When Connor Halliday went down with a gruesome leg injury, it was easy to think the Cougs were done for the year. But backup Luke Falk stepped in and looked like a seasoned vet as they beat Oregon State in Corvallis as he tossed 5 TDs and no picks for 471 yards. He started off strong last week in Tempe vs. the Sun Devils as WSU built an early 21-7 lead, but then the wheels fell off. Falk was picked off 4 times and sacked 6 times, and while he threw for 601 yards (!), the Cougs fell 52-31.
So what should we expect out of WSU and Falk? Clearly the passing game is still potent with him at the controls, but the questions are whether their OL can keep him upright and whether Falk can avoid throwing to the guys in the other jerseys.
Looking at the match-ups in this one, things favor the Huskies on both sides of the ball. The UW offense has started to click of late as the running game has blossomed and Cyler Miles has settled in. He's looking more decisive and comfortable and OC Jonathan Smith seems to be dialing in what these guys do well. The Cougar defense is an aggressive unit with a big DL, but the results have not been good. By FEI (#97) and S&P (#91) they are arguably the worst defense in the conference, worse even than Colorado.
We all know the Husky defense features a terrific pass rush without needing to blitz much as the front four generates terrific pressure. The young secondary has grown up quite a bit this year, and under Pete Kwiatkowski they've done a really good job of keeping plays in front of them and limiting explosive plays. They'll concede some yardage underneath but have generally been pretty good at limiting damage. Against Cal - the most similar offense in the conference to what WSU runs - the Huskies did an outstanding job of keeping them to short gains and making open field tackles. That was with Marcus Peters in the fold though, so Sidney Jones, John Ross and Naijiel Hale will have to be on their game against the large stable of talented Coug receivers. I'm not feeling that great about the matchup of the big, physical WR Vince Mayle against our undersized DBs, so generating pass rush up front will be critical. One ace up the sleeve of Washington will be the special teams, where they hold a significant advantage.
As always in these games - especially in Pullman - emotion will be a factor. For WSU, this is their bowl game and a way to salvage some pride out of a disappointing season. The Huskies have already clinched bowl eligibility, so this is a game for pride for them. Can they match the intensity and motivation the Cougars will bring to this one? I see a back and forth affair with WSU giving Washington all they can handle. But ultimately I think the advantages the Huskies have will win out, and between a few timely sacks, some turnovers, a solid run game and a big play or two on special teams the good guys get the win: Washington 34, WSU 27
I started out my scouting process for the 2014 Apple Cup by rewatching the 2010 version. The conditions for that game were similar to what is expected on Saturday: a night game, dry, sub-20 degrees. I was looking to get a sense for what aspects of the game seem most affected by the cold.
There are three things that both teams struggled with in that game which will likely show up again tomorrow. First, tackling is more difficult in the cold. The reverse of that is that breaking tackles is easier. Second, kicking is more difficult. Punters may as well be punting a block of ice when conditions get that cold. Finally, and most importantly, ball security is far more difficult. Numb finger tips and a hard ball make for a lot of dropped passes and fumbles.
Before you take those factors into account, this looks like a game where the Huskies should have a decided advantage. Simply put, the Huskies come into the game in a greater state of health and playing more consistently in all three phases of the game - at least as far as the last two weeks - than the Cougars. However, when you consider the things that the Huskies are struggling in - namely red zone offense and overall ball security - you could see some advantages swing back to the Cougs.
Plus, this is the Apple Cup. So there is that.
In the end, I expect UW to find a way. Chris Petersen has cultivated a no excuses, "all business" mentality for his traveling team and I expect that most of the players - including our Denver-raised QB - won't be all that affected by the cold. I especially like our rushing attack against their front seven, even accounting for how under-rated the Cougar d-line has been all year. If that fails us, we will still have a big advantage with our D-line against their O-line. Expect to see a lot of four-man, if not three-man, rushes as the Huskies ground the Air Raid. UW 30, WSU 24