UW 101: Apple Cup

HISTORY WILL ATTEMPT to bring relevance to this likely forgotten chapter. The 100th Apple Cup features another set of bowl-less competitors playing for pride and prehaps their coaches' jobs. The winning team will savor bragging rights and will head into the offseason on more of a high note. The loser finishes in the Pac-10 cellar and their coach subject to a long, cold winter.

Cougars (4-7) vs Huskies (4-7)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
4:00 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Husky Stadium (72,500)

TELEVISION:
FSN regional broadcast

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
UW by 5.5. UW is favored for the first time in seven years.

LAST MEETING:
2006, UW won 35-32

THE SERIES:
Washington leads all time 64-29-6

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougars 24, Huskies 21

THE HUSKIES ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Jake Locker, QB: Locker is only 225 pounds but plays quarterback like a linebacker. He is fleet of foot and doesn't shy away from contact. In nearly cost him his neck against OSU when a helmet to helmet hit put him in an ambulance. After sitting last week he'll start this weekend. Locker has rushed for over 800 yards and passed for nearly 1700 yards this season. His accuracy has been questionable however, completing just 48 percent of his throws -- with only one more touchdown than he has interceptions this year.

Louis Rankin, RB: Rankin has been shredding defenses lately, rushing for over 200 yards in two of the last three contests and becoming UW's first thousand yard rusher since Rashaan Shehee ten years ago. He's not a power rusher but is an excellent all-around back when he has space to work with and he points his feet downfield.

Overview
UW operates a run oriented spread option attack. They rank 26th in the nation in rushing with 196 yards per game. They also average 4.929 yards per carry which would be a school record if it stands for the remainder of the season. Locker is a run-first quarterback and is unlikely to hold back despite seeing his career flash before his eyes two weeks ago.

Strategy
The UW offense lives and dies by running the football. Stop that and you stop them. The Huskies have run for over 300 yards in three of their four wins this year. If it is working in the least, they won't stop pounding the rock. The 3-4 is susceptible to the running game as the Cougars saw against Oregon State. If Locker and Rankin get rolling early, the Cougs may need to bite the bullet and switch back to 4-3 to get more help on the line of scrimmage. Above all, the Cougs have to get off the field on third down. WSU's defense has failed on an astronomical 52 percent of its third down attempts this year. Over-committing to the run is always dangerous, but UW's passing game has been inconsistent enough to justify taking some defensive risks.

THE HUSKIES ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
EJ Savannah, LB: Savannah was Ty Willingham's most heralded defensive recruit when he took over and he has blossomed into his best defender since then. Savannah leads the team with 92 tackles and is always around the football.
Grayson Gunheim, DE: Gunheim is UW's best pass rusher with 6.5 sacks and 11 tackles for a loss this season. He is one of 21 seniors playing his last game in Husky Stadium Saturday.

Overview
UW runs a base 4-3. The Huskies have the conference's worst run defense which should be welcome relief for WSU's lackluster running attack. UW's pass defense has improved to No. 8 in the Pac-10 over the last three games but is still capable of imploding at any moment. Any problems this group has experienced have seemed to snowball in the second half.

Strategy
WSU would seemingly need to find ways to run the football successfully, especially in the red zone. The reason the Cougars rank second total offense in the Pac-10 , but are only ninth in scoring, is their lack or rushing attempts and their inability to force their will with the running game. Washington State needs to keep control of the football and maintain a balanced attack against the UW. They need to focus on keeping third down yardage manageable and minimize the number of times they're in a position where the Husky defense has a good idea what type of play is coming.

THE HUSKIES ON SPECIAL TEAMS

For the first time this year, it is conceivable that WSU might have a slight edge in special teams. As bad as WSU's kickoff woes, UW has actually been worse -- by 1.5 yards on average. Both teams struggled with place kicking early in the season but have turned it around lately. Romeen Abdollmohammadi appears to have more range than UW's Ryan Perkins. Any boost in field position would be a welcome change of pace for a Cougar defense -- and for a WSU offense constantly needing to mount 80 drives and a defense that has been on a short field all year.

FINAL THOUGHTS

WSU needs to focus all of its frustration into being more physical in this game. Control the line of scrimmage and this game becomes very winnable. Both the offensive and defensive lines of WSU are senior laden and need to show their pride.

WSU played well for most of the game in 2006 but UW had all of the big plays and a failure to adjust cost WSU the game. The coaches need to be active in correcting any problems quickly, and they probably need to stick the trick plays and on-sides kicks in their back pockets given the lack of success experienced in that area this season. The WSU receivers are the ones with the true big play potential in this game, and Michael Bumpus, Charles Dillon and Brandon Gibson could have the final word on Saturday.


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