Oddsmakers favor Washington by 10 points in the Apple Cup, which means the Dawgs should win comfortably because the guys who set the betting lines are usually pretty accurate. But sometimes they’re off, and I think this is one of those times.
If I were setting the line on this game, I’d have the Huskies favored by 3, giving them the three points for home field. Other than that, the teams look evenly matched to me.
I wouldn’t have said this last month before Washington lost at Arizona State. Before that game, I thought the Huskies might be better than the team that played in the Final Four of the national championship playoff last year. Then when they lost to Stanford, it proved that the loss to ASU wasn’t really a fluke – they could be beaten by other teams too. And last Saturday, they needed some last-minute heroics to defeat Utah, further encouraging me to think the Cougs could beat them in the Apple Cup.
Then again, if you’re a Dawg fan, you look at our game against Cal last month and think, man, the Cougs can’t be that great if they got blown out by the Golden Bears. And they followed that up with a second loss to Arizona, and again, if you’re a Dawg fan you’re thinking: How truly good is that Speed D in Pullman if it can allow 58 points to the Wildcats?
With injuries in the Huskies’ secondary, Luke Falk has the opportunity for a big night. Although the Dawgs lead the Pac-12 in every defensive category, they have given up 30 points in the last two games to two teams, Stanford and Utah, that aren’t exactly known for having high-powered offenses. That’s not the case with Washington State.
Problem is, Falk has been much better at home than he’s been on the road. At Martin Stadium, Falk completed 71 percent of his passes this year with 22 touchdowns and three interceptions. On the road he was at 59 percent with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions, including five at Cal.
I’m not sure why there’s such a big difference, particularly when he was so good on the road last year. But that bears watching in this game, especially if the Washington pass rush gets to him – Falk has a tendency to go down like a load of bricks when hit.
On the other side of it, Jake Browning is coming off of his best game, leading the Huskies to a 33-30 win over Utah. He’ll have to deal with Hercules Mata’afa, the Cougs’ one-man wrecking crew who leads the Pac-12 in tackles for loss with 18.
Dante Pettis is a concern as a receiver, but it’s his punt returns that worry me. This kid is so good at returning punts for touchdowns that I hope Kyle Sweet punts it out of bounds every time. I don’t care if the Cougars give up field position by using this strategy – better to give up 10 to 15 yards than 70 or 80 and watching Pettis celebrate in the end zone while that damn siren goes off at Husky Stadium. I hate that siren with every fiber of my being.
The Cougs have the kicking edge with Erik Powell, but maybe UW’s Tristan Vizcaino came out of his season-long slump with the game-winning 38-yard field goal against Utah.
When I look at this game, I see two defenses that are almost equally good – I suppose if you forced me to pick one over the other, Washington would have a slight advantage. But it’s pretty clear to everyone that the Cougs have a better offense.
The Cougs also have more at stake – the Pac-12 North title with a chance to play USC in the conference title game next Friday. The Huskies are in the spoiler role for a change – the only thing they can do is improve their chances of going to a better bowl game. And I’d like to point out that most frequently when the Cougars have been in the spoiler role, they haven’t done much in the way of spoiling anything but our hopes of having a good time after the Apple Cup.
I’m hoping that’s the case for Washington Saturday night. In fact, I know that will be the case for Washington, punctuating a disappointing season with another loss. I’ve watched 43 of these games as Cougar fan, and the last time I was this confident going into an Apple Cup was 20 years ago when we were six-point underdogs and beat Washington 41-35 to go to the Rose Bowl.
I’m a firm believer in happy anniversaries and history repeating itself, which is why I think the Cougs will win 34-27.
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