University of Washington

Breaking down the Apple Cup

Is this the year Mike Leach, left, beats Washington head coach Chris Petersen in the Apple Cup?
Is this the year Mike Leach, left, beats Washington head coach Chris Petersen in the Apple Cup? AP

APPLE CUP gameday

NO. 14 WASHINGTON STATE (9-2, 6-2 PAC-12) AT NO. 15 WASHINGTON (9-2, 6-2 PAC-12)

5 p.m. Saturday, Husky Stadium

The line: UW by 10 1/2

TV: 13. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM (UW); 710-AM (WSU)

THE MATCHUPS

QUARTERBACK

Jake Browning hasn’t hit the heights of last season when he threw for 43 touchdowns but he is taking care of the ball. He’s thrown a career-low five interceptions and has completed 69.1 percent of his attempts. Luke Falk is among the nation’s best when it comes to his 3,224 yards and 29 touchdowns. He’s looked good for most of the year but has had a few costly games such as when he threw five interceptions against California. Advantage: The nod goes to Browning and UW but barely.

RUNNING BACKS

The Huskies and Cougars use their running backs in different ways. UW’s Lavon Coleman and Myles Gaskin are more traditional backs in that they run the ball and catch when needed. WSU’s Jamal Morrow and James Williams can run but the offense calls for them to be receivers. Williams has the second-most receptions on the roster while Morrow isn’t far behind. Both teams have the talent to do damage. Advantage: Let’s call this a tie.

RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS

Let’s get this done early. WSU has the advantage for several reasons. Cougars junior Tavares Martin Jr. is a do-everything threat with 65 catches for 769 yards and nine touchdowns. Huskies senior Dante Pettis has 60 catches for 706 yards and seven touchdowns. Beyond Pettis, UW doesn’t have anyone who can match WSU when it comes to receiver depth. WSU has four receivers with more than 460 yards. UW could come close to matching that assuming Hunter Bryant, Chico McClatcher and Quinten Pounds don’t get injured. Advantage: Give this one to WSU.

OFFENSIVE LINE

WSU’s line entered the season as a strength given it has talents like Cody “Big Continent” O’Connell, Andre Dillard and Cole Madison. Still, it’s been a difficult season for the Cougars. They’ve allowed 39 sacks, which is the third-worst total in the nation. UW’s line has allowed 15 sacks and the Huskies have done it without star left tackle Trey Adams, who has been out since October. The Huskies have kept continuity with the line in Adams’ absence. Advantage: This one goes to UW.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Does there really have to be a choice here? Both of these fronts are beyond good and have been relentless throughout the season. UW is fourth against the run while WSU is 19th. The Huskies are tied for 10th in sacks while the Cougars are eighth. The difference here is WSU has Hercules Mata’afa, who might be the best defensive player in the Pac-12. Advantage: WSU, because of Mata’afa.

LINEBACKERS

UW and WSU have both been good and have done it in different ways. The Huskies have watched Ben Burr-Kirven become the team’s leading tackler. He’s been so productive it forced UW to find another role for Azeem Victor, the preseason All-American, who has since been indefinitely suspended. WSU has a star in its own right in Jahad Woods, who has become a force in the wake of injuries decimating the Cougars at linebacker. Between Burr-Kirven’s rise and the experience of Tevis Bartlett and Keishawn Bierria, the Huskies have good depth here. Advantage: UW.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Talk about an interesting case study. UW’s secondary lost Jordan Miller for the year and just got Byron Murphy back into the fold. The Huskies are still eighth against the pass. What makes WSU better is how the Cougars have forced the issue. Ranked 15th in interceptions, WSU has made teams pay for throwing the ball. Plus, the Cougars are 12th against the pass. If that’s not enough, WSU has a star in Jalen Thompson. The sophomore safety leads the Cougars with 63 tackles, four interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Advantage: Both secondaries are good but the edge goes to WSU.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Let’s start with kickers. UW has had issues. It was costly in a loss to Arizona State but received vindication when Tristan Vizcaino hit a game-winner against Utah. UW is still 115th in field goal percentage at 55 percent. It’s a contrast compared to WSU, which ranks 29th. Neither team’s punting has been stellar but UW has been a bit better. The Huskies are 91st whereas the Cougars are 125th. The same goes for kickoff returns. UW is 73rd – which is about average – whereas WSU is dead last. What gives UW the edge is Pettis. He has the potential to make any punt return a touchdown. WSU has one punt return over 20 yards. Pettis has seven. Advantage: UW.

INTANGIBLES

Recent Apple Cups have been one-sided and it appears that streak won’t continue. WSU has more to lose given a win sends the Cougars to the Pac-12 Championship Game. UW is out of that discussion. But a win can do two things for UW. First, it gives the Huskies five straight wins over their in-state rival. The second bonus for UW is clinching a 10-win season. It’d be the 12th time in school history and the first consecutive campaigns of 10 or more wins since the 1990-1991 seasons.

THE PICK

Washington 28, Washington State 24

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