UW 101: A whole lot on the line for Cougs

THE UW's Steve Sarkisian took considerable heat off himself with the win over Oregon State this past week. Now the bipolar disorder that is Husky football is back on top of the world again. But the Cougars are feeling pretty good about themselves after gaining their sixth win. Now they're looking for another upset road victory to get to 7-5. They have the tools to make it happen too.

Cougars (6-5) vs Huskies (7-4)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
12:30 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Husky Stadium (72,500)

TELEVISION:
FOX

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

THE LINE:
UW by 14.5

LAST MEETING:
2012, WSU won 31-28

THE SERIES:
WSU trails 67-32-6 in the series.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougs 28, UW 27

THE HUSKIES ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Keith Price & Cyler Miles, QB: The senior Price ought to start if he is healthy, but that's in question. He is among UW's all time leaders in most offensive categories, but he bore a fair amount of the criticism during the Huskies' recent skid. A shoulder injury against UCLA opened the door for the freshman Miles, who looked very good in his first start against badly fading Oregon State. Either one brings a quick arm and outstanding running ability. Price suited up against OSU but did not play. He is said to be available for the Apple Cup but it's hard to tell how much of that is Sarkisian trying to make the Cougs prepare for both QBs.

Bishop Sankey, RB: A fast, decisive, single-cut runner. Sankey ranks third in the nation in rushing with 1,575 yards and is a Doak Walker finalist. He is also the key cog in the red zone with 17 rushing touchdowns and was a big part in making Miles look good last week.

Jaydon Mickens and Kevin Smith, WR: Although UW lost Kasen Williams for the year with an ankle injury, Smith and Mickens have provided reliable receiving targets, with nearly 700 yards a piece and 9 combined touchdowns.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE: A 2012 and 2013 Mackey Award Finalist who has disappeared at times this season. But the big framed Seferian-Jenkins (6-6, 266) is a huge mismatch problem. He has also played on UW's basketball team and is key red zone target with 6 touchdowns this year.

Overview
Offensively, UW wants to be Oregon. They feature a read option attack with a lot of quick passing designed to spread defenses out and cause hesitation. UW's team speed is quite good, but what has been missing is the level of execution. Still, coming off the monster win over OSU (700-plus yards of total offense including 530 yards rushing, 69 points) has propelled UW into a rank of No. 8 in total offense and nearly 40 points per game. Sankey's running is the key.

Strategy
Take away the run game. Well, Limit the run game -- you're probably not going to take it away completely. WSU's defensive game plan should be similar to the one that "worked" against Ka'Deem Carey two weeks ago – he still went over 100 yards but a big part of it came on one play and there were multiple times where WSU stuffed him for little or no gain. In the Apple Cup, the Cougs will need to key on Sankey and be aggressive. Don't try to bring him down with arm tackles and wrap up his legs -- force him to shuffle around. Sankey will likely get his 100 yards but whether it is Miles' inexperience, or Price's bum shoulder, the quarterbacks have to be tested. WSU needs to make UW try and beat them through the air.

Key Statistic
530 rushing yards against Oregon State: The Huskies simply shredded the Beaver defense and are likely to try and do so on Friday until WSU proves they can stop them.

THE HUSKIES ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Shaq Thompson, LB: 2011's top Husky recruit has transitioned well in the move up from safety. He ranks second on the team in tackles this season and his overall athleticism is the reason why.

Marcus Peters, CB: Only a sophomore but is emerging as a corner to watch in the Pac-12. Leads the team with 4 interceptions.

Hau'oli Kikaha, DE Has emerged from an knee injury that cost him the entire 2012 season to become UW's best pass rusher. He has eight sacks and 50 total tackles this season.

Overview
UW uses a variable front that essentially has two tackles and three defensive ends. There is a lot of speed and versatility for Justin Wilcox alternate with and they disguise their pressure well. They aren't the biggest group, but they can be very efficient against the passing game. Teams that have beaten them have done it primarily on the ground. But much of this pertains to what happens on the other side of the football. When the UW can generate pressure, the secondary has looked good. But when they haven't been able to apply the heat, there have been times this season when the UW secondary suddenly looks shaky. Oregon State looked shocked at the kind of pressure UW was able to get last week in only sending three or four.

Strategy
WSU in the last two weeks has taken pressure off Connor Halliday with more run support and better blocking schemes and the offense has thrived. They need to just keep doing more of the same. WSU has faced good pass rushers this season and survived. The Cougar hosses need to put their big boy pants on once more and go to work. The Huskies' primary objective will be to make Connor Halliday move about, where he becomes less effective and more prone to mistakes. The Air Raid doesn't require as much time to operate as most other offenses and Halliday isn't as dependent on a single receiver as other teams. WSU needs to protect Halliday and punish the smaller UW defenders by running the ball more. And when UW starts loading the box to try and turn that around, WSU needs to hit them with quick passes and let their receivers rack up the yards after the catch.

Key Statistic
Penalty yards per game -- 76: UW gets physical with their secondary, but it often costs them. They rank No. 121 in the nation in penalty yardage this season. Sarkisian has complained enough about it that he drew a reprimand from the conference last week. But it's probably been worth it – with all the hubbub surrounding the issue the officials may be less prone to throw the flags in Husky Stadium in a rivalry game.

THE HUSKIES ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The goat of the 2012 Apple Cup for his 35-yard push wide to the right, Travis Coons handles both the punting and kicking duties. He has been rock-solid this year, converting 12 of 13 field goal attempts this year, though none longer than 46 yards.

FINAL THOUGHTS
-The 14.5 point line feels like something generated by computers and hyper-based on last week's UW outcome – Oregon State was favored by 1 in a game won 69-27. If anything has marked the Apple Cup in recent years it's been that you can throw out the line and the records. Seven of the last 10 Apple Cups have been decided by a touchdown or less, with each team going 5-5 during that stretch. Predicting a husky blowout when both teams are bowl-bound is a pretty bold move but much of it pertains to UW's strength at home. They are 25-7 there under Sarkisian.

-The team that wins the turnover battle almost always wins the Apple Cup. The bodes poorly for WSU as Connor Halliday still lead the nation in interceptions and UW has a fairly ball control oriented attack. But Halliday's performance over the past two weeks shows promise and freshmen quarterbacks like Miles are more apt to make mistakes in big games. After last year's Apple Cup, Keith Price certainly knows that.

Cougfan Top Stories