Despite a pair of inconsistent seasons, Washington and Washington State appear to be evenly matched.
On Friday afternoon, the 6-5 Huskies and 6-5 Cougars will meet again on Montlake. There’s not much on the line … aside, of course, from state supremacy and annual bragging rights. For those involved, and fans of the programs, that’s plenty.
Here’s an early, UW-centric Apple Cup primer.
What it means for the Huskies
At this point, UW (6-5) doesn’t have a whole lot to hold on to. The College Football Playoff was out in early September. The Pac-12 title game will involve two teams — Oregon and Utah — that won inside Husky Stadium. UW is 3-5 in conference play and 3-3 at home, destined for the utter irrelevance of the Redbox Bowl or the Las Vegas Bowl or the Sun Bowl or the Cheez-It Bowl. It’s possible the Huskies will finish with their worst record of the Chris Petersen Era.
Still, this game means something. It represents a final, desperate shred of pride. It provides a comforting notion that, when all else fails, UW can still bully and batter Washington State in the Apple Cup. It’s true, this game won’t matter much outside the state of Washington. But it’s always relevant here. It matters for UW’s current players and recent grads, for the program’s countless fans and alums. It matters especially for outgoing seniors like Trey Adams, Nick Harris, Myles Bryant and Aaron Fuller, who have never lost to Washington State (and don’t plan on starting now).
Despite the unmitigated mess this season has become, there will be no letdown Friday. An Apple Cup win would make a generally unsatisfying season just a little bit sweeter.
Why people should care
Um, hello? It’s the Apple Cup. Do I really need to sell you on reasons to care? There certainly is not as much at stake as there was last season, when UW and WSU met with the Pac-12 effectively hanging in the balance. But, to an extent, the records shouldn’t matter. The Huskies hate the Cougars. The Cougars hate the Huskies. UW — big brother — has won six consecutive games in the series. Washington State’s roster is filled with players the Huskies chose not to recruit. This is about bad blood. This is about bragging rights — just as it’s always been. Of course you should care. Because, if your team loses, you’ll never hear the end of it.
Key matchup to watch
Jimmy Lake vs. Mike Leach. This is the only answer. In case you forgot — and I’m sure you didn’t — here’s what UW’s defensive coordinator said after shutting down Leach’s Air Raid offense yet again last season: “It does surprise me (that his game plan doesn’t change). But knowing what I read about the head football coach there, he does things a little bit different way. So hopefully remains here for a long time. That would be awesome.” Leach is still here, as is Lake. Let the games begin.
Most important player
QB Jacob Eason. Simply put, Washington’s redshirt junior quarterback has lost his way. Eason should have realistically shredded both Oregon State and Colorado’s mediocre defenses. Instead, he completed a combined 56.1% of his passes, throwing for 381 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. After seemingly making strides against Arizona, Oregon and Utah (in the first half), things have gone haywire. On paper, Washington State’s defense should present a prime opportunity Friday. But are Eason and Co. capable of capitalizing?
The Huskies will win if …
UW develops its running game with Salvon Ahmed and Richard Newton, after struggling against Colorado. That should open up the offense for Eason and UW’s underwhelming wide receivers. It would help if tight ends Hunter Bryant and Cade Otton figure heavily into the game plan as well. Eason needs to avoid the big mistake, which hasn’t been easy in his past three games. Defensively, Lake has had the blueprint to beat Leach’s Air Raid in recent years. The Huskies need to pressure WSU quarterback Anthony Gordon and force a turnover or two. UW has forced 14 turnovers in its six wins and just two in its five losses.
The Huskies will lose if …
The offense continues to sputter. If it’s anything like the past two games, UW’s passing game will lack any semblance of rhythm … despite the underperforming defense on the other side. The Huskies will also lose if their running game doesn’t get going and Eason throws his third pick-six of the season. On the other side, the Cougars need Gordon to expose UW’s inexperienced secondary and inconsistent front seven. He’ll also be looking to feed hyper-athletic sophomore running back Max Borghi, who has scored four touchdowns in his past two games.