Washington 101: The Apple Cup

For the second year in a row the Cougars and Huskies enter the Apple Cup with the ol' chestnut bandied about that nothing but pride is on the line. Not only are both teams out of bowl contention, but one of them is assured to finish as the Pac-10 doormat. It is UW that enters the game with a little momentum, but rivalry week is rivalry week.

Records mean a little less and hunger means a little more. The winner of this game gets a reprieve from their misery.


Players to Know:
Isaiah Stanback, QB: Outside of finishing drives with touchdowns, Stanback has put up pretty solid statistical production this year but continues to confound his critics. An outstanding athlete who is still a threat to run when to chance arises, Stanback is slowly improving as a passer. He has 2,283 all-purpose yards this year with a total of 13 touchdowns.

Cougars (3-7) vs. Huskies (2-8)
12:15 pm Pacific Time

Husky Stadium

Live on FSN

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Cougs by 2 1/2

The Cougars won a year ago in Pullman, 28-25. Alex Brink passed for two TDs and ran for one while Jerome Harrison rushed for 150 yards. Scott Davis had 10 tackles and forced a fumble that Will Derting recovered for a TD.

Cougars 44, Huskies 35

James Sims, RB: Last week he became the first Husky to run for 200 yards since Corey Dillon did nine years ago. He runs with decent power and will work with any opportunity given to him. This year, he has averaged 4.5 per rush.

Craig Chambers, WR: The Huskies best deep threat is occasionally brilliant, but often invisible. He leads the team with 556 receiving yards and five touchdowns this season. It is his job to loosen up any defense who get too focused on the running game.

Overview: Willingham teaches the West Coast offense. They operate out of pro-set formation and maintain an equal balance between the run and pass. Stanback's passing isn't sensational, but he's reduced his mistakes from last season. The offense averages a surprising 5.6 yards per play, contrasted with their meager 21 points a game, primarily due to poor field position, time of possession deficits handed them by the defense, as well as a poor third down conversion rate.

Strategy: This offense was dormant throughout Pac-10 play, but finally woke up last week. The Huskies ran wild on Arizona for 333 yards and will try to keep the momentum going. WSU must stop the running game and force UW to beat them through the air. When UW does pass, the Cougs must attack and contain Stanback. His running ability could be lethal against a team that gave up nearly 100 rushing yards to Trent Edwards.


Players to Know:
Manase Hopoi, DT: The Huskies best overall defender has battled constant double teams all season. His production has suffered, with just four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.

Evan Benjamin, LB: UW's leading tackler. The senior has emerged as a key defensive stopper in the absence of Joe Lobendahn.

Overview: Willingham has removed UW's 3-4 system for a more conservative and simplified 4-3 set. This should work to the benefit of WSU's passing game. UW is lousy against the pass and hasn't helped themselves with a mere 21 sacks and 9 interceptions to their credit. They have also struggled to make stands in the red zone.

Strategy: While the Cougs would love to run right through the Dawgs, the way to beat them might be through the air. The secondary can be beat deep and the three linebacker formation opens up a lot of shorter routes not there in years past. The Cougs must still give Harrison ample touches, but the points will probably come from the arm of Alex Brink. With the numbers Harrison has put up, he will definitely be UW's primary concern, so Brink should be mindful of potential game breaking pass opportunities early in the contest.

The Huskies are marginal in all areas, and don't have any truly remarkable special teams standouts. Kicker Evan Knudsen has been adequate inside of 45 yards. Punter Sean Douglas averages 42.5 yards per punt. Kick coverage has been a problem.

WSU: TE Troy Bienemann (knee), WR/PR Michael Bumpus (ankle), TE Jesse Taylor (stinger) are out. MLB Will Derting (knee), WR Brandon Gibson (hip), DE Michael Graise (knee) are all probable. UW: QB Johnny DuRocher (broken hand), DB/KR Marlon Wood (knee) and LB Joe Lobendahn (knee) are out. OL Robin Meadow (suspension) is probable. S Darrin Harris (concussion) and FS Dashon Goldson (quad contusion) are questionable.

Those claiming these teams don't have much to play for are mistaken. Nobody ever needs the motivation of a bowl game where rivalries are concerned. The coaching staffs are both under pressure to improve and a win over their nemesis would relieve much of that. The Cougars need a victory this year as badly as ever before. Expect them to play with hunger and aggression. In spite of their record, this year's Cougar team is better than last year's and has every reason to expect to retain their Apple Cup title.

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