5 keys for Cougs vs. Dawgs

THERE IS NO NEED to “throw out the records” this year, there’s plenty more than pride at stake in the 2016 Apple Cup. UW brings the No. 1-ranked Pac-12 offense and defense and a three-game winning streak in the series to Pullman. Washington State brings its season-long motivation of a Rose Bowl berth along with, for a change, a healthy quarterback. Here are the keys to a Wazzu win.

This just in: the North division title and the road to the Rose Bowl both go through Pullman on Saturday.
1. Protect Luke Falk.
UW has thrived the last two Apple Cups in getting pressure without having to blitz much. That might change with the Huskies’ best pass rusher out (Joe Mathis) but UW may test the waters early and see what four can do against the Coug OL.  The Husky defensive backs are very solid, but they do tend to react early in the play.  If Falk has the time to work through his progressions, he will find an open receiver.

2. Use the running backs early and often.
Whether via screen pass or run, the Cougs need to punish the UW defenders if they put too much focus on Falk and the receivers.  James Williams, Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow are good enough to beat anybody given ample opportunities.

3. Don't get burned for big plays.
In the 2014 Apple Cup, a fine Cougar defensive effort was undermined by a couple of long runs. In 2015, the Cougar D did a good job of bottling up Myles Gaskin, but in 2016 there is the added threat of WR John Ross, the fastest receiver in the conference.  The Cougs will need to keep a safety dedicated to defending Ross on vertical routes, but he is dangerous even on short passes. Bottom line, WSU needs to force UW to work the short stuff and then rally to the ball, while holding Gaskins in check. No one said it was going to be easy.

4. Pressure Jake Browning.
Browning is one of the most efficient passers in the country but he has struggled under pressure.  Blitzing risks the big plays, but giving Browning time to operate is just as, if not more, dangerous.  Whether it’s by sending extra men or getting there with the d-line, WSU needs to make Browning uncomfortable and dump him on his wallet.

5. Special teams coverage tight as a drum.
Ross and Dante Pettis lend significant speed to UW's return game.  The Cougs need to kick smart, and cover even better.  If Washington State can break off a few decent-sized returns on its end, that’s a bonus. The special teams key for Wazzu is to not let UW break one and grab the momentum that comes with it.

Kickoff: 12:30 pm / Fox
Matt Moore’s Prediction: WSU 28, UW 27

Check back with CF.C after the game for  our wall-to-wall coverage and during the game for lively message board conversation.

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