Monday Morning Quarterbacking with Alex Brink

APPLE CUP WEEK holds a special place in my heart. I feel fortunate to have ever been able to compete in such a great rivalry. There are three things I believe Washington State must do to beat the Dawgs on Saturday.

I've been in much the same situation as the players on this 2014 team and know how much Saturday in Martin Stadium will mean to them. As difficult as this year has been for the Cougar football team, a win against Washington will allow the seniors to go out on a positive note and provide a springboard into the offseason. Now, about those three things ...

First downs or check downs: This classic coach saying refers to a quarterback's ability to come off his first or second read and get the ball to his shorter completion. I love what I have seen of Luke Falk so far. He is athletic, poised and can make every throw. The one criticism I would have is that he seems to hang onto his downfield throws a little too long.

There has to be a clock in your head as a quarterback that tells you when to scramble or get the ball to a check down. Sometimes the defense gets it right and calls the correct coverage for the play you have called. In that case you have to be smart with the ball and get it out of your hand. I thought Connor Halliday did an excellent job of this all year and we saw his efficiency go through the roof by not always forcing throws downfield.

Falk can learn from his mistakes last week and apply that knowledge Saturday against Washington. This will be especially important when facing such a Husky defensive line that gets after the quarterback.

Play man coverage: I've said it before but I think Mike Breske must lean heavily on man coverage, especially when he dials up pressure.

I thought the Cougar defense played well at ASU but was put in a really tough position with all the turnovers by the offense. That being said, the Huskies' skill position players, though not all that heralded coming in, will have a big day if they are allowed to get clean releases in zone coverage.

Washington State must force Husky QB Cyler Miles to make accurate throws to receivers with defenders in close proximity.

I also believe the extra split second it takes for a receiver to win against man coverage will allow the WSU defensive front to get to the quarterback.

Protect the football: The turnover margin was the glaring stat last week against Arizona State. There was no doubt in my mind that the Cougs could have won that game in Tempe, but three second half turnovers were the difference.

Last year in the Apple Cup WSU had a late opportunity to win the game but was undone by an interception. The margin for error is even smaller in rivalry games -- Falk and the Cougar offense have to be smart with the football. On the flip side of things, it would be a welcome sight to see a couple turnovers forced by the WSU defense.

Brief ASU Thoughts as they relate to the Apple Cup:

Blitz looks: Everyone watching the game heard the broadcast team talk about all the "varied looks" the ASU defense was showing young Cougar quarterback Luke Falk. But what exactly does that mean?

The Sun Devils showed multiple short side blitzes, including bringing the boundary cornerback a few times. This can be tough if the offense isn't prepared for such a blitz because they rarely account for the cornerbacks in their blitz protection packages. The Cougars had not seen many boundary blitzes up to this point and struggled at times to pick them up against ASU.

And although UW doesn't blitz a lot, you can bet they studied up on the WSU-ASU film.

The Vince Mayle Show: I've been impressed all year with what senior wide receiver Vince Mayle has accomplished. An obvious physical specimen, what I love is the way he approaches the game.

He blocks well, can run vertical, is used on screens and speed sweeps: he literally does everything.

One thing he showed against ASU that may help him most at the next level is his ability to "high point" the football. Some big receivers don't fully take advantage of their size and strength. Mayle goes up and attacks the ball when it is in the air, something NFL scouts love.

Snap count: I loved the way Luke Falk utilized the snap count in the first half against the Sun Devils.

Knowing that the ASU front seven was really going to get after him, it showed a lot of maturity to continually change the count and draw four -- FOUR -- offsides penalties.

This is something Falk will need to continue to do against the Huskies on Saturday.

Apple Cup Memories:
1) Everyone remembers the last minute touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson in 2007. It is certainly the highlight of my career. What most people probably don't know is that the ball really never should have gone to Brandon.

The play was drawn up to get a quick throw to Michael Bumpus in the flat or Charles Dillon on a crossing route from the backside. UW called what should have been a perfect defense, a front side blitz right into our play fake that took away Bumpus and didn't give me time to find Dillon.

The only problem for the Huskies was that both the safety and the corner to the field jumped Bumpus, which left Gibson running wide open on a post. I had just enough time to see him flash open, flip my hips and let it go before the pressure arrived. As they say, the rest is history.

2) Of all the things I was thinking about heading into that 2007 Apple Cup, what worried me most was the loss of TE Jed Collins to injury. Jed had been an integral part of our offense all year and I knew the tight end position would play a big role in the outcome of the game.

Enter backup TE Devin Frischknect, the junior college transfer from Utah. Devin was a guy that we knew had a lot of ability when came to catching the football, but really hadn't had an opportunity to prove it. He came up huge in Husky Stadium with five catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns.

3) Although it doesn't get the same notoriety as the 2005 and 2007 games, the 2004 Apple Cup is still one of my favorite games.

Not only was it my first Apple Cup start, but we hadn't beaten the Huskies in 6 years. Throw in that it was at Martin Stadium and Apple Cup victories don't get much better than that.

What I always loved about the rivalry game is that it was an opportunity to send the seniors out on a high note. Those guys had bled for four, sometimes five years for the program and no matter what our record was, it was special to be able to send them out with a win against the Dawgs.

I AM REALLY looking forward to seeing how this Washington State football team will respond to the adversity it has faced this season.

Throw the records out, this is a great opportunity for the Cougars to show the pride they have for their coach, teammates and university. Even with a new rookie quarterback, WSU has the offensive firepower to beat anyone.

This one will come down to turnovers and defense. And I believe this is the week we will see the Cougs put it all together and bring the Apple Cup home. Go Cougs!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alex Brink was the starting quarterback at Washington State from 2004-2007, throwing for more yards and touchdowns than anyone in school history -- and the third-most yards in Pac-10 history. He was picked second-team all-Pac-10 twice and honorable mention once. Drafted in the seventh round by the Houston Texans in 2008, he spent a season on their practice squad before playing three years in the Canadian Football League with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and then the past two seasons with Montreal. He also is the head quarterbacks coach for the Barton Football Academy based in Portland and does a weekly Pac-12 podcast. He can be found on twitter at @AlexBrink10.

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