Breaking down the Apple Cup

christian.caple@thenewstribune.comNovember 29, 2013 

WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS (6-5, 4-4 PAC-12) at WASHINGTON HUSKIES (7-4, 4-4)

12:30 p.m. today, Husky Stadium, Seattle; TV: FOX, Ch. 13; Radio: 950-AM (UW); 710-AM (WSU)

THE MATCHUPS

QUARTERBACK

Keith Price has mostly returned to his sophomore-year form for the Huskies, which is a good thing for UW — but he’s still recovering from an injury to his throwing shoulder, and it’s unclear whether he will play. If Price doesn’t, backup Cyler Miles will make his second career start. WSU quarterback Connor Halliday ranks third in the nation in passing and is coming off a 39-for-62, 488-yard, four-touchdown, zero-interception game against Utah. If Price plays, his consistency might give UW the edge. If Miles plays, give the nod to Halliday. Edge: Even.

RUNNING BACKS

WSU’s backs get fewer carries than any team in the country. With 1,575 yards, UW junior Bishop Sankey is 121 yards shy of breaking the school’s single-season rushing record. So, yeah. Edge: UW.

RECEIVERS

The Huskies feel good about their top flight of pass-catchers — Jaydon Mickens, Kevin Smith and Damore’ea Stringfellow, plus Austin Seferian-Jenkins at tight end — but WSU is very deep at receiver. The Cougars have eight receivers with 30 or more catches, and it’s not uncommon for Halliday to complete passes to 10 receivers in a game. Gabe Marks, Kristoff Williams, Dom Williams and Vince Mayle anchor the group. Edge: WSU.

OFFENSIVE LINE

It has been an up-and-down season for both of these offensive lines, though both had their best performances of the season a week ago: UW’s line blocked for a rushing attack that gained 530 yards, and WSU’s line didn’t allow a sack against a tough Utah defense that had 62 chances to get to Halliday. The Huskies allowed more sacks this season than the Cougars, but their success in the running game mitigates that difference, if only slightly. Edge: UW.

DEFENSIVE LINE

UW would have liked a more consistent pass rush this season, but the Huskies rank 20th in the country with 2.82 sacks per game. Defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha has played particularly well lately, and nose tackle Danny Shelton is as important to UW’s cause as any defensive player. The Cougars haven’t sacked the quarterback as often this year as they did in 2012. UW’s run defense has been slightly better, too, though WSU’s group — Toni Pole, Xavier Cooper (Wilson High) and Ioane Gauta — has proven capable of matching well with strong rushing attacks. Edge: UW.

LINEBACKERS

Shaq Thompson, John Timu and Princeton Fuimaono constitute a formidable UW crew that has mostly followed up its improved performance from a year ago. Darryl Monroe is one of WSU’s best defensive players at middle linebacker, and Cyrus Coen and Justin Sagote have been fairly consistent around him. Another close call, but UW’s overall athleticism earns the nod. Edge: UW.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

WSU started strong in its first four games, but it now ranks 111th nationally in pass defense and has been exposed by better-throwing teams. WSU’s Deone Bucannon has been a bright spot at safety, and Damante Horton has shown big-play ability at cornerback with three interceptions returned for touchdowns. But UW’s group has been pretty steady all year, especially Sean Parker at safety and Marcus Peters emerging as one of the Pac-12’s best corners. Edge: UW.

SPECIAL TEAMS

UW has been mostly sound after a nightmarish showing in an Oct. 5 loss at Stanford. Huskies freshman John Ross almost returned a kickoff for a touchdown last week. WSU has the better kicker in Andrew Furney, who hasn’t made as high of a percentage of his kicks as Travis Coons but has better range and better performance under pressure. WSU covers kickoffs better. UW covers punts better. WSU has higher kickoff and punt return numbers, but Mike Bowlin has been shaky as the Cougars’ punter, and Coons has been solid all season. Close call here. Edge: WSU.

INTANGIBLES

WSU is trying to solidify its bowl prospects, and a victory and a 7-5 record would do that. The Huskies are desperate to win eight games in a season for the first time since 2001 and are bent on payback for last year’s Apple Cup collapse. Edge: WSU.

THE PICK

Betting line is 16.5 points, which seems pretty high. Cougars cover, but Huskies win, 38-27.

christian.caple@thenewstribune.com

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