The Cougars are playing for a chance to capture their first Pac-12 North title and a chance to play USC for the Pac-12 championship, while the Huskies are are playing the role of spoiler this season.

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The No. 14 Cougars (9-2) and No. 15 Huskies (9-2) are set to square off in the 110th Apple Cup on Saturday at Husky Stadium.

The Cougars are playing for a chance to capture their first Pac-12 North title and a chance to play USC for the Pac-12 championship, while the Huskies are are playing the role of spoiler this season.

So what do the Huskies and Cougars have to do to come away with a win? Here are three keys to the game.


It’s imperative that WSU starts fast

Saturday | 5 p.m. | FOX

In Mike Leach’s tenure, the Cougars have never scored a first-quarter touchdown in the Apple Cup. Since 2013, WSU has always trailed by the end of the first quarter, and this trend of starting slow was most apparent last year, when the Cougars trailed UW 28-3 going into the second quarter. WSU needs to get the offense going off the opening whistle, and the defense could help by forcing some early turnovers. But over the length of the game, the key for WSU is to keep Luke Falk upright and buy him time to make reads.

The Cougars’ offensive line has improved since the Cal game where they gave up nine sacks, and has since allowed only 1.75 sacks per game. Falk will need them to hold up against the Huskies’ pass rush. Vita Vea and Greg Gaines form one of the most effective defensive line duos in the conference, and with Ryan Bowman, Benning Potoa’e’e and Tevis Bartlett coming off the edges, the Cougs’ O-line will have its hands full.

UW must protect Jake Browning and establish the run

The Huskies’ offensive line has provided solid protection for Jake Browning for most of the season, giving up only 15 sacks all year. However, nine of those 15 sacks have come in games that have been decided by one score. Notably, UW has lost two of those three games. UW’s two losses this year also coincide with two of the three games in which Browning has not had a passing touchdown. So for UW to continue its dominance over WSU, the Huskies must protect Browning.

The key to this is slowing down WSU tackle Hercules Mata’afa, who leads the Pac-12 with 46 career TFLs and 21.5 career sacks. Establishing the run will help UW too. Running back Myles Gaskin had his streak of three 100-yard performances snapped last week against Utah, when the Utes held him to 52 rushing yards. But, Gaskin still racked up 114 receiving yards and one receiving score, and two rushing touchdowns – including the two-yard fourth-quarter rushing score that tied the game at 30 against Utah last week.

Which special teams X-factor will ultimately matter?

In one corner is UW’s Dante Pettis, the most effective punt returner the Pac-12 has ever seen, and the NCAA record holder with nine career punt return touchdowns. Pettis has four punt return touchdowns this season, and he leads the nation with a 20.5 punt return average. In the opposing corner is WSU placekicker Erik Powell, who, as a senior, has quietly put together the best season of his career. Powell is 19 of 23 on field goals this season, with three from 50+ yards, and a career-long 56-yarder against Arizona. If it comes down to a game-winning field goal, he could make a difference. But that’s provided Pettis doesn’t strike first and break the game open with a punt return TD.


By the numbers:


Watch | Adam Jude and Stefanie Loh preview the Apple Cup