UW 101: For all the apples

WASHINGTON DOESN'T TRY to fool much on offense, with the bulk of their yards going through four players. And they usually don't score many points, averaging 23.5 ppg. But it's the defense, particularly over the last four games, that has stood out most. The 2012 Apple Cup appears to ride on whether the Huskies can tackle a second road game in a short week -- and if the Cougs are ready to execute.

Cougars (2-9) vs Huskies (7-4)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
Friday, 12:30 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Martin Stadium (33,522)

TELEVISION:
FOX

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

THE LINE:
-13 UW

LAST MEETING:
2011, WSU lost 38-21.

THE SERIES:
WSU is 31-63-3 in the series.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougs 29, UW 27

THE HUSKIES ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Keith Price, QB: The junior quarterback has struggled to move the offense consistently for most of the season, but has come on lately. He has eight touchdowns in the last two games and is starting to flash the athletic potential he did in the 2011 Alamo Bowl. He has completed 62 percent of his passes this year, but with a less-than-expected16 touchdowns.
Bishop Sankey, RB: The former Gonzaga Prep standout has lived up to the billing in his sophomore campaign. With virtually every other UW running back lost for the year, Sankey has carried the load for 1,150 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.
Kasen Williams, WR: Another sophomore, he leads an otherwise weak receiver corps with 63 receptions and six touchdowns.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE: The third of UW's sophomore trifecta, ASJ is prototype NFL tight end. Big framed (6-6, 266) and highly athletic, Seferian-Jenkins will also line up at d-end a bit and also plays on UW's basketball team.

Overview
UW's offense is getting thin on offensive talent, but what remains is potent. Sankey has delivered consistently by taking off-center hits and gaining valuable yards after contact. Williams and Seferian-Jenkins are both physical mismatches for defenders. Keith Price has struggled with poor pass protection, but has all the physical skills in the world. The offensive line has been the weak point. At an average weight of 295 they are a little on the light side, and the group features only one senior starter and zero juniors.

Strategy
UW can hurt you in a variety of ways but the overall number of weapons is limited. Williams and Jenkins get virtually all the receptions and Sankey gets nearly all the carries. Keep the secondary focused on Williams and Jenkins and attack the line of scrimmage. Trying to cover Seferian-Jenkins with a linebacker has proven deadly for a number of opponents this season, and the Cougs could play more nickel and dime than normal. Still, the best way to slow down UW on offense will be to bring pressure on Price while limiting Sankey to short gains. The danger is if the rush doesn't get there, or if the running back slips through the first line of defense.

Key Statistic
Touchdown-to-Interception Ratio: Price's ability to protect the football has been key all season. In UW's victories his TD to interception ratio is 14-2. In the losses he is 3-7.

THE HUSKIES ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Shaq Thompson, Nickel: UW's top spring recruit has started since day one and leads the team in both interceptions and tackles for a loss. A natural playmaker, who plays all over the field.
John Timu, MLB: Only a sophomore but is the team captain and leading tackler.

Overview
The Huskies have surrendered just 12 points per game during the four game win streak. The pass efficiency defense has risen to No. 16 nationally. But when UW loses, it has been catastrophic (average score 42-13). Most of the damage has been done on the ground against the UW, with the Huskies giving up an average of 256 rushing yards in their four losses.

Strategy
UW really has not faced an aggressive passing team this season, and the best ones blew them out running the ball. No team has thrown more than 37 passes in a game against the Huskies this year. The Cougs will obviously need to test the Husky defenders, particularly if Desmond Trufant is out, but expect some cheap rushing yards to be available.

Key Statistic
1.9 sacks per game: After facing the conference's top five pass rushing defenses in five consecutive games, the WSU offensive line finally gets a break against UW's 10th ranked unit.

THE HUSKIES ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Travis Coons handles both the punting and kicking duties. He has been serviceable but is not considered to have a strong leg.

FINAL THOUGHTS
-Assuming Jeff Tuel and Keith Price are the starting quarterbacks, both schools will feature their all-time leader in career completion percentage under center.

-It isn't easy to win back-to-back road games, the task facing the Huskies this week.

-No "snow bowl" expected this year. Game time temperatures should be in the 40s with a small chance of rain.

-Mike Leach fully understands the kind of rivalry WSU is in from his days at Texas Tech. A win over their rival would reignite the program and fan base headed into the offseason. Playing with a young, patchwork team will be difficult, but they are at a point where playing for pride might be more effective than you would expect. Conference doormats Minnesota and Colorado both pulled off stunning upsets over bowl teams in their final outings last year.

-Sometimes wins happen just because they are supposed to. Teams aren't supposed to win back to back road games. Teams that have a disappointing seasons are supposed to put together a surprisingly heroic effort in their last contest. Senior quarterbacks are supposed to play inspired football in their final game. Teams that ranked No. 97 in offense are not supposed fire on all cylinders for three straight weeks. Teams ranked 10th in passing aren't supposed to complete a high percentage of passes in their last two games.

- WSU has nothing to lose -- most everyone, including the media, has already anointed UW the winner in this one, and the Cougs could use that to their advantage. An underdog putting some early pressure on the favorite tends to see the favorite tighten up. WSU needs things to go right early and then build some confidence. Early pressure on Price and a turnover or two would do that nicely. On offense, a few designed quarterback runs could pay dividends to both the passing and traditional running attack.

Cougfan Top Stories