Luke Falk, injured for last year's Apple Cup, figures to offer the toughest challenge the UW defense has faced this season.
It would be too easy, too simplistic to look at the last two Apple Cup box scores and conclude that the Huskies have “solved” the Cougars’ Air Raid passing attack.
Oh, the Huskies certainly had their way with the Cougars in Chris Petersen‘s first two Apple Cups, outscoring Washington State 76-23.
Luke Falk, then a redshirt freshman, made just his third career start for WSU in the 2014 Apple Cup. So dominant was the UW defense that day that John Ross III, of all people, had one of the Huskies’ two interceptions off of Falk (Kevin King had the other) as the Huskies built a 31-0 lead in the fourth quarter.
Last year, with Falk injured, the Huskies scored three defensive touchdowns while holding WSU to one touchdown in a 45-10 blowout.
And yet, even with UW boasting a secondary that features (at least) five future NFL players, it’s not realistic to think the No. 6 Huskies will shut down Falk and the No. 23 Cougars in the same fashion. Falk is too good, and the Cougars’ newfound running game will pose problems.
Still, the Huskies’ balance — on offense and defense — gives them the upper hand here. The Huskies, who had six sacks against Arizona State last week, will want to make Falk uncomfortable; more importantly, they’ll want to limit big plays, and no defense in the Pac-12 has been better at that.
The Cougars gave up 603 yards (on 100 plays) in their loss at Colorado last week. Their pass defense ranks 10th in the Pac-12.
Jake Browning is coming off two subpar performances — four of his seven interceptions this season have come in the past two weeks — but the Huskies don’t need him to be perfect. There’s enough talent around him: Myles Gaskin had 138 yards and two TDs in the Apple Cup last year. Ross returns to the Apple Cup as an All-American candidate at wide receiver. Dante Pettis has been terrific, and Chico McClatcher finally looks healthy again.
In the end, that will be too much for WSU’s defense to handle.
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The pick: Huskies 38, Cougars 31.
Other staff Apple Cup picks:
Larry Stone: Huskies 35, Cougars 31. It’s going to be a shootout in the Palouse, with the UW defense a little stronger in the end. The absence of key playmakers Azeem Victor and Joe Mathis will undoubtedly hurt the Huskies, but Washington still rates as the Pac-12’s No. 1 scoring defense, while WSU is at No. 6.
Matt Calkins: Huskies 31, Cougars 28. Still not convinced the Cougars can stop a legitimate running game, but it will still be a shootout in Pullman with the Huskies keeping their CFP hopes alive.
Stefanie Loh: Cougars 31, Huskies 28. Playing at home in Pullman, motivated by Rose Bowl hopes and a desire to put the loss to Colorado behind them, I think the Cougars could be pitching an upset. … unless it comes down to a game-winning field goal, at which point, all my faith evaporates.
Percy Allen: Huskies 30, Cougars 24. The offenses for both teams will move the ball and score points, but the Huskies have a star-studded defense that doesn’t give up big plays and is capable of making a few more critical stops.
Around the Pac-12:
Arizona State (5-6, 2-6) at Arizona (2-9, 0-8), 6:30 p.m. PT, ESPN: Not much has worked for either team this season, but the possibility of a bowl berth gives ASU a slight edge. The pick: Arizona State 27, Arizona 20.
Notre Dame (4-7) at USC (8-3), 12:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC: Not buying all the talk about the Trojans as a possible playoff team … but USC, we know, is as hot as anyone outside Alabama. The pick: USC 38, Notre Dame 17.
Oregon (4-7, 2-6) at Oregon State (3-8, 2-6), 1 p.m., Pac-12 Network: It’s not quite the Toilet Bowl, but as sorry a Civil War matchup as there’s been in a long time. Giving a gritty OSU team the edge at home. The pick: Oregon State 28, Oregon 27.
UCLA (4-7, 2-6) at California (4-7, 2-6), 4 p.m., ESPN 2. Not going to lie: I flipped a coin. The pick: UCLA 42, Cal 35.
Utah (8-3, 5-3) at Colorado (9-2, 7-1), 4:30 p.m. PT, FOX: The 10-point spread feels too high, and I strongly considered Utah in the upset. But the Buffs’ magical ride will roll on into the Pac-12 title game. The pick: Colorado 24, Utah 21.
Rice (3-8) at Stanford (8-3), 5 p.m., Pac-12 Network: After a messy October, Stanford still has a chance to go 9-3. The pick: Stanford 40, Rice 13.