APPLE CUP: 6 compelling storylines

APPLE CUP WEEK is upon us and the 2014 vintage has little of the intrigue that highlighted many of these rivalry games in the 1980s and '90s. But that doesn't mean this 107th tussle between the Cougs and Dawgs doesn't contain some mighty interesting storylines.

Mike Leach raised a few eyebrows after the ASU loss Saturday in discussing the defense. It wasn’t that he mentioned the Cougar D, or how they played poorly after turnovers and great apart from that. What stood out was just how ticked off he was.

Indeed, Leach’s scathing critique has put the discussion on defensive coordinator and secondary coach Mike Breske - if this Saturday's Apple Cup may be his swan song - front and center.

Breske has been trying to find something that works this season in a defensive backfield peppered with youth and beset by injuries. Not unexpectedly given that combination, he's had a tough go of it. But it’s also a bottom line business and for many WSU fans, their patience has worn tissue-paper thin as Breske’s third year in Pullman comes to a close.

The defense as a whole is young, there have been more downs than ups this season. Statistics sometimes lie, they sometimes blur the real story, but the season numbers are eye-catching: The Cougs rank 99th in total defense this season, and 124th in passing yards allowed and pass efficiency defense. The Cougars are also tied for 120th in turnover margin, at minus-1.36.

The Huskies have their own coordinator dilemma and it too has had recent gasoline poured on it by the head coach. UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith has been under siege by fans this season and Chris Petersen, after defending his OC in late October, notably passed on the opportunity to do so again after the Arizona game.

The tempest has been muted this week after UW’s win Saturday but any good done over the last couple games doesn’t overshadow all that came before it. Would Petersen change coordinators after just one year? A good amount of vocal Husky fans are hoping so.

This Apple Cup could wind up being remembered as the Battle of Clock Management anti-Christs.

Petersen put on a highly dubious display in the loss to Arizona. And Cougar fans are still grumbling about what happened in the New Mexico Bowl. We’ll let the post-game quotes speak for themselves:

“We shouldn't have worried about - we shouldn't have messed with any of that. I mean, fine, use the clock, we should have attacked them and got first downs. And then we should have protected the football.” – Leach after the New Mexico Bowl when asked if Cougs should have milked the clock more at the end.

"The one thing I really want you guys to know is all of it was very calculated. So you might not agree with the strategy, but we got our charts all on our game plans and the guys are looking at it upstairs…I've looked at it about 105 times, second-guessing it, and if I had to do it again right today, I'd do the same thing.” – Petersen two days after the Arizona loss.

What a horrendous start time for this Apple Cup. Not only are students gone for Thanksgiving break but the kickoff is set for the ungodly November hour of 7:30 p.m.

The game is sold out, but there’s a good chance the stadium could be about 50 percent full without the students.

Eight of 12 WSU games this season will have had a start time of 5 p.m. Pacific or later. (Five of those eight began at 7 p.m. or later.)

Has this Apple Cup suddenly turned into the battle of the QBs?

Luke Falk and Cyler Miles both looked like world beaters the last two weeks playing Oregon State. If both of those guys show up it could be a battle for the ages. But …

But if the Falk from ASU, and the Miles from the rest of the season, show up on Saturday night in Pullman it could be a Crapple Cup.

You probably know that UW is third nationally in sacks per game, at 3.75. But did you know the Cougs are tied for No. 35 in the land at 2.55 takedowns per game? (Kache Palacio pictured above leads team with 6.5)

On the other side of the ball, UW has allowed 2.08 sacks per game, while WSU has allowed 2.91. But there’s more to those numbers.

WSU has attempted the most passes in the nation this year -- a mind-boggling 722. To put that into perspective, East Carolina is No. 2 in the land with a “mere” 478 pass attempts, (East Carolina is coached by former Leach assistant Ruffin McNeill.)

The Huskies, with the 100th ranked passing offense, have attempted 319 passes.

So the Huskies are allowing a sack once per every 12.76 pass attempts.

The Cougars are allowing a sack per every 22.6 pass attempts.

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