for the Cougar defense.
John Ross, Marvin Hall, and Travis Coons will have a huge say in the final outcome. John Ross—wearing number 11 for the first time last week, so he could on play both sides of the ball—needs to set up chances for the offense or possibly create points on his own as a part of the kick return unit. For Marvin Hall, a few big punt returns would be great; however, more important is holding onto the ball and ensuring that the Husky offense gets the ball back. More than anyone else on last year's team, Travis Coons would like nothing more than to forget last year's game. While I don't expect this game to come down to the final possession again, Coons' ability to control the field in the punting game will be essential.
A related key for the Huskies, as you mentioned above, is limiting penalties. We all know that the Pac-12 referees are consistent-consistently horrible. However, the Huskies can do their best to avoid penalties within their control. Pre- and post-snap penalties are within their control. False starts, illegal formations, unnecessary roughness, and unsportsmanlike conduct fouls need to be avoided at all costs.
Outside of numerous breakdowns on special teams or a slew of penalties, I find it hard to believe that the Cougars can compete with the Huskies from start to finish. What do you think?
Ryan: On paper, there's every reason to think that Washington will roll. For every strength that Washington State bring to the table, the Huskies counter with an even greater advantage. Wazzu features the nation's most passing attempts, and Washington answers with the conference's second-lowest opponent passer rating and second-fewest receiving touchdowns allowed. The Cougars have improved their sacks allowed total from 57 last year to 22 this year, but Washington brings to the table Hau'oli Kikaha, who has the conference's third-highest sack total. On the other side of the equation, Bishop Sankey has the nation's fourth-most rushing yards and is a finalist for the Doak Walker award, while Washington State has the conference's ninth-ranked rushing defense. On the receiving side of the equation, UW has downfield receivers like Kevin Smith and Jaydon Mickens, while WSU gives up the Pac-12's second-most receiving yards per attempt. There's no reason I can think of why Washington should be tremendously concerned entering into this game.
And yet ... didn't we all feel similar entering last year's Apple Cup? UW probably didn't take the Cougars as seriously as they should have, and they paid for their arrogance by associating themselves with the most epic collapse in Apple Cup history. If there's any consolation to that experience, it's that there's little and less chance that Washington comes out deflated. A nine-win season is still within reach, and though rivalry games are notoriously difficult to predict, I think there's every reason to think that the Huskies come out firing and never let their foot off of the gas. I smell a blowout. Washington 42, Washington State 10.
Alex: I expect to see a Husky team fired up to start the game. I expect to see a Husky team that will establish the run with the Bishop. I expect to see a Husky team led by their fifth-year senior in his last game at Husky Stadium. I expect to see a Husky team win big in the Apple Cup.
The only thing necessary to fire up this Husky team for this game is to remind them of last year's Apple Cup. With that in mind—from the first whistle to the last—the Huskies should be focused. Playing the game at home always helps too. Focus and energy should not be lacking with those two factors in mind.
No matter who plays quarterback, it is essential for the offense to hand the ball to the Bishop early and often. He can open up the passing game for the offense early in the game and wear down the Cougar defense as the game progresses. Using play-action, Keith Price will be able to shake off the rust and find his groove for a fitting end to his career at Husky Stadium.
And to all you non-believers out there, Keith Price will play in this game—no matter what it takes. As one of the greatest quarterbacks—at a school with a history of great quarterbacks—Price will find a way to start his final game at Husky Stadium. He deserves the opportunity and I believe he will get it.
I'll call it Washington Huskies 49, Washington State Cougars 28.