Apple Cup Primer

Nov 23, 2011, 1:59 PM

Here we go folks…the biggest college rivalry game ever…held in Century Link Field.

Okay, this one isn’t exactly “for all the apples” or really for anything but bowl position for the huskies and perhaps a coach’s job for the Cougs.

Either way, as usual, it lacks much pizzazz. Had the Cougs pulled out a win against Utah last week, things would be a bit different, but unfortunately “almost” wins don’t count.

What we’re faced with Saturday are two teams who have some major struggles and a few bright spots. The huskies came out of the gates this season playing decent football against bad teams and came away with wins. Then, they played pretty good football against more bad teams and got wins there too. Before they knew it, they were “unstoppable” and bowl bound. Of course, they then started playing good teams and got manhandled. Then, they played bad teams and got manhandled.

Now, they face the Cougs – a team that can be pretty good or very bad depending on the weekend. Who knows which team they’ll face this weekend. The last time they played in Century Link field, against Oregon State, the “bad” team showed up and they were beaten handily.

The Cougar struggles are numerous, and start at the QB position. Jeff Tuel never got going and Marshall Lobbestael’s workmanlike performances were not good enough and he was replaced by third-string frosh Connor Halliday. Halliday was quickly subjected to the rite of QB passage in the Wulff era – getting destroyed by an opposing D -and is out with a lacerated liver. So the Cougs are back to Lobbestael.

Of course, Marshall Lobbestael is a backup with a lot of experience and can certainly run this offense. He may not be the first choice, or even the second, but he’s a darn good third.

Because of this, the Cougar strength, surprisingly, may be their D in this game. In their last two contests, the previously sleep-walking defense has come alive. We’re not talking Palouse Posse numbers, but they were actually able to pressure ASU’s QB and all but shut down their running game. Against Utah, they held the Utes scoreless on offense for the entire first half, forcing six-straight punts before surrendering a TD on a fake punt.

These are positive signs for the Cougs, as their mantra this season essentially has been “try to outscore the other guys.” With a constant merry-go-round of QBs, this has been a difficult task.

They do have a tough task ahead of them, though, with Keith Price healthy and Chris Polk powering through another 1000-yard season. The husky offense has been a little weak during their recent funk and it seems that they are simply unable to get on the same page like they were in earlier weeks.

But, it’s The Apple Cup. Even if the game doesn’t exactly pack the same sort of punch it did a decade ago, one thing we’ve noticed over these down years is that the games have all been very close, minus the 30-0 result in ’09. Even including that game, though, the average margin of victory since ’04 has been a mere 8 points. Both teams get up for this game and play pretty decent football despite what’s on the line.

Back to “what’s on the line” for this one – aside from the bragging rights and the final game for the seniors (at least for the Cougs), there’s a bit of controversy on both sidelines that will certainly come in to play. The Cougar coaching staff is long-embroiled in controversy and a big win (or any win) might be enough to keep them all employed. You would have to guess that they will be pulling out all the stops for this one.

On the other sideline, the husky defensive staff will be looking to take a bit of the pressure off themselves with a great performance as well.

Defensive coordinator Nick Holt has endured the brunt of the husky-fan frustration lately, as his miserable performance has not remotely lived up to his massive paychecks. The UW D has been manhandled, giving up an average of 430 yards per game, third-worst in the conference (#93 in the nation), besting only Colorado and Arizona. They allow 34.5 points per game, also good for 10th in the Pac (#105 in the nation) and their passing D ranks #11 (#112 in the nation), giving up 278 yards per outing. The run defense has been the “bright” spot, as it ranks #7 in the conference, giving up 152 yards. By the way, Holt gets paid more than Paul Wulff.

Despite which QB is running the offense for the Cougs, there will be opportunities to score. Lobbestael, not the strongest-arm in the Cougar QB corps, will have the opportunity to throw long and I’m only guessing he will. And, it’s not like the Cougar D, despite it’s improvement, is going to put too big of a scare in to the pretty balance UW offense. So what that means is we’re in for a good ol’ donnybrook on Saturday.

So what will the final score be?

Cougs 43, huskies 39

*Of course, if the Cougs were starting their 11th-string QB and UW was starting Jesus, I’d still pick the Cougs to win.

Happy Thanksgiving…and GO COUGS!

WSU

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Apple Cup Primer