The unanimous No. 20 Washington State Cougars (8-3, 6-2) travel to Seattle, Wash. with a ninth win on the line — and an outside shot at the Rose Bowl — and a chance to keep arch rival Washington (5-6, 3-5) out of the post season. There is a lot on the line in this years Apple Cup, for the first time in a decade.
It’s a battle that keeps the is going to feature the strength of these two squads battling each other. Washington State’s offense, vs. Washington’s defense is going to be the dominant story line throughout the game. Especially with the uncertain status of WSU quarterback Luke Falk, who (apparently) suffered a head injury in the third quarter of the Colorado game last Saturday.
CougCenter author Craig Powers the Falk’s apparent injury, and what it could mean for the Cougars in the Apple Cup, on our latest podcast on Wednesday night. While the conversation covered several Apple Cup topics, we both agreed that it’s unlikely we’ll see Luke Falk line-up behind center against the Huskies and that it’ll be the first start for redshirt freshman Peyton Bender.
If Bender is the starter, the offensive game plan won’t change much from if Falk was the starter. Those watching the game will see the redshirt freshmen be more aggressive, and try to fit the ball into tighter windows than Falk. But that’s what generally happens when a freshmen with a talented arm takes the field; they try to use their natural talents to throw wideouts open, instead of waiting for them to get open — see Bender’s game-ending interception against PSU.
Cougar fans got to experience that with Connor Halliday in 2011, and it’s what Husky fans are experiencing right now with Jake Browning.
Browning has shown flashes of brilliance at times (both blowout wins over OSU and Arizona), and looked awful at times (ASU loss), but he’s been able to hit the deep ball as well as the underneath routes; which keeps defenses from selling out to stop Myles Gaskin and the Washington rushing attack. It’s helped the offense move the ball against some of the better defenses in the Pac-12 — the Huskies regularly took advantage of Utah’s aggressive game plan by regularly throwing the ball in rushing situations to wide open receivers 15 to 20 yards down field — and helped them blow out the really bad defenses (OSU and Arizona, again).
For Washington State, it’s going to be crucial to get Browning into a situation where is he constantly under pressure and it feels like the game is starting to slip away from him; basically, they’re going to have to repeat the second half of the ASU game.
Arizona State was able to disguise its coverages, shut down the Washington rushing attack, and score a couple of touchdowns to make it a game again. Browning began to try to push the ball into tighter windows to make big plays, and it led to a lot of interceptions that put the ball back into the hands of an explosive ASU offense. The Husky’s defense was only able to control the Sun Devils’ offensive attack for so long before it wore down and completely collapsed.
If the defense is able to force Browning into some bad throws, and turnovers, they’d be able to give the offense a short field to work with; which would take a lot of pressure off of the Washington State offense.
Fortunately for the Cougar fans, the Washington State defense has been really good at disguising its coverages and getting into the back field to cause havoc on the play. The defense’s ability to confuse the quarterback’s initial read, and get into the backfield, is the primary reason that they’ve been able to pick off 10 passes in 2015; and it’s not just bad quarterbacks that have struggled against WSU’s defense as Stanford’s Kevin Hogan tossed an interception while failing to throw for more than 100 yards against the Cougar secondary.
The Cougs are going to have to generate that kind of pressure if they’re going to beat Washington; they’re going to have to constantly be in the back field and harassing Browning and messing up his pre-snap read by disguising the coverage down field.
And I think the defense be able to do just that.