T Jacob Seydel (Questionable—leg)
Six days after defending against the conference's No. 1 passing offense, the Huskies will get more of the same when they take on Washington State in the 106th Apple Cup contest. WSU's second year under Mike Leach has continued as expected, with the Cougars again having attempted more passes than any other team in the nation. And where Oregon State found themselves largely helpless once UW shut down Brandin Cooks, the Cougars have a number of weapons on the edge that they can distribute the ball to. Whether or not Washington wins this game will hinge not only on Marcus Peters continuing his strong play, but also on if his supporting cast can do the same.
With a one-game exception (against Stanford) in which freshman Austin Apodaca took over for his struggling teammate in the third quarter, Connor Halliday has played nearly every meaningful minute for the Cougars this season. For how much he airs the ball, however, Halliday is far from the best at doing so—his 6.5 yards per attempt trails every quarterback in the conference beside Arizona's B.J. Denker, and his 19 interceptions ranks dead last in the conference. Perhaps his biggest weakness against Washington is that he's not a mobile back, as the Huskies absolutely feasted on such a player last week in the form of Sean Mannion.
Halliday's receivers could scarcely be more excited about their opportunities: 10 players have earned 23 or more catches this season, led by Gabe Marks, whose 65 receptions far outpaces his next-closest teammates (running back Marcus Mason has tallied 43 grabs of his own). And while Marks might be Halliday's steadiest target, the Cougars' biggest home run threats are arguably Dom Williams and Vince Mayle, both of whom have scored six touchdowns on 36 grabs. Williams in particular threatens to be a source of consternation for Washington fans, who will remember his eight catch, 143-yard performance in last year's Apple Cup upset with gritted teeth.
WSU's rushing game exists as nothing more than an opportunity to keep defenses honest. It's a rare thing to see a direct handoff in a Mike Leach offense—so rare, in fact, that 19 running backs in the nation have more carries this year than Washington State's entire team (201), including UW's Bishop Sankey (272). Marcus Mason has received the lion's share of handoffs (72 attempts for 370 yards), but Jeremiah Laufasa has been their best ground scoring threat, having punched in seven of the team's 10 rushing touchdowns.
It's difficult to determine just how well the offensive line has played, especially by a statistic like sacks allowed. On the one hand, they have only given up 22 sacks on 639 passing attempts (3.44 percent, a figure that ranks first in the conference); on the other hand, so many of their completions come within five to 10 yards of the line of scrimmage that opposing defenders rarely have a chance to sack the quarterback in the first place. It's telling, though, that for all of those attempts, WSU has just 42 "explosion" receptions this year that have gone for 20 yards or more; for comparison, UW has 49 such explosion receptions on less than half as many attempts (310). The logical conclusion is that this is an offensive line that does well in affording the quarterback three or four seconds to make an attempt, but that they struggle mightily in maintaining their blocks past that window.
On the special teams side of the game, everyone's favorite portly place kicker, Andrew Furney, has again showed his worth in nailing 14 of 18 field goal attempts this year, including an impressive seven of nine attempts from 40 yards and beyond. Ricky Galvin has handled 24 of Wazzu's 41 kickoff return attempts, earning a respectable 22.4 yards per return in the process. And though they've not broken one for longer than 50 yards, remember that Washington is
the only team one of two teams (along with Utah) in the conference this year that has allowed two kickoff returns for touchdowns. On punt returns, Leon Brooks has earned a solid 9.53 yards per return, including three for 20 yards or more.
As always, thanks to College Football Statistics, ESPN and USA Today's College Football Injury Report for the relevant data that went into this article. You can follow me on Twitter by clicking below.
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