The Early Glimpse: The Apple Cup

HERE WE ARE, days from the end of the football season at Washington State. It started full of promise, only to find out that these transition years are often full of tumult and agony. Can the Cougs grab a win against UW and start their offseason on an up note?

I'm certain most of you didn't have the Cougs at 2-9 heading into the Apple Cup. I'm also sure most of you wouldn't trade in 2-9 for a win over Washington, but it is what it is. So for the Cougars and their fans, the best you can make of this season is winning the Apple Cup.

The odds aren't insurmountable. The Huskies aren't much different in terms of quality than the past few Steve Sarkisian teams. Different, sure. UW is better on defense than it's been the past few years, but challenged on offense.

Washington State can play with Washington, maybe even beat the Huskies. We've seen both sides win the Apple Cup when it appeared they were impossibly overmatched heading into the game.

But the Cougars won't come close if things don't change in the first half.

Whether WSU is over its head, or not ready to play the past three weeks, I'm not sure. Whatever it is, the Cougars have quickly eliminated themselves from any shot at victory with some of the most unimaginable starts to a game.

Washington State's collective halftime score from the past three weeks (Utah, UCLA and Arizona State) is 100-7. In each game, the Cougars trailed by at least 30 points heading into the second half.

Obviously, if this trend continues Friday against Washington, it's going to be a long and painful Apple Cup.

The kickoff: Washington (7-4, 5-3) at Washington (2-9, 0-8), 12:30 p.m. Friday in Pullman, Martin Stadium. Game televised by Fox. The betting line is Washington by 11.

About Washington: The Huskies have rescued their season of late with a four-game winning streak, although some would say UW is merely taking advantage of a soft second half. Washington's victims during the streak are Oregon State, California, Utah and Colorado; only one of those four teams is headed to a bowl game.

Nonetheless, winning is winning. At 7-4, Washington is headed to a bowl game. With a win over Washington State, this would become Sark's first eight-win team in Seattle.

A big reason the Huskies have improved this season is defense, which finally has a pilot who knows what he's doing in defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. Gone are the rudderless Nick Holt days, as Wilcox has the Huskies playing soundly against the pass, where they rank 16th in the country, and 29th in total defense. UW has given up 17 points or fewer in seven games this season.

Washington has some playmakers in the secondary, such as Desmond Trufant, Marcus Peters and Shaq Thompson. The latter two are freshmen who combined have six interceptions this season. Up front, some of the beasts include Josh Shirley and Andrew Hudson.

Offensively, UW's star has been Spokane's Bishop Sankey, the sophomore running back who has rushed for 1,150 yards and 13 touchdowns. Junior Keith Price is a two-year starter at quarterback who has thrown for 2,331 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2012. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins could be UW's best pro prospect, as he's caught 58 passes for 753 yards and five touchdowns.

Last year: Washington beat WSU 38-21 in what proved to be the last straw of the four-year Paul Wulff era. As was the case during much of the 2011 season, the Cougars were competitive but not clutch, as the Huskies broke open a close game with a 10-point fourth quarter. Marshall Lobbestael threw three touchdown passes, including a 38-yarder to Marquess Wilson late in the third quarter that pulled WSU to within 28-21.

The series: Washington has won the past three Apple Cups, including the last one in Pullman, a 35-28 loss by the Cougars in 2010. WSU's last Apple Cup win came in 2008, when the Cougars beat the Ty Willingham-coached Huskies 16-13 in double overtime. The series has been very competitive of late, as Washington State has won four times since 2005. In a series that dates back to 1900, the Huskies lead overall 67-31-6.

Familiar faces: The lone Cougar on UW's coaching staff is special teams assistant Johnny Nansen, who played for WSU during the mid-1990s. Though he is a Spokane native, UW offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto has never coached at WSU during his 30-year tenure.

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