Dawg Daze - Apple Cup preview

The Washington Huskies travel to Pullman in what was hoped to be the battle for the Rose Bowl. Well, it is still a battle for Roses but only on the Cougar's end. For the Huskies, it becomes a game for bowl berth certainty as well as the northwest championship after their 42-14 throttling of previously #23-ranked Oregon in Autzen Stadium.

Washington (3-4, 6-5) at #3/4 Washington State (6-0, 9-1)
Saturday, November 23 - 3:30 PM (PDT) - FOX Sports Net
Martin Stadium - Pullman, WA
Series All-time: Washington leads, 61-27-6
Last Meeting: November 17, 2001 - Washington 26, Washington St. 14
Line: Washington St. by 8.5

Rick Neuheisel
(Getty Images)
The Washington Huskies travel to Pullman in what was hoped to be the battle for the Rose Bowl. Well, it is still a battle for Roses but only on the Cougar's end. For the Huskies, it becomes a game for bowl berth certainty as well as the northwest championship after their 42-14 throttling of previously #23-ranked Oregon in Autzen Stadium.

Washington is on a two-game roll, having dispatched of Oregon State in the home finale at Husky Stadium. They are 6-5, bowl eligible and feeling much better about themselves. They've been able to shore up some of the major concern areas in the process.

Three things have haunted the Huskies all season and are largely responsible for turning what was expected to be a nine-win season into a mediocre campaign.
  1. The lack of a rushing attack makes their offense horribly one-dimensional. Tailbacks Rich Alexis (6-1 200 junior) was never able to get rolling, Braxton Cleman (5-11 210 senior) suffered through yet another injury-riddled season, and Chris Singleton (6-1 200 sophomore) found it difficult sledding with limited holes. The offensive line had trouble getting any momentum or consistency as injuries caused some shuffling. True freshman TB Kenny James is redshirting, but is expected to add more punch to this group next season. Alexis' 122 yards against the Ducks last weekend are a very good sign.
  2. Turnovers have made Rick Neuheisel see crimson this season. Washington has been able to move the ball at will between the 20s but it is usually at that point where the offense has stumbled. Not only that, but when the Huskies turn the ball over, it's been at the worst times and places. Cal had two TD drives of less than eight yards, and UCLA scored once and had a 1-yard TD drive, making things very difficult for the defense. In their past two games, Washington has turned the ball over just twice and surrendered no points as a result.
  3. Stopping the big play over the top killed the Husky secondary this season. The Husky defense has been marvelous against the run this year but when it comes to third and long, their young secondary has been abused. The big play has killed this unit. Cornerback Derrick Johnson has intercepted four passes in the past two Husky games.

QB Jason Gesser
(Getty Images)
WSU's heart and soul is quarterback Jason Gesser. A heisman hopeful, Gesser has completed 60% of his throws and has thrown for 2696 yards and 24 touchdowns this season. He's elusive and is most dangerous when he breaks containment and is floating outside the pocket.

When he throws, it's to a strong cast of receivers. Devard Darling, a transfer from Florida State, leads the cougars in receptions with 46 for 657 yards and 10 touchdowns. On the other side is 6-5 phenom Mike Bush, who has snared 41 passes for 580 yards and five touchdowns. Jerome Riley has had a stellar season as well, grabbing 37 balls for 678 yards. All three will give the Huskies fits as they are fast and have solid hands. Of all the receiving corps in the Pac-10, this one is probably the one that matches up the most favorably to Washington's solid group of pass catchers.

WR Devard Darling
(Getty Images)
The Cougars have outscored their opponents 343-206 this season. When they move the ball on the ground, WSU likes to hand the ball to JC transfer Jermaine Green (687 yards, 7 TDs) and John Tippins (461 yards), who both average over 5 yards per carry. Green has had the hot hand of late and will be the starter in the Apple Cup.

The offensive line that opens the holes for Green and Tippins is big and experienced, albeit a bit banged up. Seniors C Tyler Hunt and OG Derrick Roche anchor the line. Calvin Armstrong is a man-mountain at 6-8 and 320. Billy Knotts has been consistent at one guard while former prep QB Riley Fitt-Chappell has been rushed into duty at the other tackle spot because of injury to Sam Lightbody. This Cougar line has done a terrific job of opening holes and keeping Gesser out of trouble.


CB Marcus Trufant
(Getty Images)
The Cougars have been staunch on defense and feature two future NFL players in cornerback Marcus Trufant and defensive lineman Rien Long. Trufant has 54 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 9 pass breakups. He will be the guy that Defensive Coordinator Bill Doba will put on Reggie Williams. The match up should be a gem to watch. Long has 37 stops, including an eye-popping 12 sacks. For an interior lineman, that is unheard of. Long will require constant double-teaming, meaning the Huskies will need to run the ball some to keep him honest.

Jeremy Williams has been solid next to Long this year, piling up 34 stops. The pass rushing specialists, besides Long, are defensive ends DD Acholonu, Issac Brown, and Fred Shavies. Acholonu has 5.5 sacks while Shavies and Brown have six apiece. This group can not only get after a quarterback, they know how to get him on the ground when they arrive. This will be the best unit Washington has faced since traveling to Ann Arbor back in August.

SE Fred Shavies
(Getty Images)
The one area that WSU looks to be the most vulnerable is linebacker. Will Derting has been pressed into action because of a suspension to Ira Davis, but he's responded well. Derting has three interceptions, one for a touchdown. Maluwi Davis, in addition to making the all-name team, also has done a nice job of wrapping up ball carriers.

In the secondary, Cody Pickett will be forced to test Trufant because he'll undoubtedly be with Reggie most of the game. However whenever he gets a chance, he'll want to take a long look at sophomore corner Karl Paymah, who gets the nod while Jason David's face heals from the punch Ira Davis planted.

All in all, it's a very active WSU defense that runs well and will make Washington earn every yard.


PK Drew Dunning
(Getty Images)
Drew Dunning handles the place kicking duties and he's done well this year. Dunning has connected on 16 of 24 attempts and converted 37 of 39 extra-points. On kickoffs, Adam Holiday has the thunder foot and frequently reaches the end zone. The punter is Kyle Basler and he has a 41.5 yard per punt average and has had 11 of his boots downed inside the 20.

Trufant is dangerous on punt returns and Eric Coleman is very fast and can make things happen quickly on kickoff returns, as can Devard Darling. Trufant has a 52-yard punt return to his credit this season.

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