For the Apple Cup each season, the News Tribune prints an expanded gameday box with position-by-position analysis of the game. So that will stand in as our weekly prediction post, too, with my pick for the final score at the end.
No. 20 WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS (8-3, 6-2 in Pac-12) at WASHINGTON HUSKIES (5-6, 3-5 in Pac-12)
12:30 p.m. Friday, Husky Stadium, Seattle
TV: FOX. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7 FM (UW); 710-AM (WSU)
THE MATCHUPS, THE EDGE
If it were a sure thing that Luke Falk were playing for WSU, this would be a no-brainer. Falk has been one of the most productive quarterbacks in the country, throwing for 4,266 yards, 36 touchdowns and eight interceptions. But head injuries in consecutive games have muddied his status for Friday. Without him, WSU would start redshirt freshman Peyton Bender, who has shown promise but simply hasn’t played very much. UW freshman Jake Browning is coming off a game against Oregon State in which he completed 18-of-20 passes for 211 yards and four touchdowns, and he’s completed 62.4 percent of his passes this season for 2,468 yards, 16 TDs and 9 picks. If Bender starts, I’d give UW the nod at QB. If Falk plays, it’s an easy call for WSU. THE EDGE: IT DEPENDS
Myles Gaskin’s 983 yards rushing are 426 yards more than any WSU running back, but that’s not a totally relevant stat, given how often the Cougars throw the ball. WSU’s Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and Keith Harrington each average 5.9 yards per rush or better, and the trio has combined for 99 receptions, 683 yards and six touchdowns. Meanwhile, the status of UW tailback Dwayne Washington (leg) remains unknown, so Deontae Cooper might again step in as the No. 2 back. Interestingly enough, WSU’s three running backs average 6.45 yards per touch from scrimmage, rushing and receiving. UW’s top four – Gaskin, Washington, Cooper and Lavon Coleman – average 6.42. Tough call. The Huskies have the best back on the field, but WSU has a deeper group as a whole, especially if Dwayne Washington can’t play. THE EDGE: WSU
No debate here. WSU’s top receiving duo of Gabe Marks and Dom Williams have combined for 159 catches, 2,017 yards and 24 touchdowns, and the Cougars have several other weapons, too (though River Cracraft is likely out again due to injury). The Huskies haven’t gotten nearly as much out of this position as they would have liked. They are led by the 45 catches and 516 yards of Jaydon Mickens, and tight end Joshua Perkins has 32 receptions for 461 yards and three touchdowns. An easy call. THE EDGE: WSU
WSU is a little banged up here, with star left tackle Joe Dahl likely out due to an apparent foot injury – he wore a walking boot during Senior Day festivities last week – and center Riley Sorenson’s status uncertain after he missed last week’s game against Colorado. The Cougars have allowed more sacks (35) than all but nine FBS teams, though they throw the ball so much that their sack totals will always be a little inflated. The Huskies have given up 31 sacks despite attempting 285 fewer passes than WSU. I see this as close to a toss-up, but will give the nod to the Cougars’ more experienced crew. THE EDGE: WSU
The Cougars are big and physical here, and the trio of Destiny Vaeao, Robert Barber and Darryl Paulo has started each game. Kache Palacio and Ivan McClennan occupy the buck linebacker spot. After losing four seniors to graduation, the Huskies have reloaded decently well, and they might be regaining sophomore nose tackle Elijah Qualls, who missed the last three games due to an ankle injury. Taniela Tupou, Joe Mathis, Greg Gaines and Vita Vea have been strong contributors, too. UW’s rush defense has been solid this year – they rank 21st nationally in yards per rush allowed, while WSU ranks 109th – and the D-line has been a big part of that. THE EDGE: UW
WSU’s base defense lists two inside linebackers, a buck and a nickel. Peyton Pelluer (middle) and Jeremiah Allison (weakside) have started every game, and Pelluer leads the team with 87 tackles and 10 tackles for loss. Allison is second on the team with 80 tackles. The Huskies are led by middle linebacker Azeem Victor (84 tackles, 7.5 TFL), Keishawn Bierria (62 tackles, 6.5 TFL), Cory Littleton (58 tackles, 10.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks) and buck linebacker Travis Feeney (50 tackles, 14.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks), though Feeney hurt his shoulder last week and it’s not clear if he’ll play. Think UW’s production wins out, anyway. THE EDGE: UW
This might be the Huskies’ most consistent position group, after they were mostly a liability last season. Sidney Jones and Darren Gardenhire have been reliable at the corner positions, Kevin King has played well at nickel (three INTs), and Budda Baker commands the group at free safety. WSU has also defended the pass well during Pac-12 play, limiting conference opponents to just 6.4 yards per pass attempts and only nine touchdowns. UW has allowed only eight passing touchdowns all season, and ranks second in the league in passer rating allowed. Another tough call. THE EDGE: UW
WSU allows fewer yards per kickoff return than UW, though the Cougars have given up two touchdowns and UW none. The Cougars also rank 125th nationally in yards per punt return allowed, and they’ve given up two touchdowns in that category, too. UW hasn’t given up a special-teams touchdown this year, and punt returner Dante Pettis has scored two himself. Each team’s kicker has been fine – Erik Powell is 17-for-22 with a long of 47, Cameron Van Winkle is 12-for-15 with a long of 49. WSU is last in the Pac-12 in net yards per punt, while UW is eighth. Think the Huskies have this one. THE EDGE: UW
There might be a little more on the line for the Huskies, who need to win to guarantee themselves a spot in a bowl game (though it’s possible this season that they could still get a bid with a 5-7 record). WSU is trying to assure its first nine-win season since 2003, and jockeying some for bowl position, too. … There is no rain in the forecast and the sun is supposed to be out, though temperatures are expected be in the mid-40s. … UW has won five of its last six against the Cougars, and hasn’t lost at Husky Stadium since 2007 (though only two Apple Cups have been played there since, with the 2011 game being held at CenturyLink Field).
THE PICK: Washington 31, Washington State 27
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple