Hailing Mary

Now, who'd have thunk it ... last Saturday evening, desperate to claw out of losing streaks both long and agonizing, rivals Washington and Washington State both decided they had nothing to lose by doing a little long-distance hailing on the last play of their respective first halves.

Washington State (0-7, 3-7 at Washington (1-6, 2-8)
Husky Stadium
Saturday, November 19 - 12:15 PM (PST) - FSN TV
Series All-time: Washington leads, 63-28-6
Last Meeting: November 20, 2004 – at WSU 28, Washington 25
Line: WSU by 2

But while the Huskies' 69-yard ‘Hail Stanback' was answered to the tune of a 24-0 second half waxing of Arizona and glorious end to a 14-game conference losing streak, the Cougars' 40-yard ‘Hail Brink' version against 10th-ranked Oregon only served as more mortar to a wall that now stands at a PAC-10-longest seven straight bricks.

It's hard to say whether or not the Ducks are really the nation's 10th-best team, or if they are just another paper tiger in a league that is decidedly weak at the bottom half (re: UCLA - that other PAC-10 one-loss team - merely lost to Arizona by 38).

But WSU coach Bill Doba really didn't much care about that - he could only shake his head after watching his team give up a second-half lead for the fourth time this season. "Holy cow," the second-year coach panned, "Can you believe everything we've been through?"

Sure, we can go through all the "everything" that Doba refers – the injuries, the coaching gaffes, the awful luck - but since they've been saying pretty much the same thing around Montlake for the past 100 or so weeks, there's really no need to review it here.

So, what does this leave us with?

A second-straight Apple Cup in which the teams will go in with a combined 5-20 record.

An Apple Cup that will, for the first time since 1969, assure that whoever loses will finish in last place (in that monumental tussle, a divided 0-9 Washington beat an inept 1-8 Washington State, 30-21).

An Apple Cup that will be witnessed by the smallest Husky Stadium crowd (for an Apple Cup) since the stadium expanded in 1987 – yup, plenty of seats still remain.

But if history suggests anything, it is that some of the best Apple Cups are the ones that aren't very ripe for hype. And what the hell, no rain is forecast.

So remember folks, be kind to those poor scalpers – good tickets are still available.

TEAM STATS:  34.2 points, 487.4 yards (3rd PAC-10,  
             210.8 rush, 276.6 pass) 
             34-43 in Red Zone offense
             (.791, 24 TDs, 5th PAC-10)

RUSHING: Jerome Harrison 272-1693-15 TD (6.2), 
         long 80
         DeMaundray Woolridge 52-312-2 TD (6.0), 
         long 70

PASSING: Alex Brink 183-322-13 (.568), 
         2607 yards, 22 TD 
RECEIVING: Jason Hill 57-1048-13 TD (18.4), long 80
           Michael Bumpus 30-357-2 TD (11.9), long 46
           Trandon Harvey 22-363-0 TD (16.5), long 45 
It's your typical Wazzu fireworks. Coordinator Mike Levenseller's offense has topped the 600-yard mark twice, and their 34-point average is the best since the 10-2 team of 2001 averaged 35 per game. At nearly 490 yards per game, the Cougars rank eighth in the country in total offense.

Like Isaiah Stanback, sophomore Alex Brink has had an up-and-down season. He shattered the WSU single-game record with 531 passing yards earlier this season at Oregon State - but four interceptions eventually undermined the effort. He also threw for 423 against California. With 205 yards, Brink will surpass Ryan Leaf's school mark of 2,811 yards by a sophomore (his 22 TD passes already set a new standard). So far, the only game in 2005 which Brink didn't throw a TD pass was at USC.

Wide receiver Jason Hill has a school-record 25 career TD receptions, and will garner some All-American mention. The wiry junior needs 115 yards to break Nakoa McElrath's school mark of 1,163 yards in a season – not bad, considering he didn't catch a single ball as a freshman. Hill hyper-extended his pinkie finger against the Ducks, and will probably play with the digit taped. Sophomore Michael Bumpus (30 receptions) was on his way to a stellar season before an ankle injury against Cal cut it short, leaving Trandon Harvey (22 rcpts) and Chris Jordan (11 rcpts) to pick up the slack. The Cougars are thin at TE as well, with dependable senior Troy Bienemann (knee) out and Jesse Taylor (shoulder) hurting. Junior Cody Boyd (9 rcpts) is the only tight end with decent game experience.

Tailback Jerome Harrison is breaking all kinds of records. The NCAA D-1 rushing leader, Harrison has broken the 100-yard barrier in 13 straight games, a PAC-10 record. The shifty senior has topped the century mark by halftime seven times this season, and broke Reuben Mayes' school single-season rushing record last week. Harrison tallied 150 yards in last year's Apple Cup. Keller, TX native DeMaundray Woolridge became the first WSU freshman since Deon Burnett to break the 100-yard mark in a game, churning for 133 at Nevada (including a 70-yarder for a score). Harrison and Woolridge have turned the double-100 twice.

Averaging 300 pounds up front, Washington State has one of the better offensive lines in the PAC-10. Led by seniors Nick Mihlhauser and Norvell Holmes, the Cougars have allowed just 14 sacks all season while opening lanes for Harrison to exploit. Sophomore tackle Bobby Byrd is already starting his 20th game for WSU. The same unit has started every game this season.

GAME OUTLOOK: The Cougs like to score fast – they've had eleven touchdown drives lasting less than one minute, helping to explain why they only average 26 minutes of possession time per game. Washington may try to key on Harrison and dare Brink to beat them – they were successful at it last week in stopping Mike Bell and baiting Willie Tuitama. However, the Huskies have been troubled by big-play receivers all year, and they have no one that can cover Hill one-on-one.

TEAM STATS:  32.4 points, 454.2 yards (9th PAC-10, 
             159.0 rush, 295.2 pass)
             37-47 in Red Zone defense 
             (.787, 25 TDs, 4th PAC-10) 

TACKLES/TFL:  Eric Frampton 80/4.5
              Greg Trent 68/3.0
              Mkristo Bruce 65/15.0

PASSES DEF/INT:  Eric Frampton 8/1
                 Alex Teems 6/3
                 Omowale (Wally) Dada 6/1

SACKS:       Mkristo Bruce 10.0
             Adam Braidwood 5.5
             Matt Mullennix 3.0 

Simply put, the Washington State defense has been porous, especially in the fourth quarter, where the Cougars have been outscored 86-61 while coughing up late leads against UCLA, California, and Oregon State.

Senior Will Derting has been the Cougs' heart-and-soul the past two years, so his five-game absence to an MCL strain put a crunch on coordinator Robb Akey's stop unit. Derting returned in a limited role against Oregon last week, but didn't play the second half after some knee swelling returned. He remains questionable this week, though he says flatly, "I'm going to play". Freshman Greg Trent has filled in admirably, becoming the second-leading frosh tackler in the PAC-10. Juniors Scott Davis and Steve Dildine have 125 tackles between them.

Up front, the hammer is defensive end Mkristo Bruce. Bruce is tied with Spencer Havner for the PAC-10 lead in tackles-for-loss, and is second in sacks (behind Oregon's Anthony Trucks) with 10. The junior is already sixth on the all-time Cougar sack list with 18.5 in his career. Senior Adam Braidwood had three of his 5.5 sacks against Oregon State, and also has seven QB hurries. Sophomore Ropati Pitiotua was expected to be the run-stuffer supreme but broke his leg in fall camp, seeing only limited duty since his return in mid-October.

Safety Eric Frampton leads the Cougar secondary with eight total passes defensed (one INT) and the entire team with 80 tackles. Corners Wally Dada (54 tackles, 3 forced fumbles) and Alex Teems (49 tackles, 3 INT) can related to Washington's CB woes, having had their share of notoriety in the Cougs' suffering pass defense.

GAME OUTLOOK: Wazzu is really good at getting after the QB (a conference-leading 30 sacks), but without Derting they've offered little else - especially through the air. In seven PAC-10 games they've given up an average of 527 yards per game – the 444 allowed to Oregon last week was their second best effort. However, they've been decent (3.8 yards per carry) at stopping the run – something that Washington sort of fancies itself these days. So the question is will UW try to throw more – like every other PAC-10 team has done - against the Cougars' soft pass defense?

PLACEKICKING:  Loren Langley 11-14 FG (long 48), 
               33-36 XP, 0 blocked

PUNTING:       Kyle Basler 43-41.3 (long 55), 
               .233 inside the 20  

KICK RETURNS:  Lorenzo Bursey 13-23.4 (long 39), 0 TD
               Brandon Gibson 11-16.9 (long 38), 0 TD

PUNT RETURNS:  Trandon Harvey 5-12.6 (long 30), 0 TD

Sophomore place-kicker Loren Langley has improved a bunch over his freshman campaign, when he made just five field goals. Langley is 12-for-17 so far this season, with only one miss from inside 40 yards. Senior punter Kyle Basler will trot out for a 48th time in a Cougar uniform. Basler leads the conference in net punting, and has had one punt blocked. Troy Bienemann was the deep-snapper for punts - now the job probably falls to senior lineman and FG-snapper Riley Fitt-Chappell.

Michael Bumpus already has three punt returns for TDs in his short career – including an 87-yarder at Nevada this season – so his prowess will be missed, though Trandon Harvey did bring one back 30 yards against the Ducks last Saturday. Reserve corner Lorenzo Bursey has shown ability at returning kickoffs, averaging 23 yards per attempt.

The Cougars, after recording 10 blocks the past two seasons, have only registered one kick block in 2005 – that a field-goal snuff by Aaron Johnson against Stanford.

GAME OUTLOOK: Washington's return team actually showed a sign of life last week - Sonny Shackleford's 24-yard punt return was the Huskies' longest all season. Knudson and Langley seem even. Field position could come down to who can punt it best - UW typically snaps it poorly, and WSU will be employing a new punt snapper.


The Cougars took two days off this week, eschewing the film meetings on Sunday. Forecast looks to be dry, with temps in the mid-50s ... Washington State has won the last three Apple Cups played on November 19, the most recent being a 23-6 upset in 1994. But "omen bettors" beware – the Cougs have been favored the last four years and haven't covered once, while losing three of them outright. And it looks as if they'll be favored again this Saturday ... The PAC-10 is contracted for six bowls. However, if ASU should lose to Arizona, OSU loses the Civil War, and Stanford loses to both Cal and Notre Dame, it would leave the conference with only four eligible bowl teams. And if a 10-1 Oregon somehow crashes the BCS party and heads to the Fiesta Bowl, that would leave the Insight, Las Vegas, and Emerald Bowls without PAC-10 teams ... With five tackles, reigning PAC-10 Player-of-the-Week Evan Benjamin will crack the 100 barrier for the season ... The Cougars' streak of scoring in 247 straight games is the second-longest in D-1 football (behind only Michigan) ...

Rick Samek can be reached at RSAMEK1@COMCAST.NET

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