Apple Cup Preview: Can UW Spoil WSU’s Chance For A Title?

The 118th Apple Cup is a week away and UW and WSU are in a battle for the Pac-12 North Title. The Washington Huskies will travel to Martin Stadium and look to extend their win streak to 6. If UW wins, not only will the Huskies win the North, it will officially knock WSU out of playoff contention. WSU has not lost since their controversial loss against USC. Expect this one to, hopefully, be a shootout.

Brief Apple Cup Recap

Since the creation of the Apple Cup, the Huskies have dominated, leading the series 72-32-6, and with the largest victory margin 51-3. Since 2013, the Huskies have outscored the Cougars 189 – 71, with UW averaging 37.8 points per game to WSU’s 14.2. WSU’s defense has improved, becoming one of the best in the nation. And with Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense, WSU appears poised to topple UW this year. However, recent history shows WSU struggles to close out the Apple Cup in regulation. Since 2008, all of WSU’s wins have come in overtime.

Offense

UW has a strong showing in the first half, averaging 9.7 points in the 1st quarter and 8.6 in the second. But the Huskies appear to struggle in the second half averaging just 7.7 points total. If the Huskies want to keep this close, they will need to run the score up early as UW ends with an abysmal 3.3 points in the 4th quarter.

WSU plays to the beat of a different drum with short quick passes. That strategy has worked quite well for the Cougars, especially in the 2nd and 4th quarter. The Cougars have done well to put games away averaging 13.9 points in the 2nd and 13.1 points in the 4th. Combine that with the fact they have been held scoreless for only 6 quarters, and the Cougar’s offense is primed to run up the score.

Comparing the quarterbacks, Gardner Minshew II appears more comfortable in his offense than Jake Browning. Minshew, a transfer, has done well being a pocket passer, with a 70% completion average and a 36:7 TD to INT ratio. Jake Browning has had some struggles, but hes not too far behind Minshew. Browning has a 64% completion average. However, the UW product has had his struggles throwing for only 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. This will play in the Cougars favor. But Minshew also has a tendency to hold on to the football too long and take unnecessary sacks.

Defense

Washington State has a dangerous ball-hawking defense. The Cougars have 7 interceptions and 5 fumbles recovered. But defensive back Darrien Molten and Marcus Strong have been picked on all season. If Jake Bowning is to have any success in the air, expect him to go towards their way. On the ground, the Cougars will have their hands full stopping Myles Gaskin.

The Cougars have an impressive defensive line. But outside of Oregon State, the Cougars have not truly seen a pro-ready running back. When WSU is put up against a strong running back or running quarterback, they give up too many rushing yards that are usually followed by a touchdown. It is worth noting that this isn’t a new problem as Gaskin torched WSU last year in the Apple Cup. Expect Gaskin, along with Salvon Ahmed, to continue their dominance on the ground.

UW’s defense isn’t one to sleep on as well. While the Huskies may not score a lot of points, they hold teams to an average of 16.6 points per game. Combine that with UW’s ability to keep 3rd down conversions to 39.2% and 291.5 yards per game, and UW’s defense has a strong showing. The concern for UW’s defense is the passing game. While UW allows 192.8 yards per game, the Cougars throw for 393.3. This will be the area to look at for WSU as the Cougars rarely run the ball.

Favorite To Win?

While the game is in Pullman and WSU is the better team on paper, I like UW’s chances to win this game. WSU struggles against the running game and their offensive scheme is pretty one dimensional. A blowout doesn’t seem likely, but this could be a heartbreaker late in the game as UW wins 39 – 35.

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