UW 101: Purple, Gold and Bowled Over

A MONTH AGO, the UW was 4-1 and playing their best ball in years — many said they were back, risen from the ashes. They nearly pulled off the upset against USC, took Cal and ASU to overtime, and played like equals against all. Then they lost their best and apparently only playmaker in QB Isaiah Stanback. Since then the Huskies have looked like a team lacking depth, talent, and coaching.

Last week, Washington's offense was absolutely manhandled by the worst defense in the nation, failing to score a touchdown in Husky Stadium for the first time since 1983's Apple Cup. The quarterbacks completed a mere 25 percent of their throws and the running backs generated only 39 rushing yards. Now they are a team trying to avoid making history for all the wrong reasons as they stand to be the first squad to lose three straight to WSU.

Cougars (6-5) vs Huskies (4-7)
3:45 pm Pacific Time

Martin Stadium (35,112)

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WSU by 10.5. WSU is again favored, for the sixth straight year.

2005, WSU won 26-22, the final margin provided on the wings of Trandon Harvey's fourth quarter bubble screen.

Washington leads all time 63-29-6

Cougars 22, Huskies 13

Players to Know
Carl Bonnell, QB: UW quarterbacks are decimated with injuries, starter Isaiah Stanback was lost earlier in the year to a foot injury. Last week, Bonnell came out with a thigh bruise to go along with an already injured non-throwing shoulder and Johnny DuRocher suffered a concussion. Bonnell, a former WSU grayshirt, is listed as the starter, with fifth year walk-on Felix Sweetman the backup. UW has never won a game Bonnell has started. For his career he has completed only 40% of his throws with 13 interceptions and 5 touchdowns.

Louis Rankin and Kenny James, RB: UW started the year with a pretty solid running game, but teams have focused on it more each week since Stanback went down. Stanford's defense, which gave up an average of 240 rushing yards per game, surrendered only 39 to the Huskies. James and Rankin have 944 rushing yards between them, but average 4.2 per rush.

Sonny Shackelford, WR: The senior leads a receiver corps that has struggled to get open and has dropped too many balls. Shackelford leads the team in receptions (47), yards (636), and touchdowns (7).

UW has serious offensive problems coming in and they start at quarterback. Bonnell and DuRocher were just 11-44 against Stanford with three interceptions. Both are injured and haven't responded well to pressure. Even Sweetman is battling a shoulder stinger he got while playing special teams, and both Sweetman and emergency QB Shackleford would see the field rather than the UW coaches burning Jake Locker's redshirt. Minus Stanback, UW quarterbacks have managed only 7 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this year. Understandably, teams have been shutting down the run and forcing them to beat them through the air.

The key to disrupting the UW offense has proven to be stopping the run. WSU's switch to the 3-4 defense, which initially offered positive results has contributed to disaster the last two weeks. The lack of beef along the line of scrimmage has paralyzed the Cougar run defense and two blockers on Mkristo Bruce has neutralized his pass rushing ability. But WSU should finally have the personnel to revert to their base 4-3 formation as Fevaea'i Ahmu and Ropati Pitoitua are expected to return, and Aaron Johnson is also expected to play after being injured against ASU . If the coaches still implement some 3-4, extra focus on the running game will have to be devoted by the linebackers and safeties with greater emphasis than the last two weeks. But this in turn can leave them vulnerable to the deep ball.

Players to Know
Scott White and Tahj Bomar, LB: Lost in the six game losing streak has been some solid play by the UW linebackers. They lead a veteran group of defenders who have been notably short on hardware over their college careers.

UW runs a base 4-3 defense. They've been solid though unremarkable in most fazes of the game. This is partly by design. They play bend but don't break and seem content not to generate a lot of big plays in exchange for not surrendering them.

The Huskies looked decent on defense last week, but they were also facing a team that hadn't scored an offensive touchdown in over a month. Potentially, without their three top receivers, the Cougars need to put their blue collars on and get to work on ground. The Cougs averaged just 1.6 yards per rush attempt against the Arizona schools— that didn't get it done then and it won't work this week either. The Huskies may stack the box and force Brink and the unproven receivers to beat them, but the Cougs will probably still have to at least present a respectable ground game to effectively move the ball.

UW has superior kicking personnel to WSU, but the rest of their special teams have been weak. Michael Braunstein has connected on 10 of 12 kick attempts. Punter Sean Douglas is one of the conference's best with a 43.1 punting average but has also had some untimely issues with consistency, and occasional trouble with a slow delivery.

WASHINGTON STATE *to be further updated Thursday afternoon
Out – None
Questionable – WR Michael Bumpus (high ankle sprain), CB Markus Dawes (quad strain), WR Jason Hill (high ankle sprain), WR Chris Jordan (knee sprain), PK Loren Langley (quad strain) LB Chris Ivory (ankle sprain)
Probable – DT Fevaea'i Ahmu (stress fracture, foot), LB Scott Davis (wrist fracture), RB Derrell Hutsona (ankle sprain), DT Ropati Pitoitua (MCL sprain), RB DeMaundray Woolridge (shoulder stinger), DT Aaron Johnson (elbow sprain)

Out – Brandon Ala (DE)
Questionable – Johnny DuRocher (QB, concussion), Luke Kravitz (FB, knee)
Probable – Carl Bonnell (QB, leg bruise), Donny Mateaki (DT, calf), Wilson Afoa (DT, knee), Donald Butler (LB, calf), Jason Wells (FS, knee)

There couldn't be more on the line for WSU, and there's no time to ponder what might have gone amiss the last two weeks. A win ensures a bowl game, valuable extra practice time, better visibility for the program, and most importantly to the here and now — a third straight Apple Cup victory. All that momentum could be lost if the Cougs lose and fail to make a bowl game for a third straight year.

UW has nothing to play for but pride. Their offense looks to be in shambles, but so did the last two teams before they faced WSU. A battered Cougar defense has got to dig down and set the tone for this game. UW's offense will be dominated if the Cougs can control the line of scrimmage, but that is easier said than done given the injury situation.

There is also a strong subplot playing out to this game. Five UW redshirt juniors were informed they would not be asked back to the team for their fifth year of eligibility last week. Kicker Braunstein and backup safety Chris Hemphill are the most noteworthy, and news reports this week in the Seattle media have been flush with the continuing fallout.

The impact it might have this week is debatable, but it can be said the news did nothing last week against Stanford to unite a UW team already unraveling and likely contributed to the lifeless performance. Coach Tyrone Willingham said he made to the move to give his players the opportunity to be honored on senior day, but the timing has clearly proven to be a mistake given the fallout. It will almost certainly be cited as a factor in Saturday evening's locker room -- and regardless of whether the UW loses or wins -- but how much real impact it has on the game could just as likely remain open to interpretation long after the final gun sounds.


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