Washington 101: Hold the line

FOR WHATEVER REASON, the Cougars always seem to play their best in Apple Cups when bowls aren't part of the equation. The Huskies earned bowl eligibility with a win over Oregon State last week, so both teams are playing for pride coming into Saturday. The Huskies will bring with them a formidable pass rush when they square off against Luke Falk and the pass-heavy Cougars.

Cougars (3-8) vs Huskies (7-5)
7:30 pm Pacific Time

Martin Stadium (32,952)

Fox Sports 1

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UW by 3 1/2

2013 WSU lost 27-17

WSU is 32-68-6

Cougs 35, Huskies 30


Players to Know
QB Cyler Miles: Miles certainly hasn't lit up the stat sheet, but he has been efficient. He has just 1,880 passing yards in 10 games, but has completed 67 percent of his throws against only two picks. His two best games have been in the last two weeks.
RBs Lavon Coleman and Dwayne Washington: UW's primary workhorse backs have a combined 1,058 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns, but neither is a major receiving threat.
WR Jaydon Mickens: The receiver position has been a weakness this year, but Mickens has come on late. Against the Beavers he had 84 receiving yards and 41 rushing yards. With a mere 48 catches for 484 yards, Mickens leads his team in both categories and has twice as many grabs as any other Husky receiver.

Washington may have put up 37 points against Oregon State last week, but this is not a high-powered offense. Offensively, they are trying to mimic what Oregon does, but it has been a poor replica. Though UW is thin at receiver, they operate out of spread formations and utilize a lot of north-south run plays, with some read option mixed in. When passing, Miles has a fairly weak but accurate arm, and the Huskies utilize a short route tree with quick safe throws. They have come to rely on big plays off broken tackles, as long scoring drives have been somewhat hard to come by.

It is tempting to want to jump the routes and finally get some interceptions in this one, but UW's offense counts on mistakes. Containing Miles and the run game should be the top priority. The forecast temperature at kickoff is 21 degrees and it might be around 18 degrees when the game ends so the Huskies may try to run more on third-and-long more than they normally would.

Key Statistic
Passing yards: 2,284. Washington ranks above only Utah in passing offense in the Pac-12. They are content to try and control the clock and not make mistakes.


Players to Know
LB Hau'oli Kikaha: The nation’s leader in sacks has been a focal point for this high pressure defense. Kikaha has 17.5 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss.
Danny Shelton, NT: While Kikaha has gotten the most sacks, Shelton is actually UW's best defensive lineman. At 340 pounds he is still very athletic, making an incredible 84 tackles from the interior (16 for loss) and 8 ½ sacks.
Shaq Thompson, LB: Thompson was briefly moved over to running back and played well, but it was mostly of a gimmick to try and stimulate the offense. He is highly athletic, and his past experience as a free safety serves him well in pass defense.
John Timu, MLB The senior leads the group in tackles and passes broken up. A very instinctive defender who is right at home in zone defense.

UW's defense, and indeed the entire team, leverages itself off a dominant defensive line. Though often using a 3-4 scheme, the Huskies are still able to generate pressure with only three or four pass rushers. They collapse the pocket quickly so the defenders rarely turn their back on the play. The back seven are almost always in zone coverage and often look to go for the big play. UW leads the nation with seven defensive touchdowns. The weakness is the secondary which starts two true freshman, a sophomore, and a recently converted receiver in John Ross.

This is a tall task for Luke Falk and the WSU offensive line, but there is also potential to do some major damage. Falk will be throwing into zone coverage and likely under consistent pressure. He cannot make the same mental mistakes he made against ASU. The good news is Falk knows it's coming and the UW secondary is outmatched. And if Falk gets the ball out quickly on most throws, then it’s all about if the pass-catchers can beat their man. Flood plays and quick slants should work well against the Huskies’ zone, and the Cougars can expose the zone by lining up in trips formations. The key is avoiding turnovers and negative yardage plays. Sacks and holding calls have allowed this defense to really tee off in most games.

Key Statistics
Total defense: 75th. Washington ranks a very pedestrian 75th in total defense. UW's defense isn't very remarkable statistically, until you get the big play numbers: 45 sacks, 7 defensive touchdowns, and 24 turnovers. The Huskies sit back in zone relying on sacks and turnovers stop drives.

Cameron Van Winkle has been pretty much automatic, converting 19 of 22 field goal attempts, one of which was blocked.

-At a certain point, trends can no longer be called luck, but the UW has certainly been fortunate in the turnover department this year. The Huskies arguably have the conference's weakest collection of quarterbacks, but they have only thrown four interceptions on the year. Likewise, UW has fumbled the ball a league worst 31 times this season, but have lost only 10 of them.

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