Washington State's offense will feature something that the Husky defense has seen just once this year, with that game being the loss to USC: a deadly-accurate quarterback. Luke Falk is inarguably one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12, having completed 71.4 percent of his passes (380 of 532) for 3,935 yards (7.4 yards per attempt), with 36 touchdowns against seven interceptions. However, he has struggled markedly against UCLA and Colorado's No. 1- and 2-ranked Pac-12 pass defenses; in those two games, the Washington State offense has completed just 54 of 101 attempts (53.5 percent) for 586 yards (5.8 ypa) and three touchdowns against two interceptions. Washington's pass defense ranks third in the Pac-12, and the Huskies' chances of coming away from Martin Stadium with a win will likely depend on them being able to similarly frustrate the Cougar passing attack. In addition, this year the Cougars finally developed a competent run game capable of gashing opponents who don't respect the threat posed by Jamal Morrow, James Williams, and Gerard Wicks, presenting an entirely new aspect of the Cougar offense with which the Dawgs will have to contend.
When the Huskies control the ball, the offensive linemen and Myles Gaskin will have to grapple with a WSU front seven that yields 4.05 yards per rushing attempt, which ranks fourth in the Pac-12. In particular, sophomore defensive lineman Hercules Mata'afa is the type of player to demand double-teams while still accumulating a team-high 12.0 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks. The Huskies will be well served by Jake Browning coming out firing for four quarters against a Cougar pass defense that yields 7.8 yards per attempt, and has given up 16 touchdowns while corralling 12 interceptions. Hitting on chunk plays to John Ross and Chico McClatcher will be especially key, as the Cougars have given up 122 passing plays of 10 yards or more and 18 passing plays of 30 yards or more. (For reference, the Huskies have surrendered 80 and nine plays of those distances, respectively.)
Apple Cups are notoriously difficult to predict, and Washington's position as a six-point spread favorite hardly makes me feel confident that they'll walk away from Pullman with a win. Ultimately, I think that the Huskies' deficiencies in defending the pass over the middle of the field and in the linebacker corps haunt them as Luke Falk turns in a performance that will go down in Pullman lore for generations to come. Washington 31, Washington State 38.
Trips to Pullman are not to be taken lightly. Besides the typical travails—feral sheep with sore anuses wandering the roads, frat boys spiked up on Milwaukee's Beast, and cops who will shoot you for looking at them sideways (these things are all cosmically interconnected)—a very dangerous football team awaits your Washington Huskies.
You all know the tale of the tape here. The Huskies take to the road with tremendous advantages in several aspects of the game: pass defense, rush defense, rushing attack, team health, and so on. WSU, however, has enough of their own advantages that very little can be taken for granted. In particular, UW's defensive line is sure to struggle getting pressure on Coug QB Luke Falk without blitzing which, as you know, creates opportunities for WSU's deep receiver corps to make the Air Raid work.
Weather is going to be a factor as the forecast calls for cold, wet, windy weather. Those conditions favor a Husky team that has the stouter defense and relies less on the passing game to generate offense. This will probably dampen the crowd and neutralize WSU's home field advantage.
I know that anything can happen in an Apple Cup, but I see UW winning this one. UW has to win this one. UW 42, WSU 23.
Last season I was very confident the Huskies would win the Apple Cup and it had very little to do with whether or not Luke Falk would play. The Cougs didn't have a running game and the passing game was very one-dimensional with short pass after short pass. The Huskies tackle well and that just wasn't going to work.
2016 WSU has a three-pronged running game with Jamal Morrow, Gerard Wicks, and James Williams all over 400 yards for the season and each averaging better than 5.7 yards per rush. In the passing game, Luke Falk has thrown downfield considerably more than he did a year ago, and the dude can drop the ball on a dime. Washington's entire secondary has great ball skills, so it may be tough for Falk to hit some of his over-the-shoulder-to-a-guy-that-looks-covered passes. If UW can get pressure with their four-man rush, look for Falk to complete short passes. Stopping WSU's offense may come down to whether or not the running game is successful.
The WSU defense is active and opportunistic, but do they have the speed to stay with John Ross and Dante Pettis? Can they slow Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman for an entire game? I know Wazzu is going to come out and play good run defense at the beginning of the game, and throw everything they can at Jake Browning to attempt to get him off his game. I expect the Huskies to pass early and often, then get the rushing attack going in the second half. UW 38, WSU 31.
Do you have any idea how much I just wanna curl up in fetal position and declare that it'll be 49-0? Before contributing here, I could leave it at that, but now Chris and Ryan say I have to do stuff like "actually give valuable insight" and "try."
So with that in mind, I'm really thinking it comes down to the UW O-line giving Jake the comfort to make good reads and decisions. The WSU defense under Alex Grinch, although they don't get a bunch of sacks, has improved so much at pressuring the quarterback into throwing interceptions. Jake hasn’t been super on fire protecting the ball in the air the last couple weeks (even if both those INTs against ASU were 70% Dante Pettis' fault). And, duh, giving the Cougar offense extra opportunities to score will not turn out well.
I’m still optimistic about the Air Raid playing into UW's defensive scheme and strengths. I think we could see WSU go a bit more ground-heavy by their standards, but what has me feeling decent about this game is Washington's propensity to limit opponents' big plays; since the WSU offense is mainly predicated on shorter throws, the Cougs have to complete that many more plays to march down the field against a UW defense that typically doesn't allow would-be small gains to turn into bigger chunk yardage. Although if there's anyone who can stay steady enough to do that against the Huskies, it's Luke Falk.
My hypothesis is that this will end up a pretty balanced game that's somewhat more defined by the defenses than we're probably anticipating. And for my own stress level's sake, I'd prefer it if the Husky O-line keeps their crud together.
Final prediction: Washington 38 - 30 WSU.
Or I could take the easy way out, curl up in fetal position, and go with 49-0.