Three keys for Washington to win
Reeling in the run
It’s not as if Washington State has been an unstoppable force in the running game. Through 11 games, the Cougars rank eighth in the Pac-12 in yards per carry (4.02) and 10th in rushing offense (123.18 yards per game). But against a UW unit that simultaneously leads the country in passing defense and ranks 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense (192.64 yards allowed per game), expect WSU to embrace the run. The Cougars will do that by feeding a proven running back tandem of Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh. It’ll be up to UW’s defense to turn in a second consecutive impressive performance in that area, after the Huskies held Colorado to just 71 rushing yards and 2.6 yards per carry last weekend. For UW defensive linemen Sam Taimani and Tuli Letuligasenoa, and inside linebackers Carson Bruener and Jackson Sirmon, it’s time to shine.
WSU leads the Pac-12 with 23 turnovers gained this season, three more than second-place Oregon. Moreover, the Cougars’ 13 fumbles gained ranks tied for third in the entire country. And on the other side, UW committed four turnovers (while failing to force one) in what should have been a convincing win at Colorado last weekend. So, yes: you can bet the turnover margin will play a part on Friday. UW quarterback Dylan Morris — or Sam Huard? — will be tasked with making smart decisions, while the Husky defense needs to force WSU into uncomfortable situations, hoping quarterback Jayden de Laura will be pressured into several untimely mistakes.
Eight UW drives last weekend entered Colorado’s half of the field. The Huskies only scored on three of them. Thanks to fumbles, interceptions, sacks and missed field goals, Washington found a wide variety of ways to self-destruct. And while UW has scored on 94.3% of its red zone trips this season, those drives have ended in touchdowns just 62.9% of the time — ranking seventh in the conference and 60th in the country. On Friday, it won’t matter if UW dominates time of possession, or establishes an unlikely rushing attack, or gets the ball in the hands of its play-making receivers … if those drives don’t eventually end in points.
Two difference makers
WR Rome Odunze
The second-year freshman wide receiver’s numbers this season — a team-high 38 catches to go along with 346 receiving yards and three touchdowns in eight games — are not spectacular. But consider that, in the two games since wide receivers coach and interim offensive coordinator Junior Adams assumed play-calling duties, Odunze has been targeted 30 times. There’s obviously an emphasis on including the 6-3, 200-pounder, particularly on wide receiver screens. Can Odunze (and whoever his quarterback is) make the most of the opportunities presented on Friday? He’s yet to enjoy a breakthrough performance at UW, but that could very well change on Friday.
CB Kyler Gordon
This could just as easily have been cornerback Trent McDuffie or nickelback Brendan Radley-Hiles, Together, the trio has formed perhaps the most formidable secondary in the country. And while WSU will certainly focus on running the football, de Laura is inevitably going to take his fair share of downfield shots as well. Can Gordon emerge in what could conceivably be the final game of his UW career? The 6-0, 200-pounder has enjoyed a stellar redshirt sophomore season — with 40 tackles, seven pass breakups, two interceptions, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble. A physical force for his size, expect Gordon to contribute in the run game as well.
One key stat
133.6 yards per game
Washington ranks first in the country in pass defense (133.6 yards allowed per game), second in opponent yards per pass attempt (5.2) and third in opponent pass efficiency rating (101.86). Best of luck, Jayden de Laura.
Cougars 24, Huskies 20
UW has won seven consecutive Apple Cups … but the streak will be snapped this season. Washington State has all the momentum, having achieved bowl eligibility in a win over Arizona last weekend. The Cougars also have everything to play for, with a potential spot in the Pac-12 title game (and the fate of interim head coach Jake Dickert) hanging in the balance. Expect WSU to establish a successful running game on Friday, while de Laura finds a few shots through the air. Meanwhile, a sputtering UW offense will again fail to consistently finish drives in the opposite end zone. Though UW interim head coach Bob Gregory has done an admirable job in attempting to keep his players engaged, it’s unclear how much fight the Huskies will bring to an Apple Cup without bowl stakes (or even a permanent staff in place). Live it up, Cougs. This is your moment.