Apple Cup: Huskies need complete game on offense vs. No. 20 WSU

Nov 26, 2015, 11:12 AM | Updated: Nov 27, 2015, 8:19 am
UW’s true freshman quarterback Jake Browning has been plagued by inconsistency at points this...
UW's true freshman quarterback Jake Browning has been plagued by inconsistency at points this season. (AP)

Washington vs No. 20 Washington State

Where: Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. Friday
Radio: 710 ESPN Seattle
Line: Huskies by 6.5

At a glance: It couldn’t get any bigger than this for the Huskies (5-6 overall, 3-5 Pac-12) . Down to the last game of the regular season, Chris Petersen’s team can ensure a postseason appearance with a win over its bitter rivals from the Palouse in the Apple Cup. Lose, and the Cougars (8-3, 6-2) will celebrate their distinction as the only team from the state going bowling in front of the Huskies on Washington’s home field . The good news for the Dawgs is they have some momentum on their side after last week’s complete destruction of Oregon State in a 52-7 win. The question is what Wazzu’s offense will look like, as the status of quarterback Luke Falk, the national leader in passing yards, is up in the air after he was carted off the field with a head injury during a win over Colorado last week. If Falk is held out, redshirt freshman Peyton Bender, who has proven to be plenty capable in relief of Falk, will make his first career start for WSU.

Related: Washington’s Chris Petersen signs two-year extension

Matchup to watch: Washington State’s Air Raid offense vs. Washington’s secondary. No matter if Falk or Bender starts, the Cougars still have a litany of talented targets to throw to. Led by receivers Gabe Marks (92 receptions, 1,067 yards, 14 touchdowns) and Dom Williams (67 receptions, 950 yards, 10 touchdowns), the Cougs have the nation’s most prolific passing offense at an average of 406.9 yards per game through the air. The Huskies pose an especially intriguing matchup, though, as they rank second in the Pac-12 and 45th in the FBS with an average of just 209.5 passing yards allowed per game. The UW secondary made incredible strides from last season to this one, and the team has 13 interceptions on the year, good enough to tie for third in the conference and 26th in the country. The Cougars have a better running game than in years past, and that will force the Huskies to stay honest. But Washington State’s M.O. is still passing as much as any other team in the country, so Budda Baker, Sidney Jones and the rest of Washington’s defensive backs will have plenty of opportunities to make an impact in the Apple Cup.

Key for Washington: Put together a complete offensive performance. The Dawgs have the edge over the Cougs on defense – even though WSU’s defense has really come into its own – but true freshman quarterback Jake Browning and Washington’s offense has been far too inconsistent this season to be considered in the same category as Washington State’s. Browning has had his moments, even topping the 400-yard mark two weeks back at Arizona State. That day was accompanied by three interceptions, however, and the Huskies ended up on the losing end despite owning a 17-0 lead at one point. Washington will need those kind of passing yards from Browning and something closer to his 18-for-20 passing efficiency in last week’s win over Oregon State to have a chance. And even if that happens, it’s just half of the equation, as the young offensive line needs to put up a strong game and make enough room for tailback Myles Gaskin to notch his seventh 100-yard performance of the year to make sure UW puts up enough points to hold off Wazzu.

Prediction: The Huskies haven’t had much success in close games in 2015, owning a 1-5 record in games decided by 11 points or fewer. The Cougars have been much more fortunate in tight contests, going 4-3 in games with the same criteria. In a classic, physical Apple Cup matchup, expect the Cougars to escape Montlake with their ninth victory of the year. Washington State 27, Washington 23.

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Apple Cup: Huskies need complete game on offense vs. No. 20 WSU