Something is rotten in Montlake. When my subjective perception differs from big picture data, I try to remain as objective as possible. All season, the stats have said that this Husky team is better than their outcomes on the field- that they have had a combination of bad luck and bad timing that have led to negative results when the underlying performances deserved better. Virtually every advanced stat model agrees and the Huskies have consistently rated in the top 20 even though they haven’t looked like a top-20 team on the field the vast majority of the time. Likewise, Jacob Eason has been rated as the #5 draft eligible QB in the country, but it would be hard to place his recent performances in the top 5 in the Pac-12 North. In that vein, it’s hard to imagine picking the Huskies to beat anyone with a pulse by a TD right now.
Of course, if you zoom out even further, the picture becomes more favorable to UW. The Huskies have come into a majority of the 5 Petersen vs. Leach Apple Cups as the lower-rated team or with a worse record. This year, the teams come in with identical records, though WSU’s consecutive wins give their fans a better feeling about the squad. In those five games, the Huskies have outscored the Cougs 190-69, won the turnover battle 19-6, and held WSU under half of their season average for points scored every time. Even on teams that weren’t among the best statistical defenses in the country (like the 2014-15 editions), coaches Kwiatkowski and Lake have had no trouble game planning for the Air Raid.
So where does that leave us this time around? I’m going to split the difference and say that the Husky O-Line does not have the catastrophic performance that doomed the offense against Colorado, nor does Jacob Eason melt down mentally in the same way that nearly cost UW against Oregon State. The Dawgs have run the ball down WSU’s throat year after year, and that game plan should work against a defense that allows 176 yards per game. Salvon Ahmed and Richard Newton are not on Myles Gaskin’s level, but Dwayne Washington and Lavon Coleman also torched this defense. Anthony Gordon will likely put up some solid numbers, but if history is any guide, he will also throw lots of incomplete passes and WSU will turn the ball over more than the Dawgs. It won’t be the kind of thorough beat-down of the last few years, but I need to see Leach come close against Petersen before I can pick his team to win outright, especially on the road.
Washington- 27, Washington State- 23
The magic number is 20. As in “can the Husky defense prevent WSU from scoring 20 points?” If they can, the offense has a fighting chance. If they can’t, it’s not clear to me that UW’s offense can actually put more than three scores on the board. This is a Husky team that has repeatedly failed to play to their talent level and whose confidence in what they are doing and who they do it with is non-existent. That may be fixable during 15 bowl practices, but not in a short week. While WSU isn’t playing for a Rose Bowl, this weekend still feels a lot like 1997 to me with a similar result coming.
Washington- 17, Washington State- 28
Gonna start by self-plagiarizing these thoughts from the Washington State defensive preview (Why haven’t I been doing that all year? Wow I’m dumb.):
”Watching Wazzu’s defense’s propensity to give up a couple huge runs up the middle each game, Salvon Ahmed and Richard Newton should be able to have statistically significant stats. Of course, we also thought that last week, and everyone knows how that went.
In all seriousness, if Washington’s offense plays like how it looked at its best this season (or even at its mediocre-est, honestly), they shouldn’t have much difficulty. But at Washington’s worst, like the last two weeks, Stanford, and the first half of Arizona, that offense could probably lose to literally anybody. And WSU’s defense, despite having its own struggles this year, does fall under the umbrella of ‘literally anybody.’
So, I suppose: if Hamdan sticks to the run and the offensive line doesn’t become as useless in the run as they were last week, Ahmed, Newton, and/or McGrew could have huge games and be the backbone of this offense. But if the offensive line is as turnstile-adjacent as they were on Saturday — even Jesus fused with Allah in the body of Myles Gaskin wouldn’t be able to do anything.”
Pretty much, for Washington’s offense, I feel like it really just comes down to the offensive line not sucking and Hamdan committing to the run (or, at least, unless the offensive line sucks and then it depends on Eason’s brain not breaking). For the defense, it feels like the Cougs should score about 21 points, give or take, regardless -- even with the fact that this has been a rebuilding year for Washington’s defense, too, they’ve come on better lately, WSU’s offense obviously plays right into their hands, and the Cougs haven’t scored more than 17 against Petersen. All things considered, giving WSU a few more points makes sense, so then it all comes back to Washington’s offense.
Since the Dawgs’ offense can be divided into Good Dawgs and Bad Dawgs (although we all know all dogs are, in fact, good), this comes down to which offense -- specifically which offensive line, receivers, and Eason -- show up.
Bad Dawgs: 20 - 21 WSU
Good Dawgs: 34 - 21 WSU
Editor’s Note: I am going to assume Average Dawgs as the official prediction entry.
Washington- 27, Washington State- 21
There are a lot of seemingly important factors in this game. The shutout that Chris Petersen has pitched against Mike Leach. The Huskies’ recent record in home games against unranked opponents. The ridiculously bad Washington State defense.
But the one thing that matters most in this game is something that we have no way to quantify which makes a stat-head like me extremely uncomfortable. Is the offense so thoroughly and completely broken that they can’t rally for a home rivalry game? If the answer to that question is yes then the Huskies don’t really have a chance. The Washington defensive success against the air raid has come from their sure tackling and speed on the perimeter. This season’s team has clearly taken a step back with a lot of youth along their back 7. If the Cougars are ever able to get Max Borghi coming out of the backfield against Kyler Manu you can guarantee it’s going for 20+.
This will be the 3rd straight opponent with a terrible pass defense and the Husky offense failed to crack 20 points in either game. However both were on the road and in general Washington has been a much better home team, as are most programs. Meanwhile the Cougars are 0-4 in road games and given up at least 33 points in all of them. Even against a Devon Modster-led Cal team. There’s simply too much talent for Washington and too little for Washington State for the Huskies to not have a solid day on offense unless Jacob Eason’s brain has been fully reduced to mush. And that’s not outside the realm of possibility.
Which pattern holds more weight? The Huskies’ string of wins against Mike Leach teams or the offense’s recent string of duds? Pretty much no outcome in this game could surprise me so I’m going to try to preserve a little bit of hope even if only for another 24 hours.
Washington- 30, Washington State- 24
Straight Up: 3-1
Against the Spread (UW -7): 0-4
Average Score: Washington- 25.3, Washington State- 24