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With a guaranteed bowl-birth on the line the Huskies welcome the eight-win Cougars to Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium. Let’s take a look at some of the key players featured in the 108th Apple Cup matchup.

Players To Watch

#4 SO 6’4” 205-pound QB Luke Falk

2015 stats: 418 of 591 for 4266, 70.7% completion, 7.22 YPA, 36 TD, 8 INT, 148.8 RAT

Sneak Peak: Rarely do you see a walk-on go on to lead a conference in total offense. So, in that regard, Luke Falk is an anomaly. The sophomore from Logan, Utah has taken the conference by storm, topping the leaderboards in passing yards and passing touchdowns, not to mention pass attempts. Falk attempts over fifty passes per game. I don’t blame Mike Leach for calling his number that often; Falk has completed over 70 percent of his passes. It is uncertain, however, if he will be ready to go this weekend. Falk suffered a head injury against Colorado. Losing Falk would be clearly detrimental to the Cougar offense, which would feature Peyton Bender in his absence.

Husky Comparison: Jake Browning

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#6 FR 6’0” 187-pound QB Peyton Bender

2015 stats: 17 of 33 for 210 yards, 51.5% completion, 6.36 YPA, 2 TD, 2 INT, 112.9 RAT

Sneak Peak: In the absence of Luke Falk, redshirt frosh Peyton Bender attempted 22 passes in a 27-3 win against Colorado. He completed 13 of his attempts for 133 yards and a touchdown, while also throwing an interception. The Fort Lauderdale, Florida native was a consensus three-star recruit and was ranked the 80th quarterback prospect for his class by Scout.com. He would take on the heavy burden of stepping under center for the Cougars if Luke Falk is unable to go this Friday.

Husky Comparison: Jake Browning

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#24 SO 6’0” 224-pound RB Gerard Wicks

2015 stats: 95 carries for 557 yards, 5.9 YPC, 24 long, 3 TD, 34 catches for 132 yards, 3.9 YPC, 17 long

Sneak Peak: Even teams that throw the ball as much as the Cougars have to run the ball occasionally to keep defenses honest. Sophomore tailback Gerard Wicks provides the majority of the rushing attack, and he does so efficiently. On less than eight carries per game Wicks accounts for over 60 yards of total offense, including over 50 on the ground. He’s a heavy runner that helps a high-powered Cougar offense keep from getting too one-dimensional.

Husky Comparison: Dwayne Washington

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#8 JR 6’0” 190-pound WR Gabe Marks

2015 stats: 92 catches for 1067 yards, 11.6 YPC, 43 long, 14 TD

Sneak Peak: Gabe Marks has reaped the benefits of being the favorite target in a pass-heavy offense. He’s dominated the stat sheet, topping the conference in receptions and receiving touchdowns while ranking second in receiving yards. He uses his shiftiness to get open and sure hands to haul in passes. Whether it’s Falk or Bender under center Marks will be targeted in high volume this Friday. 

Husky Comparison: Dante Pettis

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#80 SR 6’2” 200-pound WR Dom Williams

2015 stats: 67 catches for 950 yards, 14.2 YPC, 75 long, 10 TD

Sneak Peak: Senior wide out Dom Williams brings a versatile skillset to the table. His combination of speed and strength make him a certain mismatch for opposing defenses. He’s made plays on screen passes, deep balls, and everywhere in-between. He’s on pace to be the second Cougar this season to eclipse 1000 yards receiving.

Husky Comparison: A seasoned Isaiah Renfro

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#3 SR 6’4” 233-pound LB Ivan McLennan

2015 stats: 38 total tackles, 8.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks, 2 PD

Sneak Peak: ‘RUSH’ end Ivan McLennan has been a force to be reckoned with off the edge. He has a similar build, as well as a similar skill set, to Travis Feeney; he is long, strong, and quick off the edge. His relentless motor, coupled with his athleticism, has resulted in five sacks this year, which is good for second on the team. Keeping him out of the backfield is a huge key for Washington. It will be easier said than done.

Husky Comparison: Travis Feeney

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#92 SR 6’2” 255-pound DL Darryl Paulo

2015 stats: 37 total tackles, 11.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 1 FF

Sneak Peak: After starting only three games in his first three years in crimson and gray, Darryl Paulo has made the most of his final year of eligibility; he leads the team in tackles for a loss and sacks, making in impact as a pass-rusher as well as contributing in stopping the run. Friday night is his last chance to make an impact against Washington, against whom he has only garnered four tackles and a half a sack in two appearances. 

Husky Comparison: Joe Mathis

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#47 SO 6’0” 227-pound LB Peyton Pelluer

2015 stats: 87 total tackles, 10.0 TFL, 2 PD, 2 FF

Sneak Peak: Sophomore middle linebacker Peyton Pueller is the core of the Cougar defense, both in position and significance. Nobody on the WSU defense has made more stops than he has and he’s one of two Cougars with double-digit tackles for a loss. He’s not the biggest MIK you’ll find, but he uses speed and a nose for the ball to get in on seemingly every play. The Huskies will have to find away to slow him down to get their run game going.

Husky Comparison: Azeem Victor

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#18 JR 6’0” 201-pound S Shalom Luani

2015 stats: 76 total tackles, 3.5 TFL, 3 INT, 9 PD, 2 FF

Sneak Peak: In his first season as a Cougar, Luani has been one of the biggest playmakers for his new squad. He leads the team in interceptions and pass breakups, he’s tied for the lead in in forced fumbles, and he’s second on the team in total tackles. Luani has a big build for a free safety. Pair that with his solid set of wheels and you have a dangerous athlete in the secondary. He’ll make plays all over the field, including getting in passing lanes and stepping up to hit ball carriers.

Husky Comparison: A bigger Budda Baker

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What the Cougar offense looks like

It’s no secret that the Cougars like to throw the ball. In fact, they have attempted 150 more passes than any team in the conference. However, as often as they do throw the ball, they are still incredibly efficient in doing so; they boast the highest team completion percentage in the Pac-12. A lot of the credit should go to Luke Falk. The once upon a time walk-on has completed over 70 percent of his attempts. Where the Cougars are effective throwing the ball, they are equally ineffective, and uncommitted to, running the ball. Not only have they run the ball 125 times less than any other team in the conference, but their 3.5 yards per carry ranks dead last in the conference. They’re the Pac-12’s only team with single-digit touchdown runs, but they make up for it with 38 touchdown passes. This all balances out to an offense that ranks sixth in the conference in points per game at 34.5. The Cougars have a wealth of talent at receiver, none more productive than Gabe Marks. Fellow junior River Cracraft and senior standout Dom Williams also make big impacts catching the ball. Gerard Wicks does average nearly six yards a carry when they hand him the ball, however that happens less than nine times per game. This is an incredibly potent offense powered by quarterback Luke Falk. Whether or not he plays Friday is a different question.

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What the Cougar defense looks like

When asked about the Cougars after Washington’s 52-7 domination of OSU, coach Pete Kwiatkowski said the thing that stood out to him and the rest of the coaching staff was WSU’s improvement on the defensive side of the ball. This season has been an improvement indeed. The Cougars, who allowed more 38.6 points per game in 2014, are allowing only 27.4 points per game this season; that’s a difference of more than 10 points per game. Where the Cougars have been most impressive defensively is against the pass. Their 225.8 yards allowed through the air per game is third to Washington and UCLA. They also get after the quarterback; their 27 sacks are tied for fourth in the conference. Stopping the run has been a bit more of a struggle for Washington State. The Cougars allow 195.6 rushing yards per game and they are one of the three teams in the Pac-12 to allow 20 or more rushing touchdowns. Where the Cougars have struggled the most, however, has been getting off the field. The Cougars allow their opponents to convert on third down 46 percent of the time. That’s dead last in the conference. Overall the Cougar defense has been effective. They have playmakers on the d-line, playmakers in the secondary, and playmakers in-between. However, there are areas in which this defense has struggled this season. Getting after those weaknesses will be important if the Huskies want to keep up with the Cougars' high-powered offense.

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Keys to the game

Washington State

  • Get after Jake Browning – Again, this feels like the hundredth week in a row that I’ve listed this as a key. However, as shown by the last two weeks, pressuring, or not pressuring, Jake Browning makes quite the difference. The Arizona State Sun Devils were able to get Browning out of his comfort zone, particularly in the second half. Jake finished the game with three interceptions while completing just fewer than 54 percent of his passes. While a lot of his lack of success can be attributed to drops by receivers and tough fourth quarter circumstances, credit also has to be given to Arizona State and their pass rush. Conversely, when given more time Jake Browning has performances more like his Oregon State outing, in which he completed 18 of 20 attempts. Not allowing him to set his feet will be essential for the Cougar defense.
  • Get off the field on third down – The Huskies are the second-worst third down offense, while the Cougars are the very worst third down defense in the conference. One of these two units will need to step up and win this matchup of weakness-on-weakness. Getting off the field will allow the Cougars to have more time with the ball, which is a very good thing for their offense, especially if Luke Falk is ready to roll.
  • Stop the run – Similar to third down offense and defense, the Husky rushing attack and Cougar run defense both rank in the bottom third in the conference, respectively. However, it appears Washington has found their answer in Myles Gaskin. Slowing him down could throw the Husky offense off their rhythm and lead to some very short drives.

Washington

  • Take care of the ball – A stat that has jumped off the page in close losses against teams like California, Utah, and Arizona State has been the turnover margin. Giving the ball back to a high-powered offense, under the assumption that Luke Falk is healthy, could make Friday ugly.
  • Ground and pound – Last week, against the worst run defense in the conference, the Huskies totaled 271 rushing yards. While the Cougars aren’t the worst run defense in the Pac-12, they are the fourth worst. Getting Myles Gaskin going early and often will help establish a rhythm for the Husky offense while helping take pressure off of the passing game.
  • Play like it’s the national championship – As a five-win team playing for a bowl birth at home against their in-state rival that is ranked 20th in the nation, there's already a lot to play for. Not only does a bowl appearance ride on this, but this game could also be an incredibly bright spot in an up and down season with a lot of negative results. 

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