Brock Huard’s keys: Expect a very different Apple Cup between No. 7 WSU and No. 16 UW
An Apple Cup for the ages has taken shape for Friday in the Palouse.
The road team, the No. 16 UW Huskies, came into the season with high hopes of returning to the College Football Playoff. While three losses derailed those aspirations, the Pac-12 North title is still in play, which would be delivered along with a chance at a Rose Bowl bid if Washington wins its sixth straight Apple Cup.
The home team, the No. 7 WSU Cougars, are the surprise of college football. The team has rallied together out of tragedy, with graduate transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew (and his mustache) taking Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense as far as it has gone in Pullman. That coupled with a strong defense under new defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has the Cougs not only in control of their destiny to win their first Pac-12 North championship, but has them still in the mix (albeit as the longest of long shots) for the CFP.
With that out of the way, let’s take stock of one of the biggest games ever in the 111-year history of the UW-WSU rivalry with the keys to the game from 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock Huard. Not only did he quarterback the Huskies in some Apple Cups himself in the 1990s, but he was on the call for ESPN during WSU’s games in each of the last two weeks.
Here what Brock has to say about the game, which you can hear on 710 ESPN Seattle beginning with the pregame show at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
Don’t expect UW’s defense to dominate Mike Leach’s team this time.
The Huskies have been so good at all three levels of their defense in the last three matchups with the Cougars. The challenge this season is the line of scrimmage, where Washington has no one like Vita Vea or Elijah Qualls at the side of Greg Gaines to impact the pocket in three- and four-man rushes. For the first time in a long time, the advantage at the line goes to WSU with an offensive line that has given up just nine sacks in nearly 600 pass attempts 11 games into a season.
This isn’t the same WSU defense, either.
New Washington State defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys will do two things more consistently than his predecessor Alex Grinch against UW:
• 1) Overload the box and leave his cornerbacks in 1-on-1 match-ups;
• 2) Stunt/slant/pressure with all 11 members of the defense, especially with an under-sized front seven that will never stay still or play the same front twice.
The experience advantage still belongs to the Huskies.
There is no question the Huskies’ seniors will feel very confident lining up against a group of Cougars they have beaten handily each of the last three years. The wild card is most certainly WSU quarterback Gardner Minshew, who comes into this rivalry fresh and confident. He will face the best secondary he’s seen all season, however, and the wind, wet and cold will present the biggest challenge to date for the Mississippi boy who will be playing in the worst elements of his career.
No room for error against the Cougs’ offense.
The single biggest stat I will be tracking Friday will be yards after catch. UW has to tackle in space, which has not been a strong suit. The last two weeks the Huskies have given up over 200-plus yards in that area as check-downs, crossing routes and shots down the seam have turned into chunk plays because of broken tackles after the catch. If the Huskies limit yards after catch, they will limit the explosive plays the best passing offense in college football relies on.
The key players on both sides of the ball for each team:
• UW running back Myles Gaskin (Yards after contact)
• UW safety Taylor Rapp (Is there a takeaway to be had?)
• WSU running backs James Williams and Max Borghi (Yards after catch)
• WSU linebacker Peyton Pelluer (Tackles and tackles for loss)
If UW wins, the story of the game will be…
Engine No. 9, the play-action pass off of his run game, and the execution on third down and in the red zone from quarterback Jake Browning that has been exceptional in his career against WSU but underwhelming in 2018.
If WSU wins, the story of the game will be…
The No. 1 fourth quarter team in America wins in the end, like it has done all season in the biggest moments (and where its rival from the west side fell short in 2018). Constantly playing to win, never fearing failure or defeat, Minshew and company deliver a storybook season no one saw coming.
Prediction: WSU 34, UW 24.
More Apple Cup coverage on 710Sports.com
• Moore: This is WSU’s year to knock off Huskies, end Apple Cup skid
• Heaps’ Apple Cup preview: WSU’s Air Raid vs Huskies’ secondary
• Apple Cup Story Time: Ex-UW QB Brock Huard with Tom Wassell
• Apple Cup Story Time: WSU fan Jim Moore, UW fan Danny O’Neil
• The X-factor in this year’s Apple Cup? WSU QB Gardner Minshew
• Only Apple Cup stands in way of No. 7 WSU winning Pac-12 North title
• UW QB Jake Browning has chance to cap stellar career in Apple Cup