Apple Cup: WSU can end Huskies’ run, earn trip to Pac-12 title game

Nov 24, 2016, 10:43 AM
UW has a talented secondary, but Jim Moore says its defense isn't as tough as it was earlier in the...
UW has a talented secondary, but Jim Moore says its defense isn't as tough as it was earlier in the year. (AP)

Before the Huskies played USC, I figured it might be another year in which Coug fans “hoped” we could win the Apple Cup. We’d know it was possible, and we’d have all kinds of examples from when we were underdogs and won in the past, particularly at Martin Stadium. But there were also years when the Huskies had the better team and proved it. As they rolled through their first nine games, I thought this might be another one of those years – until Sam Darnold and the Trojans showed up at Husky Stadium.

I was surprised the Huskies lost. Even made them my Smokin’ Lock of the Week. Thought a freshman quarterback on the road against that defense would not be a good combination for USC. But the Trojans won by double digits, and we saw the first signs of shaky quarterback play from Jake Browning.

Huard’s Apple Cup keys | Browning’s confidence wavered? | Petersen vs. Leach

Plus the Husky defense, which really did “Make Purple Reign Again,” wasn’t as stout as it had been earlier in the year. Injuries to Joe Mathis and Azeem Victor have turned a suffocating defense into one that is still good but not great anymore.

I’m concerned about those kids in the secondary – Sidney Jones, Budda Baker and Kevin King, all of whom will no doubt play in the NFL someday soon. But the Huskies aren’t the same rushing the quarterback as they were with Mathis, and I’m thinking – hoping? – that when given ample time to throw, Luke Falk will be able to pick apart the talented UW secondary.

But if you’re looking at it from a U-Dub point of view, you have to like that we’re playing without River Cracraft, an exceptional receiver who tore his ACL two weeks ago against Cal and is gone for the season. His absence was noticeable last week in Boulder, but the Cougs have other talented receivers to go with Gabe Marks, including Tavares Martin, Kyle Sweet and Robert Lewis.

I’m hoping – uh oh, there I go again hoping – that the 38-24 loss to Colorado said more about the meaningless nature of that game than tangible deficiencies with the Cougs. I say this because winning or losing that game didn’t really matter to Washington State. Either way we still have to beat UW to go to the Pac-12 championship game. Maybe that didn’t factor in with the kids playing the game, but it did for me watching it.

If we had beaten Colorado, it would have been a nice win, and some think if we had gone on to beat UW and say USC in the Pac-12 championship game, the College Football Playoff ranking committee would have thought highly enough of the Cougs to put us in the top four. But I felt like we were too far back in the rankings for that to happen.

The Dawgs are firmly in that playoff picture, ranking No. 5. If they win their next two games, they’ll make it to the final four, but in an unusual development, I’m not as interested in knocking them out of that thing as much as I want the Cougs to simply win the Apple Cup and advance to the Pac-12 championship game. It would be a nice perk, spoiling your rival’s season in a big way, but I just want to see us win so we get that extra game and a chance to win the Pac-12 by extracting revenge against Colorado.

After that, I’d like to see us play Michigan in the Rose Bowl and get revenge on the Wolverines, too, after losing to them in Pasadena in 1998. If that happens, I hope Ryan Leaf will be our honorary captain because everyone knows if he had been rightfully given one more second, we would have won the game in ’98.

One of the biggest keys from a crimson-and-gray perspective – you’ve come to the wrong place for purple-and-gold perspective – is our running game. Jamal Morrow, James Williams and Gerard Wicks have combined to rush for 1,515 yards. That’s almost as much as UW’s Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman have combined for with 1,783 yards.

Danny O’Neil says the Dawgs have a more balanced offense, and that’s not necessarily the case. The Cougs have been surprisingly effective on the ground, and the Dawgs could be vulnerable, ranking sixth in the Pac-12 in rushing defense.

John Ross is my biggest concern. That kid’s electric as you know – 64 catches, 991 yards and 15 touchdowns. He might be the best receiver in U-Dub history. But he can only be effective if Browning finds him, and the Browning I’ve seen in the last two weeks is not the cool, confident, accurate quarterback I saw earlier this year.

I’m also worried about trick plays. Chris Petersen loves trick plays, using them with great success at Boise State. You just know he’s going to trot one out in the Apple Cup. Alex Grinch, have your troops ready for Petersen’s hijinks.

There’s a chance that the Huskies are good enough to finish as one of the top four teams in the country. There’s also a chance they’ll be exposed as frauds, the ones who escaped with an overtime win over Arizona, the worst team in the Pac-12, and the ones who got away with college football murder when three blocks in the back were not called on Dante Pettis’ game-winning punt return at Utah. That still irks me. I’ll give them missing one of those blocks, even two, but all three? I saw them all in real time, and there they were, plain as day in slow motion, too, but no yellow flags to be found.

The more I think about it, the less I think the Huskies have that great of a chance to beat the Cougs. They’ve had a nice run, but it’s about to turn into an Alamo Bowl kind of season.

Line: Huskies by 6
Prediction: Cougs 31, Dawgs 20

The Go 2 Guy also writes for SeattlePI.com and 710Sports.com. You can reach Jim at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @cougsgo.

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Apple Cup: WSU can end Huskies’ run, earn trip to Pac-12 title game