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Huard: UW will need a team effort to handle WSU’s defense in Apple Cup

Jake Browning and the Husky offense will face a much more frenzied defense from WSU. (AP)

The No. 15 Washington Huskies (9-2 overall, 6-2 Pac-12) will find themselves in an unfamiliar position in Saturday’s 5 p.m. Apple Cup against No. 14 WSU – trying to play spoiler. Though UW comes in as a 10-point favorite at home, the Huskies are out of the conference title hunt. And while WSU has an identical record, the Cougars can clinch the Pac-12 North and advance to next week’s Pac-12 Championship game with a victory at Husky Stadium.

The keys to the game for Washington from ESPN college football analyst and 710 ESPN Seattle host Brock Huard’s keys to the game are below. And if you’re looking for a preview from the Washington State side, read Jim Moore’s column at this link.

1. Be ready for a new kind of defense from the Cougars.

What’s different this year is that WSU is second in total defense in the conference, trailing only UW. WSU was good defensively last season, but they’ve become great in 2017 because of continued development in its secondary and one of the country’s best players regardless of position in defensive end Hercules Mata’afa.

2. Make WSU quarterback Luke Falk uncomfortable like in his previous two Apple Cups.

Falk will have to cut it loose on Saturday. UW’s defense has had his number in this matchup by mixing up so many of its fronts and coverages, both pre- and post-snap. Luke loves to win the battle from the neck up, but at times it paralyzes his play-making and rhythm. The quicker the ball comes out Saturday the better for Falk and WSU.

3. Washington needs a team effort on offense to handle WSU’s pressure.

Handling the blitz, pressure and movement of WSU’s front seven will be the biggest key for the Huskies, and it will take everyone on offense to do so. Wide receivers have to get off press, the line has to communicate pre- and post-snap, and the running backs will have to be patient knowing some plays will run right into pressure. Lastly, quarterback Jake Browning will have to use his cadence, poise and experience to read and react to the multitude of looks.

4. Don’t let WSU’s kicking game decide the outcome.

WSU has the kicker advantage and UW has the punt and punt return advantage. The weather forecasts to be gray and wet, and handling the ball in the return game as well as the snap game will be crucial. WSU’s struggles with punting and UW’s struggles with place-kicking do present two incredible storylines that could very easily determine the outcome of this one.

5. No big mistakes.

Make the ordinary plays in the extraordinary environment. Husky Stadium should be rocking and with what’s on the line for WSU, and with the Cougs coming off a bye you will get their best shot.

Prediction: UW 27, WSU 26.

MORE APPLE CUP COVERAGE

John Clayton’s Schooled podcast with former WSU QB Ryan Leaf

Danny O’Neil: Huskies don’t hate the Cougs; we whup them

Brock Huard: Why are the Huskies’ 10-point favorites over Cougs?

Jim Moore: WSU will try to fend off UW in spoiler role