The Cougars need to stop the run ... and, yep, the Huskies need to run the ball.
We’re one day away from the 111th Apple Cup between the No. 7 Washington State Cougars and the No. 16 Washington Huskies with the Pac-12 North title on the line. Here are three keys for each team Friday night in Pullman (5:30 p.m., FOX):
Keys for the Cougars
#16 HUSKIES vs. #7 COUGARS
Friday, Nov. 23 | 5:30 p.m. | Martin Stadium
📺: FOX | 📻: 710 AM / 1000 AM
A big key to the Huskies’ recent Apple Cup success has been getting great pressure on the quarterback, which had led to sacks and turnovers. The Cougars have done a great job of protecting Gardner Minshew this year, allowing just nine sacks. The Huskies have 17 sacks as a team, compared to 34.5 for the Cougars. If Minshew is given time to pass, he should have a good game.
Stop the run
The Huskies have had great success running the ball against the Cougars in the past four meetings. WSU needs to contain Myles Gaskin, who has rushed for 380 yards in three games against the Cougars. WSU needs to hold him down and force the Huskies to try to win the game through the air.
Value the ball
The Cougars have had 18 turnovers in the past four Apple Cups and the Huskies have had three. That trend needs to stop for the Cougars to win.
Keys for the Huskies
Sounds simple, right? And, sure, the Huskies have made tackling look routine in the past four Apple Cups with Pete Kwiatkowski and Jimmy Lake running the defense (and with a lot of talented tacklers who are now in the NFL — Budda Baker, Keishawn Bierria, Vita Vea, Sidney Jones and Kevin King, to name just a few). But the Cougars put a lot of stress on a defense by stretching the field horizontally with quick passes and forcing defenders to come up and tackle one-on-one in space. More often than not this season, the Cougars have won those matchups, especially with versatile running backs James Williams (69 receptions) and Max Borghi (40 receptions) coming out of the backfield.
Run the ball
When Myles Gaskin’s runs for more than 100 yards, the Huskies are 4-0 this season — and 15-1 the past three seasons. Gaskin was either limited (at Oregon) or out entirely (at Cal) in UW’s two Pac-12 losses. In the past two games (with a bye in between), he has run for 283 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry. With rain and wind — and possibly snow — in the forecast Friday night in Pullman, the Huskies might need to rely on Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed and the run even more.
Get explosive in the passing game
Washington State is, of course, the most prolific passing team in the country. But one of the more surprising statistics in this Apple Cup matchup is that the Huskies have been the more “explosive” offense this season, with 59 plays of 20 yards or more (39 of those through the air), compared to 55 total plays of 20 yards or more for the Cougars. Jake Browning, in half as many passing attempts as Gardner Minshew, leads the Pac-12 with 8.7 yards per pass attempt (No. 13 nationally), compared to Minshew’s 7.5 yards per attempt. (And they have nearly an identical QB efficiency rating, with Minshew third in the conference at 151.4 and Browning fourth at 150.0. UW receivers Ty Jones and Aaron Fuller both rank in the top 10 in the Pac-12 in yards per catch, at 16.9 and 15.4, respectively), and if the Cougars stack the box to try stop Gaskin, Ahmed and UW’s run game, Browning has to take advantage of one-on-one chances downfield. The return of sophomore TE Hunter Bryant (two catches, 55 yards vs. Oregon State) also adds a big-play threat to UW’s passing game.