No. 5 WASHINGTON HUSKIES (10-1, 7-1 in Pac-12) at No. 23 WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS (8-3, 7-1 in Pac-12)
12:30 p.m. Friday, Martin Stadium, Pullman
TV: FOX. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7 FM (UW); 710-AM (WSU)
The line: Washington by 6
Each year for the Apple Cup, we put together a position-by-position breakdown that runs in Friday’s newspaper. Here is that breakdown, along with my pick at the end.
This year’s Apple Cup offers one of the most intriguing quarterback matchups in recent memory. Jake Browning has thrown 37 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Luke Falk has thrown 36 touchdown passes and seven interceptions, but has attempted 232 more passes. Browning has the more efficient statistical profile, though Falk is the more seasoned passer. Given WSU’s struggles defending the pass this season compared to UW’s typically stout secondary, I might lean toward giving the edge to Browning … but Falk is so accurate and poised that this one feels too close to call.
THE EDGE: TOSS UP
This is always a difficult comparison when WSU is involved, partially because the Cougars don’t have a primary back, but also because their stable of running backs catches a bunch of passes. Jamal Morrow has been the most productive of the bunch, with a team-high 531 yards rushing and 468 receiving yards on 44 catches. Gerard Wicks is third on the team in rushing, yet has 11 touchdowns, and James Williams, perhaps the most talented of them all, has 41 receptions to go along with 531 yards rushing and six touchdowns. UW, meanwhile, has the game’s top rusher in Myles Gaskin, who has gone over the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season, and a backup in Lavon Coleman who leads all qualified Pac-12 players in yards per rush. It’s a tough call.
THE EDGE: TOSS-UP
Entering the season, it seemed WSU would have a much bigger advantage here. But things have changed a little. The Cougars still have Gabe Marks (74 catches, 755 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Tavares Martin (57 catches, 671 yards, 7 touchdowns), but will be without senior River Cracraft (torn ACL). The Huskies boast John Ross (64 catches, 991 yards, 15 touchdowns) and Dante Pettis (46 catches, 701 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Chico McClatcher (22 catches, 489 yards, 5 touchdowns). Throw in WSU slot receivers Kyle Sweet and Robert Lewis, and I think the Cougars just barely have the better stable of pass catchers.
THE EDGE: WSU
This seems to be the best offensive line the Cougars have had in their five seasons under coach Mike Leach, especially with fourth-year junior left guard Cody O’Connell recently being named an Outland Trophy finalist. WSU surrenders 2.27 sacks per game, compared to 1.73 for UW, though the Cougars attempt an average of 22.7 more passes per game than the Huskies, which skews things quite a bit. For the most part, WSU protects Falk pretty well.
THE EDGE: WSU
The Huskies will have their hands full with WSU defensive end Hercules Mata’afa, who leads his team with 12.0 tackles for loss and four sacks. And the Cougars did re-gain the formerly suspended Robert Barber last week. The starting nose tackle is particularly stout against the run. But UW’s big, athletic crew of Elijah Qualls, Greg Gaines and Vita Vea probably deserve the nod here.
THE EDGE: UW
If Azeem Victor were healthy, there wouldn’t be much question that UW has the better group, but now it’s not as clear. The Huskies still have junior Keishawn Bierria, with Psalm Wooching at strongside linebacker and redshirt freshman DJ Beavers filling in for Victor at middle linebacker. WSU is led by senior Peyton Pelluer (80 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss), and fifth-year senior Parker Henry is a solid player, too. But the Huskies’ depth puts them over the top.
THE EDGE: UW
Browning will have to keep an eye on WSU safety Shalom Luani, who leads the team with four interceptions in 10 games this season and is a hard-hitting enforcer with 51 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss. But UW’s secondary is littered with potential first-team All-Pac-12 players in Sidney Jones, Kevin King and Budda Baker.
THE EDGE: UW
WSU’s Kaleb Fossum returned a punt for a touchdown two weeks ago against California, the Cougars’ first since 2005. But the Huskies have Ross (four career return TDs) at kick returner and Pettis at punt returner (five career return TDs), both of whom hold UW records for return touchdowns at their respective positions. UW also has the better kicker, senior Cameron Van Winkle, and the Huskies lead the Pac-12 in opponent kickoff return average. An easy call.
THE EDGE: UW
The stakes are pretty much even: UW still harbors College Football Playoff hopes, but both teams can win the Pac-12 North with a victory. Motivation will not be an issue for either team. … The forecast is for temperatures in the low to mid-40s by kickoff, with intermittent rain showers throughout the afternoon. … UW has won six of the last seven Apple Cups.
Both teams have highly capable offenses with multiple playmakers, but I don’t think there is much question the Huskies have the better defense. Here’s a guess Washington wins its first-ever Pac-12 North title tomorrow afternoon.
Washington 38, Washington State 31