UW 101: Nuts and Holts

THREE STRAIGHT LOSSES have really taken the bloom off of UW's season. Offensive inconsistency and defensive catastrophes have littered the final month of the season. It will be up to a banged up Keith Price and a beleaguered Nick Holt to plot a solution to the Husky's skid against Washington State. The Cougs, meanwhile, have their own challenges ahead.

Cougars (4-7) vs Huskies (6-5)-
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
4:30 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Century Link Stadium (67,750)

TELEVISION:
Versus

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
UW by 6.5

LAST MEETING:
UW won 35-28 in 2010 in Pullman.

THE SERIES:
UW leads the series at 66-31-6.

THE HUSKIES ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Keith Price, QB: Came off the bench last week despite a sprained knee and led a bit of a comeback effort that fell short. He has had a surprisingly efficient season throwing for 2,334 yards and 26 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. But the majority of his damage was done in the first half. Freshman Nick Montana backs him up.
Chris Polk, RB: UW's most reliable offensive weapon can been a nightmare for anyone. He ran for 284 yards in the 2010 Apple Cup and 130 the year before. This season he has averaged over 5 yards per carry with 1,241 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. He has added another 288 yards and 3 scores as a receiver. Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey provide depth.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE: Has become the most viable Husky receiving threat in recent weeks, totaling 32 catches and six touchdowns on the season.

Overview
The Husky's running backs, led by Polk, have really moved the ball well, averaging 5.3 yards between them. Price's passing has been lethal at times but his injuries have worsened over the course of the season and so has his effectiveness -- the offense has also been held back by poor pass protection and the inconsistent play at receiver. The receiving tandom of Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar has really underachieved, generating only 947 yards between them.

Strategy
It feels like Kearse is due for a breakout game, but WSU really has to keep focus on Polk. The Huskies try to move the ball on the ground between the 20's but get most of their points through the air in the redzone. Keeping Polk in check and a reasonable amount of pressure on a banged up Price is how other opponents have beaten UW.

THE HUSKIES ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Cort Dennison, ILB: He leads the Huskies with 104 stops on the year.
Desmond Trufant, CB: Brother of WSU legend Marcus Trufant has been hot and cold this season. He will likely draw duties against Marquess Wilson.

Overview
Nick Holt's much lamented 4-3 defense has given up 35 points and 430 yards per game this season. They have struggled mightily against the pass, ranking 107th in the nation and surrendering nearly 300 yards per game. They've been better but by no means solid on the ground. Opponents have averaged 152 yards rushing and have generated a devastating 24 rushing touchdowns in 2011. Holt keeps bringing more beef up front to compensate. The Huskies now sport a pair of enormous 334 pound defensive tackles on the interior line. But all that beef has led to trouble generating a pass rush. They have managed just 17 sacks this season.

Strategy
Every opponent except Colorado has enjoyed either a 300 yard passer or 200 yard rusher against the Huskies. Stick with what's working. Marshall Lobbestael should enjoy some open receivers, but they shouldn't abandon the running game if it is effective. UW blitzed OSU last week, didn't get there and go lit up. It's expected they'll come hard after Lobbestael again this week. WSU must give him time, and then Lobbestael has to make them pay.

THE HUSKIES ON SPECIAL TEAMS
In a pretty evenly matched contest, special teams may prove the deciding factor. The Huskies are solid in all areas of special teams and have some very dangerous kick returners. Kicker Erik Folk missed a 39 yarder last week but has been generally solid inside of 53 yards.

FINAL THOUGHTS
-The Cougs come in at less than full health, though many players, such as Sekope Kaufusi, David Gonzales, etc. are expected to be ready by the time Saturday comes around.
-UW's defense has really been an Achilles Heel to this team's potential. They seem to collapse in a particular area every weekend and are unable to stop the bleeding. They gave up 484 yards passing to %%MATCH_21%%, 252 yards rushing to %%MATCH_30%%, 212 yards rushing to %%MATCH_28%%, 388 yards passing to %%MATCH_26%%, 446 yards rushing to %%MATCH_25%%, 305 yards passing to %%MATCH_29%%, 349 yards passing to Utah, 309 yards rushing to %%MATCH_24%%, 333 yards passing to %%MATCH_27%%, and 473 yards passing to Eastern. Teams that do one thing particularly well have really put it on display against the Huskies.
-As has too often been the case, WSU's offense enters the Apple Cup without its regular starting quarterback. After all of the expectations for Jeff Tuel, and the revelation that was Connor Halliday, who would have guess the first and last snaps of the season would come with %%MATCH_23%% Lobbestael under center. But this may be a blessing in disguise as senior leadership is vital in a rivalry game. If Lobbestael has good protection up front, he figures to riddle the UW defense. If UW gets pressure on him, however, it figures to be a completely different ballgame. Polk is going to get his yards, but WSU needs to limit him enough to where it's not a monster total. Last week's effort by Polk, 25 carries and 125 yards, was eminently survivable. WSU would do well to put together a similar storyline.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougs 34, %%MATCH_22%% 27

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