The way the season has gone for these two teams, it’s hard to justify a betting line that assumes the Dawgs are better on a neutral field. The Cougs already did what the Dawgs have mathematically disqualified themselves from doing in qualifying for a bowl game. WSU also maintains flickering hopes of a Pac-12 North title and a trip to the conference championship game. After a slow start, they’ve won five of seven and scored 30+ in all five wins. During that stretch, their only losses were to very solid BYU and Oregon teams. Firing Nick Rolovich seems to have removed a distraction rather than creating a leadership vacuum.
Meanwhile, the Huskies have basically gone off the rails. At 4-4 after back to back road wins over Arizona and Stanford, it looked like UW still had a chance to finish strong. Instead, Jimmy Lake and John Donovan have been future endeavor’d, Dylan Morris has (probably) lost this grasp on the starting QB gig, and UW has nothing but pride to play for on Friday.
Washington has dominated the series for the last decade. UW has won seven straight and ten of eleven Apple Cups. Most of those players (and coaches) are long gone, but the element that might have some lasting effect is the WSU offensive system’s match-up with UW’s defensive system. The Cougars moved from an Air Raid to a Run and Shoot style after Mike Leach’s departure, but many of the fundamentals remain the same. The QB makes quick, simple reads to get the ball to a receiver who can make a play in space. UW’s defense is basically designed to counter this specific sort of offensive philosophy. The one consistent bright spot this year has been Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon blanketing receivers, tackling in space, and making it extremely difficult to sustain drives through the air. Yes, Max Borghi is a talented runner, but WSU has neither the scheme nor the players to physically dominate up front in the way that has often been UW’s Achilles heel this year.
Will Sam Huard start and play the full game at QB? If he does, will he be able to get the ball to a rapidly improving receiver group enough for a respectable point total? Is there any chance to establish a run game against a rush defense that has had its ups and downs? Inexplicably, I feel pretty optimistic this time around.
Washington- 27, Washington State– 21
Had UW not failed miserably in protecting the ball last week, the game vs Colorado would have ended in a road win for the Dawgs. Coulda, woulda, shoulda. But I do think the performance in Boulder signaled a team that is improving each week since the departures of Jimmy Lake and John Donovan. Tomorrow’s game against our in-state rivals just may be the one where the Huskies put it all together.
The biggest uncertainty is who starts at QB. With a substantial portion of the fanbase clamoring for Sam Huard to get significant playing time (his absence last week serving as a foreshadow), it’s hard to predict how the offense will look if that comes to fruition. Myself, I’d like to see it happen.
De Laura and the passing game are the Cougs’ strengths. Once Jayden de Laura claimed sole rights to the QB job, WSU went away from a balanced attack, to one that leaned toward the pass in 5 of 7 games (59% pass, 41% run). But in victories over Arizona and ASU, the WSU offense went with 39% pass, 61% run. Will WSU try a similar run-heavy approach against a Husky defense that struggles to stop the run? Or in this season’s edition of the Apple Cup will we finally see a team that tries to go toe-to-toe with the UW secondary (a squad that leads the nation in statistics, but with the asterisk of “yeah well, no one throws on the Huskies because you can beat them just by running it”)? Myself, I’d like to see that happen too.
I have a feeling this UW team is on the verge of putting together a complete game at the swan song of this regime – and let’s be honest, this is the final movement in what has been the coda to the Chris Petersen coaching regime. Additionally, I think the fight-to-the-end attitude this Husky team has shown in a season full of adversity, will give them the mental advantage over the Cougars and lead to an Apple Cup victory at Husky stadium.
Washington- 24, Washington State- 20
Man I miss the good old days of not having to worry about this game even the slightest bit. Although I wouldn’t exactly call what I feel right now “worry”. It would be annoying for the streak to end of course but if it ends in a season where we have no bowl hopes where the head coach and OC have already been fired, I can make peace with that. Which isn’t to say there’s nothing to play for on Washington’s side since denying the Cougars from a chance at a division title sounds pretty worthwhile to me.
Before we get to the analysis I do want to give a shout out to the Cougar players for the resolve they’ve shown being alive for the North title on the final day of the regular season after the Nick Rolovich saga serving as an easy excuse to collapse. This Wazzu team has plenty of resolve and they’re going to give it their all tomorrow.
Any prediction for the Huskies this year starts with how the Washington run defense is going to fare. In the Mike Leach era this wasn’t really a concern but the Cougars have definitely been able to run the ball this year. Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh have combined for 1,254 rushing yards on better than 5 yards per carry each as the primary running back tandem. We may not see Wazzu run the ball on every single down but there’s no question that it should be effective whenever they do make that choice.
Jayden de Laura has been by far the most effective of the QBs that Washington State has rolled out this season and he’s talented enough to see occasional success even against Washington’s incredible pass defense. Husky fans should still generally be happy every time he drops back rather than hands it off but expect the Cougars to still get a few long pass plays off.
Washington’s offense is in flux with the possibility that Sam Huard gets the start now that there’s no concern he won’t be able to preserve his redshirt. This is certainly not a great Washington State defense but they’re plenty good enough to stop what the Huskies have trotted out there for most of the season as an “offense”. There’s always the caveat that if Washington’s offense just didn’t make terrible self inflicted mistakes then I’d feel great about this matchup but it seems unlikely that’s going to suddenly change in the final game of the season.
The advanced stats generally either like Washington slightly or else call it a toss-up. There’s not really a lot that could completely surprise me outside of a Wazzu blowout entirely on the basis of a dominant passing effort or a UW blowout in which Wazzu is completely incapable of running the ball. There’s always some built-in chaos in a rivalry game and that only gets added with 2 teams each featuring their defensive coordinators serving as interim head coaches. Congrats, Wazzu. I’m giving you the slight edge.
Washington- 21, Washington State- 24
THE FINAL TALLY
Straight Up: Washington- 2, Washington State- 1
Against The Spread (UW +1): Washington- 2, Washington State- 1
Average Score: Washington- 24, Washington State- 21.7